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Of rights, royalty and language

SIMILAR to the other press, the 6 Dec 2008 Bukit Antarabangsa landslide dominated the news in the Malay press between 5 and 12 Dec. But several other issues were also highlighted in the Malay press. These were primarily about Malay rights, the royalty, and the Malay language.

On 10 Dec, Berita Harian published a column titled Pemimpin Cina, India dulu lebih hormat hak Melayu by Mohd Ayop Abd Razid, who argued that the non-Malays of the early Merdeka days were more respectful of Malay rights than the non-Malays today.

“Non-Malay leaders of before had the right perception and understanding of the position of the Malays,” Mohd Ayop said, citing former MIC president Tun VT Sambanthan and former MCA president Tun Tan Siew Sin.

“[Both these leaders] criticised non-Malay politicians of that era such as KL Devaser and SM Yong who questioned the special rights of Malays that were enshrined in the constitution,” Mohd Ayop said.

Mohd Ayop said Sambanthan, one of the founding leaders of independent Malaya, argued in 1957 that the Malays, who were being called “first class citizens” by critics, were actually poor and disempowered.

Tan also defended the Malays, Mohd Ayop said. “Among others, he told the non-Malays not to hope for and ask the Malays to give up what belonged to them. Tan’s view was that the Malays were economically backward and needed help.”

Mohd Ayop said that for 50 years after independence, ketuanan Melayu was not questioned but suddenly it was being criticised by non-Malay leaders including Umno’s political allies.

“We would not be surprised if these voices were from the opposition which claims it wants to uphold equality and fairness. But questions arise when these criticisms are from Umno’s allies who have before this agreed to and accepted the implementation of the New Economic Policy,” he said.

Noting that Malay equity ownership in 2006 was only 19.4% compared with Chinese ownership of more than 40%, Mohd Ayop questioned why these allies would express views that were hurtful to the Malays. “Is this to pressure Umno or to provoke the Malays?”

Mohd Ayop is the head of the media communications unit of the Information Ministry’s special issues department.

A royal question

“We have to ask ourselves why we are raising this issue (ketuanan Melayu). I don’t understand. I don’t know how to answer the question,” Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, said in a 7 Dec exclusive interview with Mingguan Malaysia.

The sultan was asked what was the best way to respond to non-Malay Malaysian questioning of ketuanan Melayu, in the interview titled Jangan dendam sampai mati.

Sultan Sharafuddin pointed out that the rulers were Malays, so there was no need for Malay Malaysians to raise the issue of ketuanan Melayu. “For me, we need to focus on other more important issues such as education, the economy and Malay income. These issues must be fought for properly and correctly. Not by raising old issues which don’t resolve anything.”

In a front-page excerpt of the interview, the ruler also said it was up to the people and Parliament to return the Malay rulers’ immunity. “If the people feel it’s my right, I will accept it and do my very best. Whatever it is, let the people and Parliament decide because it was Parliament which removed our immunity. And that, too, was initiated by a Malay,” he said.

The sultan said he himself would not ask for the immunity to be restored, saying that his role was to fulfil his oath to protect his state and its citizens to the best of his abilities.

He added that it was perhaps more suitable to introduce conditional immunity. “I don’t agree that I should have the immunity to not pay my debts or to beat people up,” he said.

However, the sultan said the rulers should have immunity to voice their views so that they could not be taken to court for expressing their opinions.

Defending the language

In a 9 Dec Utusan Malaysia report, Lucut keistimewaan peguam tidak fasih bahasa Melayu, three interviewees said lawyers who were not proficient in Malay should be stripped of their privileges.

Syariah Lawyers Association of Malaysia chairperson Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar said this was important to uphold the status of Malay as the official language of the courts.

Among others, he said lawyers who were not fluent in Malay should not be allowed to argue in court.

“The issue of lawyers and judges who are not fluent in Malay should have ended 41 years ago when the main laws were translated into Malay,” he said in an interview.

Former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Shaikh Daud Md Ismail said language courses should be held for lawyers, adding he was confident Malay would one day be the language for all court proceedings. “But it needs the cooperation of all lawyers and legal officers,” he said.

They were responding to a commentary, Bahasa Melayu dalam mahkamah, by lawyer Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman in Mingguan Malaysia the day before. The commentary called for the comprehensive use of Malay in the courts to be speeded up.

Utusan Malaysia‘s 10 Dec editorial, titled Satu lagi usaha menghina Bahasa Kebangsaan, also argued that the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Act should be amended so that the institute of language and literature could take over enforcement of the language from local councils.

It noted that the proposal to use multi-lingual road signs in Taman Cempaka, Ipoh, Perak followed the move in George Town, Penang. Objecting vehemently to the proposal, the daily said it was clear the opposition leaders in these states, especially the non-Malays, had no respect for the constitution.

“If these actions and proposals are not controlled or fully objected to, we believe other areas controlled by the non-Malay opposition will make changes to road signs, too. We worry that, in the name of multiculturalism, other suggestions that violate the constitution will then be made.”

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