From a constitutional standpoint, a non-Malay non-Muslim could become the PM. However, political reality dictates that, at least for the foreseeable future, the PM will be a Malay.
Oon Yeoh (The Sun)
LATELY, there’s been much ado about whether a non-Malay citizen could become the prime minister of this country.
It all started when a Malay daily reported that DAP stalwart Karpal Singh was fighting for a non-Malay to become the PM. Karpal has denied making such a statement but the issue hasn’t died.
The president of a Malay rights group, for example, recently said Karpal would have to step over his (the president’s) dead body before he sees a non-Malay become PM. PAS spiritual adviser Nik Aziz, meanwhile, said a non-Malay can be the PM as long as he’s a Muslim. Then, to add to the confusion, famed history professor Khoo Kay Kim asserted that the PM has to be Malay.
Actually, whether a non-Malay can or cannot become PM is a non-issue. But before we get into the reasons, let’s be clear about one thing. The constitution is silent on the prime minister’s race or religion.
As such, from a constitutional standpoint, a non-Malay non-Muslim could become the PM. However, political reality dictates that, at least for the foreseeable future, the PM will be a Malay.
This is a political reality that all parties in Pakatan Rakyat accept. Every now and then, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng gets asked about this question of a non-Malay PM and his answer has always been the same. As far as PR is concerned, the PM-in-waiting is Anwar Ibrahim.
And for good measure, Lim often throws in the comment “I’m not qualified to be PM”, just to quash any speculation that he is eyeing that position.
And guess what? The typical non-Malay citizen is not exactly clamouring for a non-Malay PM either. Don’t believe me? Try this simple exercise. Ask 10 random non-Malays whether they think a non-Malay can become PM.
There’s a good chance most of them would say no. And when asked for the reason, more likely than not, they’d say it’s stated in the constitution that the PM must be Malay or at the very least, Muslim.
How did this erroneous perception come about? It probably has to do with the fact that the constitution accords Malays “special rights”. It’s not a stretch to assume that those special rights include the exclusive right to lead the country.
With most non-Malays having the impression it’s not even legally possible to have a non-Malay PM, how can it be said that the non-Malays are yearning for this? It’s simply not the case.
So the country’s leading non-Malay politician doesn’t aspire to be the first non-Malay PM. And the non-Malay public is not looking for this either. Now you know why I say it’s such a non-issue.
Will we one day have the Malaysian answer to Barack Obama? Maybe, but look at how long it took for the US to accept a minority as president.
What’s more interesting and pertinent is not whether a non-Malay can become PM but who’s next in the event Anwar becomes PM.
It’s a given that the candidate would have to be a Malay. But it’s not a given that he/she would be from Keadilan.
In the post-Anwar era, it’s almost certain that PAS would make a case that its leader could be PM. It’s hard to imagine the DAP making a similar case, but have you noticed that lately, it’s been working doubly hard to attract more Malays?
Why? Perhaps it’s so that one day it, too, could argue that one of its Malay leaders could lead PR. But how could that happen if Lim is still the secretary-general?
One only has to look at India to see how this could play out. After the Congress Party’s success in the 2004 Indian elections, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, the party’s leader, deflected controversy by deftly appointing Manmohan Singh for the PM role.
It’s not too hard to imagine a scenario whereby Lim remains party leader while one of its Malay leaders is put forth as the party’s candidate for PM.