The national consensus on citizenship brokered before Malaya's independence cannot be equated with the controversial move to grant citizenship to foreigners in Sabah, policy thinkers say.
Chua Sue-Ann, fz.com
This view is being aired
as former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has sought to justify his administration's "Project IC" in Sabah by comparing it to first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra's push for Chinese and Indians in Malaya to receive citizenship.
Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, director of think tank Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI), said the comparison was wrong as the two citizenship exercises were carried out for different reasons.
"This is not a fair comparison. One was for independence whereas the other was for votes. The motive for granting them citizenship (in Sabah) was to fish for votes and purely political. Citizenship was one of the negotiation points for Merdeka.
"The British would not have given independence so easily if the non-Malays were denied citizenship. They had been there for many generations and had toiled to develop the country," Navaratnam told fz.com in a phone interview.
Malaysia should stop harping on the citizenship agreement made during the struggle for independence and focus on the road ahead, Navaratnam added.
"There are so many challenges that we as a nation face today like corruption, cronyism, declining competitiveness and poor education policies. Mahathir's remarks are contrary to the 1Malaysia concept," said Navaratnam, who had served the government for three decades.
Mahathir had on Thursday admitted to granting citizenship to foreigners in Sabah but maintained it was done lawfully.
But Mahathir sought to justify his administration's move by alleging that Tunku Abdul Rahman dished out citizenship to one million people who were "not qualified and not even tested".
Although Mahathir did not specify who these one million people were, his remarks were seen as a reference to the many Malayans of Chinese and Indian descent who were given citizenship when independence was being negotiated with the British powers.
Pre-independence, the proposal to give citizenship to non-Malays was a contentious and arduous process that took several years of multi-party negotiations.
Malaya in 1957 had a population of 5.2 million people comprising 2.2 million Malays and indigenous people and, three million non-Malays, according to a book entitled Malaysia: The Making of A Nation by Cheah Boon Kheng.
In similar vein, Centre for Policy Initiatives director Dr Lim Teck Ghee said Mahathir had no basis to compare the two historical situations.
"What Tunku Abdul Rahman did was open, transparent and with the support of key stakeholders when he agreed to the citizenship clause.
"What Mahathir did was opaque, hidden, known only to a few plotters and basically unjustifiable at the time, today and in the future," Lim said in an e-mailed response.
Lim added that Mahathir's remarks was typical of the latter's "diversion strategy" aimed at shoring up Malay support by stoking racial sentiments.
Sabah's large influx of foreign nationals has been a contentious issue for many years as locals fear an altering of local demographics.
Foreign nationals make up over 27% or 889,000 of Sabah's 3.2 million population, according to witness evidence during the current royal commission of inquiry to investigate the issue of undocumented immigrants in the state.
Aside from altering the state's demographics, Project IC in Sabah was also alleged to be an exercise to give foreign nationals, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, citizenship in exchange for votes.