MALAYSIA as a nationstate, was transformed into a statenation or a plural country, in the post-independence era, through the legal mechanism of the Federal Constitution.
A nation-state, has only one “national group.” Like in Hungary, Italy and Japan, “the nation precedes the state, and plays a major role in giving rise to it (Buzan 1991: 72-73).
But a state-nation, with citizens of diverse categories, “plays an instrumental role in creating the nation.”
The above encouraged studies on security to posit that a statenation “has extensive grounds for conflict.”
Malaysia as a plural state, is susceptible to communal-based vulnerabilities, especially racial polarisation, ethnic disunity, religious disharmony and economic discontent, which threaten its political and societal security.
This is because Malaysia has Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras as its subjects. Additionally, Bumiputeras, as the majority population, are also ascribed with the status of core nation.
Conceptually, core nation is defined as “a large number of people sharing the same cultural, and possibly the same ethnic or racial, heritage. Because nations are product of closely shared history, they normally constitute the majority population of some core territory” (Buzan 1991: 70).
Thus, Bumiputeras are ascribed with the status of core nation, because their ancestors lived in Malaysia, within the core territory of Nusantara, in Southeast Asia, since time immemorial.
Malaysian Chinese and Indians, both as Malaysian citizens, are not given the same status, because their ancestral roots are either in East Asia or South Asia. This reality was accepted by leaders of Malays (Bumiputeras), Chinese and Indians, through a social contract, formulated while they pursued their common struggle for our independence.
Therefore, it is grossly incorrect to categorise Bumiputeras as Malaysia’s chosen race, while the Chinese and Indians as second class citizens.
“In fact, the provisions relating to (their) citizenship are to a certain extent, ‘entrenched’ under the Constitution” (Sinnadurai 1979: 93).
“Furthermore, by virtue of the Sedition Act, it is an offence under the Act to question the provision of the Constitution relating to citizenship.”
The above is the testimony, why Malaysians lived in peace and harmony from 1957 to 1963, in the post-independence era.
It is also why, Brock et al. (2012: 17) said, communal-based vulnerabilities can only erupt into violence, “when political entrepreneurs employ cultural identities to sort out friend and foe, and mobilise groups into turning against one another in a process of escalating conflict.”
This is empirically proven. Early narratives on Malaysia were abound with tolerance, compromise and optimism, driven by the spirit of social contract.
Unfortunately, this societal bondage was subverted by communal polarisation, hatred and animosity. Why, who were the actors, what were the driving forces, how was it resolved?
Malaysia’s ethnic relations only turned into intolerance, disharmony and disunity, after a group of political parties launched the Malaysian Malaysia propaganda in 1964.
Although not undemocratic, the timing of its “debut” aggravated Malaysia’s security because of the Indonesian Confrontation since 1983.
This propaganda also pitted Bumiputeras against the others, on their constitutional rights and privileges, although non-Bumiputeras also have their constitutional legitimate rights.
This happened because the crux of Malaysian Malaysia was: “all Malaysians irrespective of race, culture and religion, should be entitled to equal rights and treatment, and be given similar privileges already enjoyed by the Malays” (Ghazali 1990:11).
The above made “Lee’s (Lee Kuan Yew) enemies within UMNO see this as a clever concealment of his plan to remove Malay special privileges” (Ooi 2006: 153).
It also urged Tan Siew Sin, MCA president, to respond: “Malaysian Malaysia is creating a national disorder, to ruin the country” (Utusan Melayu, July 6,
Tunku Abdul Rahman remarked Malaysian Malaysia “had caused racial feelings to rise almost to flashpoint” (Keith 2005: 188). He said this, after deciding “the situation with Singapore was hopeless. Singapore must go.”
The Malaysian Malaysia propaganda had resulted in two racial clashes with fatal casualties in Singapore in 1964. Hence, Singapore was separated from Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965.
Lee agreed to this “breakaway” because “the alternative offered was rioting, communal violence all over Malaysia, and eventual communist victory” (Lau 2001: 264).
The above points to the fact that politically-driven and constitutionally-motivated communal propaganda is a threat to Malaysia. Certain politicians, however, did not learn from the above. Hence, another communal clash, with fatal consequences, erupted in Kuala Lumpur in 1969.
Comber (1983: 65-68) said, it was because communist elements sabotaged Malaysia’s security through the 1969 General Election.
Additionally, DAP had used “Malaysian Malaysia” as its slogan, Gerakan used “Equality, Justice and Equal Opportunities for All: Our Aim,” and PPP used “Malaysia for Malaysians.”
Parti Perikatan (the Alliance Party) lost several state governments in this democratic tussle, a racial riot occurred, and Tunku Abdul Rahman suspended Parliament for over one year.
As such, communal-based vulnerabilities in Malaysia are not fiction. They threaten the country’s political and societal security.
Conceptually, “political security concerns the organisational stability of states, system of government and the ideologies that give them legitimacy ” (Buzan 1991: 19). But, “the organising concept in the societal sector is identity” (Buzan et al. 1998: 119).
To conclude, it is important to remember that “after our country’s independence, we are our own master, we control our own security, and our destruction is in our own hands” (Tunku Abdul Rahman, March 28, 1957).
Ruhanie Ahmad was a former member of parliament for Parit Sulong, Johor (1990-2004)