by K. Siladass
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister had indeed accused Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman of having done something not permitted by law by granting citizenship to one million foreign immigrants.
Historians of repute will be quick to confirm how inhuman, unsound, flippant and exasperating is Mahathir’s allegation. The granting of citizenship to “foreign immigrants” was not the work of one man – Tunku alone. Besides, it is wicked of Mahathir to claim that one million or so residents in Malaya were purely immigrants ignoring the fact that they had lived in this country for generations; and had been an integral part in the resistance against the Japanese occupation and in the fight against communism. Those one million or so “foreign immigrants” as Mahathir arrogantly and wickedly describes are the ones who saw the economic progress of this country from the time the East India Company arrived here, under constant perilous conditions.
It is indeed shocking that Mahathir had not acquainted himself of the negotiations among the Alliance Partners consisting of UMNO-MCA-MIC, the predecessor of Barisan Nasional (BN) which played a prominent role in achieving Merdeka. Aside this, it is also shocking that a man of Mahathir’s stature would descend to cheap politics in hurling condemnation against the late Tunku, who was indeed instrumental in ensuring that the radicals from all sides did not scuttle the movement towards Merdeka by their emotional actions.
These historical facts are there for the world to see; that the partners in Alliance were concerned as to the type of policy that had to be adopted and implemented after Merdeka in relation to education, citizenship and Malay special privileges. These were classified as sensitive issues and it is fair to infer that there must have been a lot of debate over them.
While the citizenship was a thorny issue beginning with the question whether it should be granted on the basis of jus soli or other format, after much consideration and upon reaching consensus on the issues of education and Malay special privileges the Alliance partners agreed on the jus soli principle for citizenship. Further, it was also agreed that the residential qualification shall be less restrictive than the previous requirement. However, according to Joseph M. Fernando, “The Making of the Malayan Constitution (2002)”, the residential qualification was reduced to eight years. The authors Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya in their “A History of Malaysia” (2nd edn.) have stated very distinctly the circumstances leading to the compromises reached by the Alliance Partners, and also referring to other features that must have been very significant, namely the influence of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) which was wielding its influence, and its association with left wing Malay nationalists, coupled with the dissatisfaction of the Chinese community with the British; who also seemed to be easy target for MCP’s recruitment. The combination of all these developments would have derailed every effort to find solutions to problems that were tormenting the leaders of all races at that time. These are the other considerations which eventually led to the compromises which everyone in the Alliance was reasonably satisfied.
Granting of citizenship was a joint decision in which decision making process UMNO was the dominant partner. Therefore, it is patently wrong for Mahathir to single out Tunku and condemn him as having done something out of the ordinary. The situation demanded a solution and common sense prevailed to tackle the situation in a pragmatic manner and that was what precisely done. Mahathir’s condemnation is indeed a mischievous distortion, an attempt to conceal or cloud his own illegality in granting citizenship to illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants can never be equated with those who had come here legally and raised their families and contributed for the well-being of this country. When others had come to exploit and take away the wealth of this country those one million immigrants who were granted citizenship had worked hard to earn that right and had reinvested their earnings in this country.
Mahathir and his cronies should realise that there is a world of difference between the status of those who aspired to become citizens under the Alliance arrangement and those that were granted by Mahathir. During the Tunku’s premiership citizenship was granted to those who were legally living in this country for decades. They were not illegal immigrants. The Sabah situation was totally different when illegal immigrants’ status was altered to one of lawful citizens of Malaysia by Mahathir to benefit one political party which was led by him.
Another point Mahathir makes is that by granting citizenship to one million “immigrants”, the Malays’ power had been diluted. Any fair-minded person will tell that this is a preposterous fancy and we have to stomach it because he was an erstwhile premier and the press gives him undue publicity.
Mahathir also claims that not all those who were granted citizenship in Sabah voted for BN. One cannot look for a baser excuse than this.