The backdrop to and rationale of Article 153

Posted on April 23, 2011


By 8th May, 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces.

The war in Europe was effectively over.

3 months later, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed.

The Japanese imperialist war, too, was over.

World War 2 was at an end, and the full extent of the atrocities committed by Hitler’s regime was soon to come to light.

According to Wikipedia, the persecution and genocide carried out in the cause of Hitler’s Holocaust accounted for the lost lives of between 11 and 17 million people.

Reacting to this, on 10th December, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and called upon all member nations to disseminate, display, read and expound the same.

The very first Article of the UDHR reads : All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

In 1956, Her Majesty the Queen of England consented to the formation of the Reid Commission, which was then tasked to draft a constitution for the intended Federation of Malaya.

It is inconceivable that the Commission would not have had in mind the UDHR principles, particularly Article 1, when they went about their work

On the basis of the recommendations of the Reid Commission, the Federal Constitution was passed by the Federal Legislative Council on 15th August, 1957.

With regard to what is now contained in Article 153, this is what the Commission proposed :

“Our terms of reference require that provision should be made in the Constitution for the ‘safeguarding of the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other Communities’. In addition, we are asked to provide for a common nationality for the whole of the Federation and to ensure that the Constitution shall guarantee a democratic form of Government. In considering these requirements it seemed, to us that a common nationality was the basis upon which a unified Malayan nation was to be created and that under a democratic form of Government it was inherent that all the citizens of Malaya, irrespective of race, creed or culture, should enjoy certain fundamental rights including equality befoa re the law. We found it difficult, therefore, to reconcile the terms of reference if the protection of the special position of the Malays signified the granting of special privileges, permanently, to one community only and not to the others. The difficulty of giving one community a permanent advantage over the others was realised by the Alliance Party, representatives of which, led by the Chief Minister, submitted that in an independent Malaya all nationals should be accorded equal rights, privileges and opportunities and there must not be discrimination on grounds of race and creed…’ The same view was expressed by their Highnesses in their memorandum, in which they said that they ‘look forward to a time not too remote when it will become possible to eliminate Communalism as a force in the political and economic life of the country’. When we came to determine what is ‘the special position of the Malays’… we found that… the special position of the Malays has always been recognised… We found that there are now four matters with regard to which the special position of the Malays is recognised and safeguarded… the system of reserving land for Malays has been in action for many years… There are now in operation quotas for admission to the public services… There are now also in operation quotas in respect of the issuing of permits or licences for the operation of certain businesses… In many classes of scholarships, bursaries and other forms of aid for educational purposes preference is given to Malays… We found little opposition in any quarter to the continuance of the present system for a time, but there was great opposition in some quarters to any increase of the present preferences and to their being continued for any prolonged period. We are of opinion that in present circumstances it is necessary to continue these preferences. The Malays would be at a serious and unfair disadvantage compared with other communities if they were suddenly withdrawn. But, with the integration of the various communities into a common nationality which we trust will gradually come about, the need for these preferences will gradually disappear. Our recommendations are made on the footing that the Malays should be assured that the present position will continue for a substantial period, but that in due course the present preferences should be reduced and should ultimately cease so that there should then be no discrimination between races or communities…We recommend that after 15 years there should be a review of the whole matter and that the procedure should be that the appropriate Government should cause a report to be made and laid before the appropriate legislature; and that the legislature should then determine either to retain or to reduce any quota or to discontinue it entirely”.

Posted in: Right to know