He said Malay supremacy meant that the Malays, as the indigenous people in Malaysia, needed to strengthen themselves to ensure they were successful and developed. I am sure we do not want to become coolies who do not play any role in development because we are weak and not able. He added that there were still matters related to the Malays that needed to be further improved and enhanced, although their successes were evident. We want to be a party that represents the Malays and that is ready to co-operate for the future of Malays and the people, as Malays will also succeed when all Malaysians are successful. I must say it is a brave move because he knows that many Malays might get angry with him.
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At first glance, the meaning of Ketuanan Melayu, in the Malaysian cultural and historical context, is innocent enough. According to school textbooks, Ketuanan Melayu is defined as "the passion for anything related to the Malay race, such as political rights, language, cultural heritage and customs, as well as homeland". Much in the same vein, the influential Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Institute for Language and Literature defines it as the right to rule or control a country negara , state negeri , or a district daerah on the basis of the principle of sovereignty kedaulatan.
Its root word, tuan, in this context means "lord" or "master" in relation to a servant or "owner" in relation to property. Underlying this logic is the romanticism of Malay heritage: The Malay Peninsula Semenanjung Tanah Melayu is regarded as the ancestral land of the Malays. As Dr Mahathir himself once wrote in The Malay Dilemma: "The Malays are the original or indigenous people of Malaya and the only people who can claim Malaya as their one and only country. In accordance with practice all over the world, this confers on the Malays certain inalienable rights over the forms and obligations of citizenship which can be imposed on citizens of non-indigenous origin.
It is important to also stress that while the term "Ketuanan Melayu" itself does not appear in the Constitution, its underlying logic of according special rights to Malay interests is, in fact, constitutionally sanctioned. According to the Federal Constitution of , while non-Malays were granted citizenship rights, Article decrees that it is the responsibility of the king Yang di Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and bumiputera indigenous communities while also taking into account the "legitimate interests" of other communities.
In this way, the "special position" of the Malays and bumiputera are codified. It is by this token too, that Ketuanan Melayu and the sovereignty of the sultans become intertwined.
In fact, such is the sanctity of the sovereign in the constellation of Malaysian politics, the country has nine sitting kings at any one time. All this is to say that Malay culture lies at the centre of Malaysian national culture, and it is the traditions including the pomp and pageantry of the traditional Islamic-Malay polity that shape the nature of governance and government in Malaysia today.
Notwithstanding its rich cultural and historical legacy, a critical feature of contemporary discourse on Ketuanan Melayu is how the concept has been used to frame the relationship between Muslim Malays and non-Malay citizens of Malaysia. The currency of the narrative of Ketuanan Melayu lies not only in its stress on the rights of denizens or the essence of Malay statecraft, but also its portrayal of non-Malays.
Indeed, notwithstanding its seemingly innocuous role in outlining the markers of Melayu Malay identity, the etymology of the discourse has come to set more store by its definition in relation to Malaysia's other ethnic communities: It implies that Malays are self-referenced as "tuan" or "lords" and "masters" over other identities. More to the point, the rhetoric of Ketuanan Melayu espoused by Umno today, but also echoed in Malaysian textbooks, often casts non-Malays in a pejorative light and questions their citizenship, ergo, loyalty.
Non-Malays are frequently described in Malay books as anak dagang, golongan pendatang, pendatang asing, or imigran, implying that they are sojourners with no loyalty to the land, foreigners, aliens, or immigrants as opposed to penduduk tempatan, or local inhabitants.
Their position in relation to Malay rights whenever the issue of citizenship of non-Malays is discussed if not questioned , as it unfortunately still is 57 years after independence, is delegitimised. Ketuanan Melayu then, becomes a narrative of special birthright and ethnic primacy - if not supremacy - that in the view of non-Malays, strikes at the very heart of attempts to envision a civic and pluralist conception of nationhood.
Yet, amid the controversy that the usage of "Ketuanan Melayu" stirs up today in Malaysian discourses on identity and belonging, there is one mistaken assumption - that the essence of "Melayu", or Malayness, is immutable. Perhaps, in a future piece, I will elaborate why this is not quite so. Communal identity has long been a fundamental organising principle of Malaysian politics and society.
At the heart of the matter is how national identity in Malaysia is constructed around one ethnic and religious group, the Malay-Muslims. It is this optic through which Ketuanan Melayu must be viewed. Indeed, considering that the term itself does not even appear in the Federal Constitution, its emergence as, arguably, the most important and controversial concept in the Malaysian political lexicon is certainly remarkable.
The writer is dean and professor of comparative and international politics at the S. We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs. Skip to main content. The term "Ketuanan Melayu" itself does not appear in the Constitution, but its underlying logic of according special rights to Malay interests is constitutionally sanctioned.
What exactly does Ketuanan Melayu mean? Furthermore, what does it imply? Branded Content.
Ketuanan Melayu, a tool of the oppressors
It is the primary tool the power elite have used to justify and cover their actions in pursuing their covert objectives over national policy. The deep state is a guileful legacy of colonial times. The British built up the persona of the sultans — most of them local warlords -- as a buffer to thwart any potential revolt. Any political movement against the British would be construed as a revolt against them. Further, the British knew that Malays would not challenge a ruler due to strong respect for their sovereign Daulat and the mystical aura the monarchs were perceived to possess.
Ketuanan Melayu: Power and the Deep State in Malaysia
S Thayaparan. The most important takeaway from this book is that AB Sulaiman does not make the same mistake that some writers make when discussing Ketuanan Melayu. The writer understands that this is not a tool to unify the Malay polity. Ketuanan Melayu is a tool to divide the Malay polity. The writer makes it clear that the latter purpose is the defining characteristic of this social-political, but most importantly, religious-political construct. Now, some would argue that the beginning chapters of the book that define certain concepts of different modes of thinking, linguistic theories and concepts such as nation and statehood are superfluous, but I presume that the author needs those chapters to set the scene, so to speak, to explore the complex dynamics, historical, philosophical and otherwise, of Malay society. The writer argues that the sacred cows of the Malay community have, in effect, destroyed individualism and created a community that is constantly questioning its relevancy in a changing world, as opposed to adapting to a changing world.
Ketuanan Melayu: What's in a name?
At first glance, the meaning of Ketuanan Melayu, in the Malaysian cultural and historical context, is innocent enough. According to school textbooks, Ketuanan Melayu is defined as "the passion for anything related to the Malay race, such as political rights, language, cultural heritage and customs, as well as homeland". Much in the same vein, the influential Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Institute for Language and Literature defines it as the right to rule or control a country negara , state negeri , or a district daerah on the basis of the principle of sovereignty kedaulatan. Its root word, tuan, in this context means "lord" or "master" in relation to a servant or "owner" in relation to property.
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