Merdeka and the Malay rulers

But if the Malay rulers' final pre-independence admonition is to enjoy the great prestige, and carry the enormous political weight today that some political leaders now wish it to bear, it is strange that until now it has remained so little known.

By Clive Kessler, The Nut Graph

LOOKING forward, at the conclusion of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka's recent Prof Syed Hussein Alatas Memorial Seminar, to Merdeka Day, the Raja Muda of Perak recalled another anniversary.

On the threshold of independence on 5 Aug 1957, the Malay rulers issued a declaration, their last political testament before the nation and their subjects achieved national sovereignty.

Consenting to Merdeka

The constitution of the emerging independent nation had already been formally enacted by legislation in the British Parliament and the Federal Council of Malaya. But on 5 Aug, the nine Malay rulers agreed to affix their signatures signifying their assent to the new constitutional arrangements. In doing so, they issued their wasiat, meaning primarily a legal will or testament, but also with connotations suggesting a sacred heirloom or legacy.

 They bestowed this wasiat, they said, upon the Malay rakyat, their original subjects. In it they affirmed several points. The name of the land was Persekutuan Tanah Melayu; one-half of that land would be set aside for Malay Reservation; the Malay Regiment would be their instrument to protect the Malay future, their subjects' and their own; they guaranteed the sovereignty both of the government and their own royal position; Islam was to be the religion of the new federation; Malay was to be its language; and the rulers undertook to guarantee the special position of the Malays, together with the legitimate rights of the nation's other citizens. These points from Raja Nazrin Shah's speech on 6 Aug were the front-page highlight in Utusan Malaysia the following day. The full text appeared on the editorial page.

This wasiat was issued on the rulers' initiative to assert the historical continuity of Malay political power and sovereignty residing with them and now through them within the new nation.

Whatever the original legal standing of this royal affirmation, issued after the formal enactment of the constitutional instruments of Merdeka, it has now been declared sacrosanct. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced that solidarity between rulers and rakyat was inscribed within Malay history itself. Umno vice-president and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi characterised the wasiat as the pre-independence rulers' last word and binding injunction to the entire people, non-Malay as well as Malay.

Raja Nazrin Shah (Public domain)

It was different and distinct from any negotiated intercommunal "social contract". Barisan Nasional-installed Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir insisted that, as the foundation of nationhood, this wasiat is itself the basis of any "social contract". Any attempt to deny it would imperil national stability.