The Alternative Theory

By Hakim Joe 

Dr. Azmi Sharom has espoused his intellectual rhetoric in pertinent to the state of affairs in Malaysia and the spate of broken promises that have broken down the multiracial society into ranks and files in accordance to race and religion. His deep understanding of how politics were ultimately utilized to manipulate the interpretation of the Federal Constitution is but one undeniable theoretical attempt at the explanation of the truth as existing in this nation. Though far less learned as the honorable doctor, I herewith attempt to explain my side of views with reference to the same subject but as a layman.

There is no doubt whatsoever that religion plays a big part on how Malaysia is governed and it is with this tool that was used, and is still being utilized, to control the majority of the masses. I do agree entirely with the good doctor that our Constitution is “littered with references to race and religion that can only be described as racially based preferential treatment”. However, I do not agree with Dr. Azmi’s statement that “the nature of the constitution can be accepted as an understandable compromise.” 

First of all, how can religion be used as a compromise to solicit cooperation and to foster harmony between the different races? Should Bangsa Malaysia be split into which religion one ascribes to? No, I believe that religion should never be the element that is embraced to segregate a multiracial society or any society for that matter. Religion transcends Politics (for those who believe there is a God) and Law transcends Politics (for those that chose not to believe there is a God).  

The matter of fact is that Malaysia possesses a population that is majority Malay and it is this that has compelled all Malaysian leaders (after Tunku) to exploit this verity in order to remain in power. Malays, just like all human beings, have different dogmas and ideologies, and to facilitate a mass consciousness amongst them means finding a common denominator. Religion is that denominator and it was, and still is, being used as the “means to justify a favorable outcome”. 

Secondly, Article 3 of the Constitution may state that “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation”, but it was written in another era by leaders who aspired to form a united country. However, why is religion being used as a defining factor? By supplanting the statement that Islam will be the religion of the Federation, it creates an opportunity for future Malay leaders to use it as a leverage to divide and rule. Again, religion might be the “means” and the retention of power is the “outcome”. 

That is the reason why the Reid Commission remained neutral with this decision to specify Article 3 with regards to religion in society. Should religion be the defining criterion for a Malaysian seeking high office in a democratic nation? Isn’t religion a personal contract between God and his disciple and what has it got to do with a politician governing the nation? Religion can only play an important part in politics if the country adopts a theocratic type of governance. Fortunately and unfortunately, Malaysia is not a theocracy. Fortunately because there will be Ayatollahs and Mullahs in charge of the Islamic Government in a multiracial, multi-religion society, and unfortunately because these Ayatollahs and Mullahs (crazy as it sounds) might be less hypocritical when exploiting their religious beliefs on the population of a multiracial, multi-religion society. 

Thirdly, to accept racism as “an understandable compromise” is duplicitous. Just as black is black and white is white, one either accepts racism or one does not.  

Article 153 is another quandary by itself and owes its enduring existence by the mere detail that Malays are in the majority in this country. RPK rightfully stated that the Malaysian Constitution is just about the only constitution in the entire world that not only permits and encourages racism to exist in a democratic society, it is legally enshrined within the constitution itself. In another democratic country, one could very well be prosecuted for being a racist as there are enacted legislations that forbid discrimination against race and religion. Over here, it is clearly and carefully spelt out in the Constitution. 

By being exactly what it is, Article 153 rationalizes the introduction and implementation of UMNO’s version of the NEP, and from a program that was presented as a way to give assistance to the hardcore poor (regardless of race and religion) and to elevate the plight of these people, it has somehow been transformed to the provision of aid and the allocation of special privileges to Bumiputeras only. If that was not transparent enough, these special privileges have somehow attained the status of unalienable rights that is seemingly justifiable by the so called Social Contract that nobody seems to be able to show proof of its existence. Using this loose mandate as a form of enticement, UMNO has been able to retain its position as the government by merely attracting the Bumiputera vote. 

Article 153 is inviolable as well. What was initially conceptualized as a stop gap proposition to “level the playing field” has now been turned into a way of life. Protected by the royalty, sanctioned by UMNO and supported by zealots who deemed themselves “deserving” of such handouts, the Malay Rights is unquestionable and herein the perception of Ketuanan Melayu is born. What it really is, is but yet another racist government-sponsored structure that is constantly nurtured to take advantage of the Malay vote owing to the composition of the political parties here in Malaysia where parties are race-defined. The inception of Pakatan Rakyat, a multiracial political component will be the bane of Article 153. 

Yet another aspect of Dr. Azmi’s article that I do not subscribe to is the “forgetfulness” of the many Malaysian PMs starting from Tun Razak onwards. These Malay leaders did not forget Tunku’s legacy, in fact they remembered it very well and it was with this acute remembrance that they seek to exploit the constitution to further their personal political ambitions and in a few cases, to establish a dynasty. Except for Tun Ismail, almost every leader within the BN coalition (after Tunku’s administration) has manipulated, or attempted to manipulate, the system for their personal gain, and this includes the BN-Chinese political parties, the BN-Indian political parties and even DSAI himself when he was the Education Minister and later on the DPM. 

Religion was therefore never the weapon that was employed to alienate the Malays from the rest of the people but was utilized as an adhesive to unite the Malays for political mileage. Justice was never served when the jurist responsible for upholding the virtues of the Constitution was themselves perverted by interpretation (or misinterpretation) of the very Constitution they have pledged to protect. 

I do however entirely agree with the gist of what Dr. Azmi is alluding to and the fact that a Malay is denouncing his UMNO-given “rights and privileges” shows a small step towards morality and common sense that is indeed a breath of fresh air.  

Thank you, sir for understanding and for standing up when the rest of the people are sitting down. 

Dr. Azmi Sharom’s article can be read at