Dr M: Malay claim to country stronger than Orang Asli’s
KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday said the Orang Asli did not have more rights than the Malays to claim Malaysia as their own, as they did not set up their own states and governments.
The former prime minister said giving Orang Asli greater rights to claim Malaysia as their own would be like handing back the United States, Australia and New Zealand to the Native American, Maori and aborigine natives of those countries respectively.
“In Malaysia, the Orang Asli are as much citizens of the country as are the people of other races. They had never set up their own states and governments,” he wrote in his blog yesterday.
Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister said that when Europeans and even the Japanese occupiers came to Malaysia, they had dealt with and acknowledged the Malay governments.
Dr Mahathir, who is now patron of right-wing Malay rights group Perkasa, has been vigorously defending the special position of Malays of late, and last week dismissed claims that Malays are immigrants just like Chinese and Indians.
Although admitting his Indian roots, he argued that Arabs, Indians and Indonesians who adopted the Malay language, practised Malay culture and embraced Islam have become constitutional Malays through assimilation.
“I would not say I am a Malay or Malaysian of ethnic Indian origin. My mother tongue and home language is Malay, my culture and tradition is Malay and I am a Muslim. The constitution defines a Malay as a person who habitually speaks Malay, practises Malay custom and tradition and is a Muslim,” he had said.
In yesterday’s posting, Dr Mahathir said that it “could be” the case that Orang Asli had populated Peninsular Malaysia before the Malays but argued that world history showed this did not accord them immutable claim to the land.
“If we consider that the Orang Asli have more rights to claim Malaysia as their own then we should acknowledge and respect the rights of the Red Indians, the Maoris, the Australian aborigines and all the other aborigines to be given back the land we now call America, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
“Perhaps in recognition of their rights, they are now not so ill-treated and killed as they were when the Europeans seized their lands. But this is not the same as declaring that the countries belong to the people originally found there,” he said.
Dr Mahathir, who was PM from 1981 to 2003, also said that while the Aztecs and Mayans had established governments in South America before Europeans settled in the region, their Spanish and Portuguese conquerors were now considered as natives of the land.
He said that Malaysia’s former colonial masters — the British, Portuguese and Dutch — recognised the Malay states and signed treaties with them.
The Japanese who occupied Malaysia during World War II also acknowledged the Malay states, he added.
“Of course when the British came back, they had to gain the assent of the Malay rulers in order to set up the Malayan Union. All subsequent agreements were with Malay rulers and Malay political leaders,” he wrote.
“It is important to note that the Malay rulers only recognised Malays as their natural ‘rakyat’. They also recognised ‘Orang Asli’ and non-Malays who had been assimilated as ‘rakyat’. However, non-Malays who continued to identify themselves with their countries of origin were not regarded as rakyat,” Dr Mahathir said.
He wrote that after the Malayan Union was formed in 1946, the concept of citizenship was introduced but still those “recognised as rakyat of the rulers were acknowledged through what came to be regarded as special positions,” referring to the special position of the Malays and native tribes in the constitution.
Dr Mahathir claimed that the right of non-Bumiputeras to practise their own culture was also “a special position.”
“The constitution also made it clear that the non-Malay citizens also have special position. Thus they may retain their original identity, use their own [mother tongue] and perpetuate their own culture. They also have the right to teach in their own languages in government supported primary schools and can set up their own private secondary schools,” he wrote.
He claimed, however, that Malaysians would like to see the end of all special privileges, and so Malaysians should be “speaking and teaching in one national language, practitioners of one national culture, and owing loyalty only to this beloved country, Malaysia.”
Dr Mahathir has in recent years stepped up his defence of the constitutional position of the Malays, resulting in accusations that he was playing the race card in an attempt to shore up support for Umno.
Since making significant gains in the 2008 general election, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has been pushing for reforms to the country’s affirmative action policies which are widely seen as favouring the Malay-Bumiputera communities.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is expected to call for a general election in either late 2011 or early 2012, with investors and Malaysians waiting to see if he will implement reforms to match his rhetoric after a series of policy reversals.
While Najib liberalised some parts of the economy, he has shied away from big subsidy cuts or tax reforms and softened an earlier stand on reforming preferential equity ownership rules for the Malays.
Analysts expect Najib may be willing to push through reforms after the next general election, but only if he wins a strong mandate.
If he fails to restore Barisan Nasional’s two-thirds parliamentary majority, he will likely come under heavier pressure from Malay activist groups such as Perkasa who are opposed to what they view as the dismantling of “Malay constitutional rights”.