Article 153 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution

roadtohell.jpgSeems like Ibrahim Ali is a one-trick pony. It’s called Article 153 of the Federal Constitution. Nearly every argument he makes on the “supremacy” of the Malays uses this article as its support. 

I am just protecting the Federal Constitution

It says so in the Constitution” (ergo: i must be right)

Lets see how well this holds up. There is a feeling that too many Malaysians do not know enough history and context, and that’s why we fall prey to the words of our leaders, whom we have become too trusting of to tell the truth.

In the run-up to independence in 1957, the Reid Commission was established to analyse the state of Malaya and to, independently, help the fledgling nation draft its first constitution. The leaders of Malaya, including the rulers (sultans), agreed to their assistance.

One of the things they recognized was that there was a socio-economic disparity between the races in Malaya. The Chinese and Indians who were brought in by the British to reap the rich mineral assets of the nation were, by far, much better off than the indigenous Malays (though it wasn’t always clear who these indigenous Malays were — some Chinese and Indians have called Malaya home for hundreds of years). It was recorded that the Malays, though making up a large majority of the population held just a fraction of the economy. 

If there is one thing you can say about the British, they do have a sense of “fair” play. They recognized the importance of having a “balanced” nation, prescribing that the Constitution reflect the need of the nation to temporarily give preference to the indigenous Malays.

An interesting fact often overlooked is that Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Malay Rulers at the time disagreed with this and wanted an independent Malaya where all nationals would be accorded the same rights and privileges regardless of race and creed. (Putra, Tunku Abdul Rahman (1986). Political Awakening, p. 31.)

But, in the end, the Reid Commission had its way since it was agreed that they were the independent body that would draft our Constitution. They did however insert a provision that Article 153 would be reviewed after 15 years to see if it still remained relevant to the nation.

Fast forward 15 years, 1972. Two extremely significant things had happened by then.

The first was the race riots of 13 May 1969. Triggered by a strong showing by the DAP and Gerakan in the elections, both of whom strongly opposed special privileges for the Malays, it ignited an underlying tension between the Malays and the non-Malays created by the the poverty of the former. You see, even after 13 years of independence, the Malays still controlled only 2-4% of the wealth of the nation. Perhaps it was a failure of the Government in their efforts to equitably distribute wealth. Perhaps it was due to an inherent weakness of the Malay culture; my parents tell me that the Malay “tidak apa” attitude is not a recent phenomenon brought about after decades of affirmative action.

Whatever the reason, it was a horrible blow to the nation, not because hundreds of people were killed that day, but because it showed that the nation had a fundamental weakness — it was divided along racial lines.

As a result of the fear factor the riots and the fallout produced, the Government suspended Parliament for a few years, and the first thing it did when it reconvened in 1971 was to pass the Sedition Act which, among other things, protected Article 153 of the Constitution from any form of attack, debate, criticism or review.

So, in 1972, 15 years after independence, the time when everyone had agreed to review the usefulness of Article 153, came and passed. The NEP (and the NDP and the NNA in subsequent years) was put into affect, with the objective of 30% equity for Bumiputeras in Malaysia. 38 years later, and the Bumis are barely there, struggling to hang on. Why are they still struggling? Four decades is a long time, two generations should be enough to break the cycle of weakness.

Sure, a few super-rich Bumis have emerged, and this tends to skew the economic chart, but in reality, the distribution of wealth has remained poor. Certainly, the economic pie has grown, thus leading to an absolute increase in wealth and the creation of a sustainable middle-class, but the Bumis still dominate the lower end of the charts.

Could there be a systemic problem amongst the Malays that a simple quota system is unable to change?

There is a saying about good intentions and the road to hell. It applies here. The fathers of independence realized that a nation divided by a vast socio-economic chasm would ultimately crash and burn. So they decided to do something about it, as best as they could.

But today, their solution, 53 years later, isn’t a solution at all. The Bumiputeras are still lagging behind in critical areas of society: financial equity, education, etc. Maybe the solution wasn’t the solution; maybe, over the years, it became a part of the problem. Only the weak require protection. Why are the Bumis still weak after so many years of preferential treatment? That’s the real question our leaders, especially the Malay leaders such as Ibrahim Ali should be asking.

If there is one thing Perkasa and the other ultras in our society have proven, its that the crutch of the Bumiputeras has transformed into the wedge that divides the nation. 53 years is too long to be on crutches, my Bumiputera brothers and sisters. When will you realize that you have been helped to walk for so long, it is you who have already forgotten the steps. 

You are being manipulated every day by the Ibrahim Alis who tell you that you can’t walk without their help. Just like a drug pusher who “helps” his customers get through the day with their daily fix, he and others like him are telling you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.

There is only so long that the nation can progress and prosper under its current modus. We are fast approaching a hard ceiling to the limit where the nation can carry its people and still move forward. If Malaysia is to break this ceiling and push on to greater things, to be a real nation of significant influence and development, it will need the reverse to occur — Malaysians must begin carrying her. 


2 thoughts on “Article 153 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution

  1. Well said, but the intended target audience might not understand this article. Our school system has made sure that the general public is not too well-versed in English, Malays and non-Malays alike. It might serve its objective better if this article is written in Bahasa Malaysia, and distributed to all the Malay-dominant neighbourhoods.
    You see, the problem is, those who can read, and read a lot, already know the problem. But we’re only the minority. The majority of Malays don’t. I only hope that Malaysia doesn’t become a Zimbabwe one day soon, with the continuous capital outflow and massive brain drain.


  2. Thanks for the comment. Perhaps you’re right. But unfortunately, if i tried translating this into BM, i’d probably butcher it beyond repair.
    On your point to the intended audience, you’d be surprised how many people that belong to the “minority” you refer to actually agree with what i wrote.
    Are you talking about the educated (even those who are educated overseas), middle class, English speaking, executive class, late twenties-early forties, Malay? Then we’re talking about the same people.


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