Perdana discourse series - Perdana Library



Perdana discourse series - Perdana Library
Published by:
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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise, without the prior consent of Perdana Leadership Foundauon.
The articles in this book are edited transcripts of the keynote speeches of "YABhg Tun Dr Mahathir
Mohamad, the Foundation's Honorary President and the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia The
transcripts have been edited for clarity.
Zarina Abu Bakar
Izyan Syazwani Mohamad
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Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia Cataloguing in Publication Data
Perdana discourse series: keynote speeches by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
ISBN 978-967-10612-1-3
1. Mahathir bin Mohamad, Tun, 1925-. 2. Speeches, addresses, etc
3. Malaysia-Politics and government. 4. Malaysia-Social conditions
5. Malaysia-Economic conditions. I. Yayasan Kepimpinan Perdana
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Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has thousands of speeches behind him, his
long career in politics having nurtured his inborn ability to convey ideas and
opinions. He is also someone with very clear views and insights on the world
and, in particular, Malaysia.
It is thus the Foundation 's good fortune to have had him as keynote speaker
for the first ten segments of the Perdana Discourse Series that took place from
2004 to 2009. Through the whole Series, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
enlightened us on various aspects of nation-building, among them: National
Unity, Social Re-engineering, Political Stability, International Relations,
National Sovereignty, Bangsa Malaysia, Economic Development and the role
of Women and Youth.
As the country's fourth Prime Minister who has lived through many of the
country's historic events. Tun has been privy to first-hand views of the changes
that have taken place in this country He grew up during the British occupation,
survived the Second World War, studied Medicine when Singapore was still
part of Malaya, saw the country become independent, witnessed the 1969
riots that tore apart the nation, and helped to heal and rebuild the country in
the decades after. He was the man who hauled Malaysia up to Industrial
Nation status and steered the country through to the Information Age.
Tun brought this wealth of experience to the Discourse where in each
keynote speech, he dissected past policy decisions, explained their rationale
and related them with current events.
We are pleased to put together this collection of Tuns keynote speeches.
We trust that the keynote speeches will promote a deeper understanding of
the complexities that have coloured the nations policy decisions and shaped
Malaysia's past and present
Thank you to our Honorary President, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, for
agreeing to be our keynote speaker for the first ten Discourses. We hope he
will still speak at future Discourses. Thank you also to UiTM for being the
co-organiser of the Discourse since its inception in 2004.
This editorial effort is one of the many initiatives of the Foundation to
communicate the various ideas and issues that are addressed at our forums
and discourses. I hope that this publication will serve as a useful reference and
guide to those who wish to learn more about Malaysia's development
Like travelling, a journey to the past becomes much more meaningful
when there is a knowledgeable and articulate guide to elaborate on the sights
and stops along the journey
The Perdana Discourse Series is like travelling, although instead of
travelling through physical space, the Series takes its audience through time to
revisit significant milestones in history and to re-examine policies and events
in light of current knowledge. We have been fortunate in that we have had a
most qualified guide on the first series of lectures, someone who is not only an
enthusiast of history but who has personally lived through many of Malaysia's
significant events: Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Tun has enlightened us on
various aspects of nation-building throughout the Series, among them:
National Unity, Social Re-engineering, Political Stability, International
Relations, National Sovereignty, Bangsa Malaysia, Economic Development
and the role of Women and Youth. In each lecture, he has explained past policy
decisions, their motives and impact. He juxtaposes these with comparisons to
other countries and with the current developments in Malaysia. In this way
parts of Malaysian history are brought to life and their relevance to current
events are underscored for the benefit of the young Malaysians who make up
the Discourse audience.
We are pleased to put together this collection of Tun's keynote speeches.
All of the speeches were delivered "off the cuff" and nine of the ten speeches
have been transcribed by the team of transcribers at Perdana, and edited by
both UiTM and Perdana. The only exception is the first keynote address, of
which the summary is reproduced in this publication. We trust that the
keynote speeches will deepen understanding and heighten awareness of our
nation's past, and will spur more interest in the history of this country As the
British historian David C. McCullough said, "History is a guide to navigation
in perilous times." More eloquently perhaps, is the belief of our Honorary
President, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who regards the learning of history as
a necessity, not an option: "In order to go forward, you must know where you
are coming from. You have to learn the lessons of history"
During the Discourse, the keynote was followed by a lively Question and
Answer session as members of the audience sought to probe more deeply into
the views and opinions of the speakers on the topic A panel session was also
convened where a host of eminent speakers elaborated further on the topic
and presented their responses to the keynote address. The Discourses in full
have been published in separate monographs by Perdana and UiTM.
We are now on the second tranche of the Perdana Discourse Series, where
we are organising another run of ten lectures on various topics of national
importance. As always, the Discourse provides a platform for thought leaders to
articulate their understanding and perspectives of the subject, and for good, solid
dialogue to take place between younger Malaysians and the keynote speaker.
We are most grateful for the participation of our keynote speaker for the
first tranche of the Series, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who set a good
foundation of knowledge for the rest of the Series to build on We thank UiTM
for being our partner for the Discourse, and thank also all the eminent panelists
who have contributed to the Discourses dialogue.
We look forward to more interesting Discourses in the future.
The Quest for National Unity: A Historical Perspective
The idea of a nation state began to crystallise in 1500 AD. Europe was
then not yet divided into separate countries but was governed by
powerful warlords who ruled peasants living on lands which the former
claimed as theirs. These peasants served the warlords as slaves and soldiers to
fight for them for even more land. The European communities were also ruled
by a number of Roman as well as German emperors. As a result of the different
emperors and rulers, the European communities were a mixed group of
societies that comprised, among others, the Romans, Germans, Latins and
Slavs. The European countries became recognised as they are today only after
the 18th century when they were divided into different states by different rulers.
Many countries around the world had evolved much in the same way as
Europe. There were no well-defined boundaries. The mixed group of people
lived wherever there were lands of came and conquered lands for themselves.
The Muslim Empire known as the Land of the Ummah was not divided into
different states. The followers of the faith lived as one religious group. The
Chinese once ruled up to as far north as Siberia, while princes and maharajahs
ruled India until the British colonials came and divided it into states. Malaya
was also once ruled by chieftains and Sultans until the Dutch, Portuguese and
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the British came and took over the local government and separated the Malay
Peninsular into different states.
The Essence of National Unity
The movements and settlements of people lead to the formation of multiracial countries all over the world They are made up of people of different
origins, colours, cultures and languages. These societies of different
communities usually experience problems like identification with the country
because of their complex social backgrounds. When different races and
cultures merge, there will be three different kinds of integration among the
One culture with dominate and force other cultures to assimilate with it
A single culture that results from a total integration of many cultures
Different cultures that maintain their differences and do not assimilate
with other cultures
National Unity - The Case of Malaysia
Malaysia has a very distinct mix of different ethnic groups. People from
different races live together in harmony and over time have blended and
adopted some aspects of other cultures from each other. For example, the hot
and spicy Malay and Indian food are also favoured by the Chinese. The Malays
have taken to using chopsticks when eating and people from different races
enjoy teh tarik and roti canai at the mamak stalls. The differences are further
diminished with mixed marriages among the different races. The Malays,
Chinese and Indians who have their own ethnic characteristics have somehow
blended and adopted the same culture which is uniquely Malaysian.
Political leaders (UMNO, MCA, MIC) have consented and agreed that
Malay (Bahasa Malaysia) is spoken for better understanding in doing business
among the various races. This is because the Chinese speak different dialects
that are not understood even by some Chinese, and the Indians also speak in
different tongues, also not understood by all.
Most Malaysians accept the need to sacrifice in order to achieve success for
the integration of the nation. The people should adhere to the philosophy
introduced by Tun Razak of sharing the economic cake which will continue to
grow when shared by the population instead of having the cake shrinking
when they have it all to themselves.
Factors that Impede Efforts Toward National Unity
There are extremists and purists who are bent on being "pure" and who do
not tolerate any "impurities" in their culture. Many Chinese have lived in this
country for generations, who, however, still act as if they are still in their own
motherland and not in a new country that is Malaysia. Then, there are the
Malay purists who insist that Malay is spoken to the point of denying access to
knowledge. There are still many Malays who are not economically strong and
who are not competitive. They still work on the old mindset namely "Ketuanan
Melayu where they feel that Malay Reserve Land is necessary. This old
mindset created by the British Colonials works on the concept that if the
Malay Reserve Land is allowed to be bought by the Non-Malays, eventually
the bumiputras will not have any land at all. This fear will disappear if the
Malays prosper and have the capacity to buy lands. Finally, it is important to
cultivate the culture of savings among Malays. In order to equalise the
competition among the races in Malaysia, it is important that the Malays
adopt some changes to their culture and value system by working hard,
cultivating the savings habit and acquiring knowledge.
A change of mindset is definitely incumbent upon the Malays. This will
allow them to better compete with other races. When the Malays are able to
compete, uncertainties and fears like having to hold on to Malay Reserve Land
will disappear. In addition, more non-Malays need to join government services.
When all these are achieved, social integration will be faster and better.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk on a subject that concerns
everyone of us, social re-engineering. When you say social re-engineering,
it implies something that is done by us out of our consciousness of the need to
re-engineer and the need to change.
Society normally goes through changes over a period of time. Society is
never static but the changes take place naturally probably in response to the
environment and to the intellectual capacity of members of the society and
also other influences, for example, foreign invasion or vast immigration of
people into any society. There would be changes in the social structure of the
society as a response to changes in the environment But were going to talk
today about re-engineering, a conscious effort to re-engineer society the social
structure of society
That implies that we know there is something wrong, something inadequate
about our society which has to be corrected so that we can enjoy the best from
living within this society. Now we all know that Malaysia is something of a
unique country. It is a multiracial country
It is not only multi-racial it is multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-cultural
and also the distribution of wealth among the different races and ethnic groups
are not balanced. The distribution is not balanced and these things tend to
break up society, to cause society to be broken into groups which may result in
confrontations and violence if not properly managed. In almost every multiracial country we see this happening.
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Even slight differences in religion can bring about confrontations and
disruptions and the society becomes unstable. You see this happening in
Northern Ireland where the people are the same; they are all white people, all
ethnic Europeans. They are Christians but they have certain different
interpretations of Christianity One group is Protestant the other group is
Catholic and because of these differences they have been fighting each other,
destabilising Northern Ireland for so very long.
And there doesn't seem to be an end to that despite efforts being made from
within and from without The same thing happens of course in some of the Arab
countries, principally Lebanon, where the Arabs of Lebanon are divided into
Muslims and Christians and because of the differences in religion they had a
civil war which lasted for many years resulting in the destruction of the country
Now, of course, the country's war has stopped, the civil war has stopped.
The country has recovered somewhat and then again recently they assassinated
the man who rebuilt the whole of Lebanon. Rafic Hariri was killed in a bomb
explosion and now they're back to square one. There are bombs exploding in
Lebanon today And the same thing is seen in Kashmir. We see the same thing
even in Pakistan because of the differences between the Shi'a and the Sunni
and all these things of course tend to destabilise a country.
Now, Malaysia has got all these numerous differences. Three different
races, each adhering to three different religions. Malays being Muslim, Chinese
being largely Buddhist and the Indians being Hindus, although we do find
some Christians among the Indians and Chinese. Of course the Malays
cannot change their religion because if they change they will not be Malays.
Constitutionally we are defined as Malays only if we are Muslim.
And Muslims don't allow for apostasy. So Malays remain Muslim, the
Chinese sometimes convert to Islam; the Indians sometimes convert to Islam
Inter-racial marriage, as a solution to our problem is not available to us as much
as we would like because of the difficulty in inter-racial marriages and the
religious insistence of Muslims that whoever marries a Muslim whether man
or woman must become Muslims.
So the forces in Malaysia would not really lead to a unification of the nation
but to a separation of the different races with their religions. So, we are very
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conscious of this kind of situation, we find it difficult to create a single nation,
to create an identity that is Malaysian. Who is a Malaysian? It's very difficult to
really define because of these differences.
But the remarkable thing about Malaysia is that despite all these
differences we have very few inter-racial conflicts. In 1969, on May the 13th,
there was this race riot in Kuala Lumpur. More than a hundred people were
killed and the world, Time magazine and Newsweek predicted that that was
the end of Malaysia and strangely, many Malaysians including Tun Dr. Ismail
said that democracy was finished in Malaysia. But you see today we are
relatively stable. I mean it may not be the kind of harmony that you would
like to see but there is obviously harmony. We work together and we play
We may return to our own homes and be separated again but frequently,
we go out at night and have dinners together. Now, we don't care whether we
go for a Chinese dinner or a Malay dinner or a western dinner in any of the
ethnic restaurants that you'll find in this country We can sit together and eat
together. Actually Malaysians cannot sit at the same table simply because the
Malays object if you serve pork, for example. Any products from the pig, if
you put on the table, it is quite likely that a Muslim might get up and walk out
He will not eat at the same table. On the other hand, the Malays love beef and
you know the Indians don't take beef So the three of us cannot really sit at the
same table but for some unknown reason we have found a way to sit at the
same table, eat together, talk and joke among ourselves and not feel so much
the differences between us.
So, this is quite some achievement I don't know whether we can say
it was re-engineered consciously or whether it just happened. More likely
we all realise the need to be tolerant, to make adjustments and to
accommodate other people, the people who have different religions from
ourselves, who have different customs from us. Of course sometimes we
breach the customs of the other group but the other group is tolerant enough
to put up with it
So we do not have the kind of confrontation and the violence that you see
in most other multi-racial countries. So we must praise Allah that we are a
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tolerant group of people. It all started of course because some politicians
decided to overlook the differences and to come together.
In 1952, there was to be a municipal election in Kuala Lumpur. At that time
the Malays were members of UMNO, the Chinese were members of MCA
and the two were not the best of friends because as you know the Malays
fought hard against the Malayan Union and the Chinese felt that the Malayan
Union would give them a better place in this country So politically they were
not together but the leaders of the MCA and UMNO did not look into the
politics of it rather they looked into how to benefit each other by overlooking
the fact that they were Chinese and Malays.
Members of the MCA, members of UMNO, Tun Ong Yoke Lin, Colonel
H.S. Lee, Dato' Yahya, as leaders of the Kuala Lumpur branches of their parties,
they decided that they should contest the elections together as a kind of
unofficial coalition. It was meant only to be for that election without the
knowledge of national leaders like Tunku Abdul Rahman The principle was
very simple; in a constituency where the main majority of the voters were
Chinese there would be a Malay minority. The assumption was that the
Chinese would be split into two almost equal numbers and the Malay votes
would determine who is going to win. That is in the Chinese constituency. In
the Malay constituency where the Malays are in the majority there would be a
minority of Chinese. Now assuming that the Malays are split into two then the
Chinese vote would determine who would win. It was a very simple theory
and it worked. It worked so well that the multiracial parties as represented by
Dato' Onn's IMP (Independence of Malaya Party) and the socialists lost to
this racialist party which had decided to work together. Now because it worked
so well, then the politicians extended it on a national level and today what we
have is the same principle working through the Barisan Nasional.
So it was almost accidental, the way we found a solution to our social
problem, economic problem, political problem and having achieved that we
have been able to keep the country as stable as possible and I think this is
something we should be very grateful for to Tunku Abdul Rahman for
accepting this approach to the problem And that approach has worked very
well for Malaysia so much so that people are amazed.
Social Re-Engineering
When they came to Malaysia, they didn't see a Malay running after a
Chinese and stabbing him or fighting breaking out in Bintang Walk or
whatever. You see them walking together, working together, playing together
although they may speak in different languages and they have different beliefs.
In Malaysia, this is something that has amazed foreigners to the extent that I
have been invited to many places and one of the questions they invariably ask
or ask me to speak about was how do you achieve racial harmony in Malaysia?
And how we achieved it, of course, began really with the political need to
work together. And that political need has now spread into the economic area
and into the social area. But we must admit that we have not achieved a true
nation in the sense that we would say that we are Malaysians. We are not
Malays, we are not Chinese, we are not Indians, we are Malaysians. We are not
Buruj or Bajau or Iban or whatever. We are just Malaysians. We have not come
to that stage although Malaysians of Chinese origin when abroad, when asked
whether they are Chinese they say yes but we are Malaysian. You see they have
to point out that they're not China Chinese, not Taiwan Chinese, not Hong
Kong Chinese, not even Singapore Chinese; they are Malaysian Chinese. So
they do have that identification with the country but not to the point of
forgetting that they are Chinese.
The Malays also feel that they are Malays and it's the same with the Indians,
they are Malaysian whenever they are abroad.
The strange thing is that when they come home, then they feel they are
more Indian or more Chinese or more Malay. But when abroad, they are
Malaysian. Now how do we engineer these things? It is not just a question of
race; it's a question of the kind of society we want to live in. What kind of
society do we want to live in? We want to live in a society where there is
equality in all areas among the Malays, Chinese and Indians.
No special treatment for anyone. That's the kind of idea that we want to
see. But that idea will not be achieved until the fear of being placed in an
inferior position can be overcome. If we can overcome that fear, that's when
there is equality of everything. The fear that equality of treatment may result in
some race finding themselves at the bottom of the rung, in some race finding
themselves at the top of the rung, this fear is still there.
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The fear of the Malays that the Chinese would dominate the economy;
this is a very real fear, Chinese economic power. On the other hand the
Chinese fear the Malays because of their political power. There are more
Malays; more indigenous people than there are Chinese. So the Chinese fear
political dominance of the Malays. The Malays fear economic dominance of
the Chinese and the Indians fear everybody. You see in Malaysia, really, Indians
should not have even a single representative in parliament because there is no
constituency where there is an Indian majority If the Indians want to be
elevated to become a Member of Parliament, he must seek the support of the
non-Indians. In the Barisan Nasional, there is a mechanism for that and it has
been successful, so we will still have Dato' Samy Vellu and his colleagues in
Cabinet because of this arrangement But on their own, if they come out as an
Indian party, Indians for the Indians, they will never make it
So they have to be friendly with the Chinese and with the Malays in order
to get their support So they fear both. Whereas the Chinese fear the Malays,
the Malays fear the Chinese. They don't say in so many words but somewhere,
there is this fear. Now, the solution to this of course is to remove this fear and
this fear politically can be removed very easily. Just say everybody is equal
politically. Everybody has the same right politically.
But in the economic field, it is not so easy to equalise the strength of the
different races. To equalise you must bring up the Malays to the level of the
Chinese where they can compete with the Chinese. It's already happening
now, they can compete. In fact they have been successful. I'm glad to say that
there are several Malay business people who have actually bought Chinese
companies and turned around Chinese companies.
That is a remarkable achievement, something that was not thought
of as possible before but it has now happened. I can name them
but I don't have to name them here. But the fact is that it has happened. But if
this thing keeps going on, the capacity of the Malays to compete with the
Chinese is very obvious, very clear, then the fear of the Malays can be get rid
of. They will not feel that fear and the Chinese for their part can easily feel
comfortable because to give political power to the Chinese is by the stroke of .
a pen, literally
Social Re-Engineering
And then there is the field of education. Unfortunately, despite the help
given by the government there is still a disparity in terms of levels of education
between the Chinese and the Malays and the Indians. For some reason or
other the Malays are still behind. Not as far behind as before. In my days when
I went to the university out of 77 students who were in my class of 1947, doing
medicine and dentistry there were 7 Malays. At the end of the year there were
only 4 Malays. So now we have hundreds and thousands of Malays in the
university Some of them do very well. Some of us do not do so well. We could
do better. Today, in some universities, as many as 70% of the students are girls.
What happened to the boys? Where are they? Are they stupid? I don't know. I
feel like concluding that they are stupid, that's why they're not in university
But maybe they are wiser then me. They avoid going to the university It's a
better life outside the university. But when you see the number of girls, you
should see the same number ofboys simply because in any human society the
number of girls and boys are about equal. About the same, 50/50, God made
us that way. You look at any society A lot of people don't even notice this but
actually there are in any society, 50% boys and 50% girls.
How this comes about I don't know because some people produce only
boys, some people produce only girls. I have got more girl grandchildren than
I have boy grandchildren. But when you add up on the average it's 50/50. So if
there are a certain number of girl students in the university there should be the
same number of boys in the university But we don't have that and the people
affected are unfortunately Malays. So in the field of education we have made
considerable advances but by comparison to the other communities, the
Chinese and Indians, the Malays are still behind and they need to catch up.
They need to work hard in order to achieve their true potential. I believe
they have the same potential as everybody else but because they make no
effort, the potential will not just come up by itself You have to make an effort
That is with regard to education. Then there is this problem of value systems
which affect the social structure. What really determines the kind of person we
are is the value system that we believe in and we practise. We must believe in
good value systems that can contribute towards our success and we find that
the value systems of the Chinese and the Malays and Indians differ.
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You know how Indian families drive their children. They must study. At
least one of their children must become a doctor. Even if you have to go to
Ukraine, you go to Ukraine. If they have a university in Siberia, they will go to
Siberia because of this drive by the family That is their belief; their value
system forces them to ensure that their children achieve a level of education
that they can be proud of They are proud of the educational achievement of
their children. They are also proud of other achievements of their children.
They teach music, for example, to their children and they spend money on
these things in order to raise themselves from the level that they are in; that is
the Indian value system The Chinese have a different value system but again
the emphasis is on material success, worldly success because they feel that you
have to show your ability, because the Chinese normally live in a competitive
environment They must do well otherwise they will, of course, be seen as
failures, they would be poor, they would not enjoy life.
Now what is the Malay value system? Strictly speaking it should be an
Islamic value system with a little bit of the old Malay values added to it You
know about how the Malays say "biar mati anak jangan mati adat" But if your
child is dead, where is your adat (customs) ? There will be nobody to carry on
the adat. So I think you have to have your children alive first and then we have
the adat. Sometimes these wise saying are not really so wise so lets rethink these
things. We are in the business of re-engineering, let's re-engineer this thing.
Now is there something wrong about Islamic values that hold back the
Malays? Is there something wrong with it? Now you see throughout the world,
almost all Islamic countries, Muslim countries, seem incapable of developing.
In fact, many Muslims consider Malaysia to be the only Muslim country that
has developed. Muslim countries seem incapable of having a good government
They are always fighting each other, assassinating each other and doing all the
wrong things.
But in Malaysia, of course, we have succeeded to a certain extent But the
failure of the Malays is also somediing that is equated with some factor in
Islam which holds back the material, eardily success of the Malays. But
'Let the children die rather than customs and tradition" is the literal English translation.
Social Re-Engineering
would like to differ. I would like to say that it is not Islam at all. Islam is not a
negative force. Islam is a very positive force. What is negative is the
interpretation of Islam
Now, over 1400 years, there have been many interpretations of Islam as
there are in Christianity too. The Christians now have been broken up into
Protestants, Catholics, Calvinists, and Methodists. Now we have a lot of new
bom again Christians and all that Islam too has undergone that same division
over 1400 years. The first division of course is the division between the Shia
and the Sunni; the Shi a would have about 12 different Imams, Sunnis would
have 4. And then there are different sects, and of course we have Arqam* also.
Here in Malaysia we have Arqam. Lots of people believe Arqam is die true
Islam but these are the results of interpretation by ordinary human beings.
These are not prophets. They are not in anyway of the same stature as the
Prophet Muhammad. We can accept what Prophet Muhammad conveys to us
as the message from Allah.
But would we say that Nik Aziz's** pronouncements are equivalent to that
of the Prophet Muhammad? He says that if you vote for PAS you go to heaven.
Who has been there to verify this? Nik Aziz is like me. I mean, he may be able
to speak a little bit more Arabic than I do. I can read the Quran like everybody
else but he is an ordinary person, an ordinary human being. He is not free from
flaws. So his interpretation is not necessarily an Islamic interpretation. You
know that Bukhari, Muslim and Tarmidzi, these are the people who studied
the Hadith and even between them there are differences. What is accepted as
verified by Bukhari may be rejected by Muslim, may be rejected by Tarmidzi
or the others. So these are human beings who are learned but not free from
faults and yet we tie ourselves to them, to their interpretation of Islam and we
tie our belief to their interpretation. If they are wrong then we are wrong. Now
I feel that in many instances they are wrong. So in that case what do you do?
I'm not a preacher but I read the Quran, I read the Quran in English and Malay.
I look at what I read and I find everything there is very positive. If they become
negative it is because of this interpretation.
* Al -Arqam is a Malaysian-based Islamic religious sect banned by the Malaysian Government in 1994.
** Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat is the Chief Minister of Kelantan and the spiritual leader of the Pas Malaysian
Islamic Party (PAS)
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Now let's look at the idea that if you study religion you'll get merit for your
afterlife, dapat pahala untuk akhirat kalau kita belajar agama. If you study
religion then your place in heaven is much more likely but if you study science,
mathematics, astronomy or whatever, would your place in heaven be
guaranteed? Now these people, not the Prophet Muhammad, not the Quran,
not the Hadith but these people say that these other subjects will not merit
consideration for your afterlife. In other words, they are of a lower grade.
Maybe they are secular subjects which gain you nothing at all. This happens to
be the teaching of some of these people, not all Some of these people say that
if we don't study religion then you are on j o u r way to hell. So if you tell a Malay
that you want to go to heaven, you study religion, you become a Hafiz, you can
recite the Quran without looking at it and you go to heaven. But if you study
science, you're going to hell. You ask a Malay which one do you want to study
and the answer is I want to memorise the Quran because I want to go to
heaven. But this is what these people tell you. What does the Quran tell you?
In the Quran there are 2 types of verses. One is very specific, there are no two
ways you can interpret it The other one is made up of parables, stories which
you have to interpret and you can interpret stories in many ways.
If you read some of the novels that are written you can either enjoy it or
dislike it depending on your interpretation of it So what happens? You look at
the Quran and you read. I say it is positive because I find that the Quran asks
you to study. Iqra' you know everybody knows Iqra'. The first message received
by the Prophet was Iqra', "Read", and this man cannot read. He was asked to
read, meaning to say he must study and learn to read.
But when you read something what do you get? You get better informed,
you get better knowledge, you become clever and when it says Iqra' it doesn't
say Iqra' only in religious matters. The Quran doesn't say; it Just says Iqra', read.
That is why the early Muslims straight away translated the works of the Greeks,
the works of the Persians, the works of the Indians, the Chinese, into Arabic
because they wanted to read and they became very knowledgeable. They were
the prominent scientists at a time when the Europeans were very backward.
That is the meaning of read but these people make an interpretation saying
that read means read the Quran, read the kitab written by Sheikh so and so. So
Social Re-Engineering
you'll find Malays are reluctant to study anything else other than religion and
you see armies of them going to Al-Azhar University, staying there for 14 years
and still not graduating because Al-Azhar doesn't mind, you can stay there
forever. And some of them come back from Al-Azhar not able to speak a word
of Arabic. I can speak better Arabic then they do. This is because they interpret
reading as reading only religion but there is nothing to prevent you from
studying other subjects. Read means acquire knowledge and you have to
acquire knowledge in everything, in geography, in history, in mathematics and
You know, the word chemistry comes from the Arabic word alchemy It's
an Arabic subject developed by Muslim chemists. Physicians like Ibn Sina,
they were the ones who identified diseases and treated diseases. Why? Because
at that time you didn't have interpreters who told them this is not going to
guarantee your place in heaven. Now would they go to heaven if they study? I
think they would. I think that to study other subjects would be part of ibadah.
And if they accept that as part of their value system, then you will find most
of them would apply themselves seriously to study all these other subjects.
Now why should we study other subjects? Why is it that I say that the Quran
wants you to study other subjects? Now among the things in the Quran which
is very clear is that the Muslims must have the capacity to defend the ummah.
They must be able to defend, not to attack other people but if the ummah is
attacked then they must have the capacity to defend the ummah. And in Islam,
if you have no capacity then you are sinning because you don't follow the
injunctions of the Quran. Now in order to defend the ummah during the time
of the Prophet they must have war horses, spears, bows and arrows and things
like that and they were able to defend the ummah because the enemies also
had the same weapons. And over time, the Muslims developed siege machines
and many other weapons in order 'to defend the Muslims and this is because
they learnt about the art and science of defending and making weapons. Why?
Because the Quran enjoins upon them to be able to defend the ummah. Now
today are you going to have war horses, bows and arrows and spears to defend
the ummah? Obviously the word that is important is not the war horses or the
weapons at the time of the Prophet but rather the ability to defend.
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The ability to defend depends upon your ability to produce the correct
weapons to defend yourself Today Muslims cannot produce the correct
weapons because they have not studied science, they neglected science, they
neglected mathematics, they neglected everything and they are busy
memorising the Quran in order to go to heaven. So we are in this state because
we have not followed the injunctions of the Quran to study That to study
science, to study mathematics is as important as or perhaps even more
important than your study of religion, your studies of the various writings of
various Sheikhs and Imams and all that, who are mere men, they are not
prophets. That is why today the value system which is supposed to be Islamic
is not Islamic at all. It is the value system that is spread by the interpreters of
Islam. Learned though they may be but they are still ordinary human beings
and they can be wrong.
But if you go back to the Quran and the verified Hadith, you will find
positive instruction there on every issue including justice. You know this
Hudud law, the procedure of determining whether a person is guilty or not; the
procedure includes having 4 witnesses who are people of good character.
That's what is stated but the Quran also states that when you judge, judge with
justice. That is more important, it must be justice. So if 2 men, 1 Chinese,
1 Malay go stealing things, you cannot chop the Malay hand and leave the
Chinese hand free and he serves 2 months jail and the Malay goes around
without one hand. Would that be justice? No, it will not be justice. If it is not
justice would that be Islamic? It cannot be Islamic because it is unjust,
obviously unjust
I'll give you another example. A girl is raped. She of course recognises the
rapist but she couldn't produce 4 witnesses. According to these people's
interpretation of Islam, because she made an accusation without the
4 witnesses, she is guilty of perjury, guilty of making a false statement and
therefore punishable by 80 strokes of the rotan. Is that justice? The person who
is raped is punished and the rapist gets away Is that justice? If it is not justice it's
not Islamic That is why we cannot go along that way Of course, if there are
4 witnesses, well and good, but what are the 4 witnesses doing looking at the
person being raped and not helping? You know the origin of this law was
Social Re-Engineering
because the wife of the Prophet was accused of having something to do with
somebody else and the Prophet couldn't prove otherwise. But he said where
are the witnesses? You make an accusation against my wife but where are the
witnesses? So there are no witnesses and therefore you cannot accuse her or
condemn her.
But here in this case the girl loses and yet she is going to be punished and
if she gets pregnant it is evidence of zina. She should be stoned to death. Is that
justice? Is that Islamic justice or is that justice at all? Obviously it's unjust so it
cannot be Islamic if it is unjust. So if we go back to the Quran you will find the
Quran is very correct and very positive about things and in terms of learning
and having good values the Quran provides you with the best value system
It urges you to be able to defend yourself, urges you to acquire knowledge,
urges you to have all kinds of capacity urges you to be always fair, there are
inheritance laws etc AH of these things are very positive in Islam but what we
are practising or the values that the Malay holds today are not really Islamic
values. They are actually the results of wrong interpretation by these people
who claim that they are very learned, they are the Ulama. People like me
cannot ask, cannot say anything. We have to accept it without question
because they are the Ulama. You go back to the origin of the word Ulama it
comes from the word Alim. Alim means learned. I may not be learned in that
particular subject, I'm learned in medicine, you know; and when they get sick
they come to me. They won't come to me if I'm not learned in medicine so I
am Ulama Mahathir.
So the Malays would be able to achieve the same material gains on this
earth and in the next by acquiring knowledge and working hard in order to
uplift: the level of development of the Malays and when that is done, when the
Malays are well developed, as progressive and capable as the Chinese and the
Indians, the fear will disappear. The fear of the Chinese will disappear. At that
stage when there is no fear on the part of the Chinese of the Malays, on the part
of the Malays of the Chinese and the Indians fear nobody than we would have
achieved our social re-engineering.
It's a tough task, it will take time but that is the thing that we must all
try to do.
irstly thank you once again for giving me this opportunity to speak at this
series, the Perdana Discourse Series. Today we are going to talk about
This morning, when I went to my office, I found in the file an old book that
I had written. And in this book there was one chapter that was dedicated to
education. This book, I managed to scan through, to give me some idea as to
what I should be speaking about The reason why this book was on my table
was because I asked for it since someone wants to translate it into the Albanian
language and they want me to write an introduction or a foreword to it I am
not going to write it in Albanian. I'II have to write it in English and I hope they
will be able to translate my English. In any case, it is interesting that we should
be discussing education, a subject that I was very keen about - and this book
was written in 1986, quite some time ago. And I think that the more we
understand the subject the better educated we will be.
But firsdy, a definition of education, or rather my definition of education.
To me education is the methodical spread of knowledge. Of course there has
always been knowledge being spread but in a rather unsystematic way. We gain
knowledge of course, from our .parents. When we are young, when we are
small, we learn some things from them. We learn how to behave, we learn to
distinguish what is good, what is bad and sometimes they even teach us other
subjects, but in a very unsystematic way They didn't have classes for us but
somehow, they will try to impart knowledge to us and we become educated.
You may have noticed that every generation is better educated than the last
generation. I will elaborate on that later on but the systematic spread of
knowledge gained momentum during the Islamic civilisation. As we know,
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people wanted to study mainly the Quran and they usually gathered or sat at
the feet of knowledgeable people who in a very systematic way would try to
explain to them the religion. Usually it was done in the mosque and the
mosques were provided with corridors and shady areas and pillars. Pillars are
very important because most of these learned people were very old and they
needed to lean on something. So you see, picture them leaning against a pillar
in the mosque and with a number of younger people gathered around them.
But it was not very systematic Nevertheless it grew. The system slowly
improved and as a result, the university, the Al-Azhar University was started
from the madrasah in Cairo.
And that started off the concept of higher education in a systematic fashion.
But of course over time people felt that this systematic spread of knowledge
should begin very early. It should not be left to the parents alone. They should
have places where the children can go and be trained, have knowledge
imparted to them by people who are especially dedicated to the training of, or
the spread of, knowledge.
It would seem very peculiar that actually we begin not from the lower end
but from the upper end. The systematisation of education begins at the
university level before it comes down to the primary level, and then the
secondary level and then on, of course, to the tertiary level But the idea of the
systematic spread of knowledge caught on and it was felt that the best time to
teach would be when people were young, when they were much more able to
absorb new knowledge. You will understand this when some of the old people
among us, including my self, try to play around with a computer. Old people
take a long time to learn and probably never learn at all. But the young people,
whether they are brilliant or not, somehow or other seem to relate themselves
to the computer and they use the computer very, very quickly, and they gain
from the usage of the computer in a very short space of time.
It is simply because young people still have a lot of space, I think, in their
brains. They are not clogged up with all kinds of unnecessary things like loving
somebody, or hating somebody, or quarreling with somebody, or feeling
dissatisfied with the salary that the government is giving, and things like that.
All these things crowd out knowledge. But, young people are not worried
about all these - what are to them - minor things. So there's a lot of space for
them to absorb knowledge. That is why children can learn much faster than us.
Try learning a new language and you will find how difficult it is. Yet, children
learn their mother tongue very easily without books. They can learn very
quickly and if there are people who speak different languages during their
childhood days, they can speak both languages. They can even speak three
languages and they move from one language to another without any difficulty
at all.
Of course, if you know Mr. Tony Buzan, the man who teaches us how to
draw the mind-map, he tells us that the number of cells in the brain is so huge,
going into trillions, that there must be a lot of space still not taken up, even in
old people. But somehow or other we have not been able to access those cells.
I think only a limited number of cells in our brain can accommodate new
knowledge. So, when education became something that was recognised as
important in the development of a child for the future, education became very
systematic and improved all the time instead of just sitting at the feet of the
learned man'. They began to have schools, the schools improve, the method of
teaching improve, the number of subjects improve and as the child grows
older and moves into the secondary and tertiary level, he begins to learn more
about less.
This is a very peculiar thing. As you get older you learn more about less
things. Doctors become specialists. How do they become specialists? First
they learn generally about medicine. And then they decide to study one part of
the human body, or one discipline. And then, from that discipline there is a
special section of that discipline which requires further learning. So you can
see from the big subject, it has become a smaller subject - but more knowledge
- and then an even smaller area with greater knowledge. Now if you follow this
to the limit, to the nth degree, what will happen is that these specialist doctors
will learn more and more about less and less until they come to the stage
where they will know a lot about nothing.
Well, that can happen of course, but so far it hasn't happened. But the logic
of it is that if you keep on studying a smaller area all the time, eventually
you'll be studying one single cell in the body and you'll know everything
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about that cell. And then, from that cell you go to the components of the cell
and so on, so that you will be very knowledgeable about almost nothing. But
we think it is useful. We think that we should make use of this methodical
spread and absorption of knowledge in order to improve the quality of society.
Now we know that we cannot go through all the experiences and do all our
research in order to acquire knowledge. Somebody has to do this for us first
and then we learn these things second-hand or third-hand. But there's nothing
wrong with that
Others have done research work and we learn from them. And because
they have done good research work, we can gain this second-hand knowledge
much faster. And that means that we can have more knowledge over time. In
other words, the early people would have some knowledge about some things.
But later on others would add to the knowledge and finally, of course, when it
comes to us, all the knowledge accumulated through the ages would be
available to us - if we want to acquire that knowledge. Of course now we have
come to the stage when the amount of knowledge available is too big for us to
learn. So even at a young age you may have to specialise. But that does not
matter because there are other people specialising in other areas. So within a
society, there would be people knowledgeable about all kinds of subjects and
that society would be a very educated society.
Now why do we need education? It is simply because we want to avoid the
mistakes of the past By learning about what happened in the past, we would
know what was right and what was wrong. And we would reject what was
wrong and carry on with what is right I like to quote from the sayings of
George Santayana (I think people have heard me quoting this, maybe this is a
little bit boring, but to me it is a very important saying), what he said was that,
"Those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat their
mistakes over and over again." So when you learn something, it must be from
the past It maybe from yesterday, it may be from a hundred years ago, it may
be from a thousand years ago. It maybe from Socrates. Or it maybe from Karl
Marx. So the process of learning has been going on, and we can access and
recognise what was good, what was bad, avoid what is bad and carry on with
what is good, and use the knowledge that we have in order to better society
Knowledge for knowledges sake is, of course, not really worthwhile. There
are some people who feel that they must know about things. Whether it is
useful or not does not matter. But some societies can afford that. I'm told that
if you ask a German to write on the mosquito, he will produce ten volumes. I
think if you ask a Malaysian to write on the mosquito, he will take one page.
Aedes causes dengue. Period. That's all. But the thoroughness of some people
enables them to go deeply into any subject Maybe it is not immediately useful,
but we never know whether it will turn out to be useful later on. Of course, we
cannot afford, at our stage of development, to spend too much time on gaining
knowledge for the sake of knowledge. We want to gain knowledge, acquire
knowledge that can give us some advantage, that can help us to develop
ourselves, and also to develop our society Therefore, if the curriculum is very
well drawn up, and our people study, and study very hard, we're going to have
a very educated population - a population which understands things, and is
conversant with knowledge in every field. And this knowledge is useful for the
development of our society
Knowledge determines whether you make progress or not And one of the
things that we should notice is that knowledge seems to be inheritable. That
means to say, the next generation, somehow or other, seems to
possess the knowledge all by themselves. This conclusion is made because we
know that every generation is much more advanced than the last generation.
We are more advanced than our fathers, our grandfathers, our great
grandfathers. Look at the history of Malaysia. What was it like? A hundred
years ago, or even twenty years ago, it was not as developed, as sophisticated as
we are now. It means that when we acquire knowledge, somehow or other, it
passes on to the next generation So when you are studying something,
please remember that you are actually studying for your children. And if you
think that you are doing this thing for your children - not for yourself
alone - but for your children, I'm quite sure you will study harder.
Unless of course you don't love children. I love children. I can never have
enough of them.
So it is a duty on the part of society, members of society, to acquire as
much knowledge as possible. Because knowledge is what builds quality of
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life, builds and contributes towards development I assume that all of us
want to progress. We want to be better than what we are now. We want to be
as good as what other people more advanced than us are. We want to
become, by the year 2020, a developed nation. Obviously if you want to
become a developed nation, you must have the ability, you must have the
capacity to develop. And knowledge, which you acquire through a systematic
education, will contribute towards that capability.
Of course, in todays world, because of the huge amount of knowledge
that is available and that is useful, it is necessary for us to divide ourselves,
and for different people to acquire different knowledge. It would be a tragedy
if we all wanted to study only one subject Supposing all of us want to
study law, imagine what kind of world it would be if all the people in this
room were lawyers. It would be a great disaster. You know lawyers can argue
both sides.
just assign them. He can defend the crook, he can also
become the prosecutor. One day he defends the crook. The next day, he
may become the prosecutor, and he will try and put the crook into jail. My
apologies to those people who are trained as lawyers; Shakespeare said 'First
thing we do, we hang the lawyers." I forgot already which play it was, but it is
from Shakespeare. So when I quoted that, the Bar Council took umbrage
and thought that I am anti-lawyer. But at the moment, I need a lawyer very
But what I'm trying to say is that we have to divide ourselves to study
different fields so that society would have people who are able to do different
things. There is no way in the present world for us to be able to do
everything that we need to do. There must be a division of labour. In the good
old days, of course, the farmer would do everything by himself including
shaping his own plow, or sharpening his tajak (trowel). But nowadays we have
people who drive these harvesters and plowing machines. They will do it for
the farmer. The farmer need not leave his house at all. He just asks someone
else to do it He will stay at home. And that means that today we have a division
of labour within our society.
There are some people who would like to study religion. The Muslim
people feel that if you study religion, it will give you merit for the afterlife. Now
if you get merit, and I as a doctor get no merit, that's not fair. So I too should
study religion. I shouldn't have become a doctor, let alone a politician.
Although of course, those who study religion can also become politicians. So
some people study religion, and study it well. But other people, I think, should
focus on other things which are equally important for the society And that
way I think society will be able to cope with different problems. Because we
don't face just one problem, we face many many problems. And we need
expertise in order to tackle these problems. We may have to defend our
country. I think people who defend our country must be given merit for the
afterlife also. Then there are people who need to look after the welfare of
people, need to look after the health of the people, need to look after all kinds
of facilities needed in a developed country, in a developing country in any
country in fact So there will be specialists in many areas. It is important
therefore that we recognise the needs of society and we provide education to
meet the needs of society
Far too often, people decide to take up subjects that they like. But it's not
just a question of liking. It is also a question of having to meet the needs of
society if that society wishes to develop. So our education system has been so
designed that people can specialise in many fields. Initially of course, they just
acquire general knowledge. In school they acquire general knowledge, and
then as they move up into the secondary and then the tertiary level, they begin
to focus on certain specific areas which are needed for the development of
society, and of the country. This is something that everyone must understand
- the role of education. The role of education for some people is simply to
equip themselves with the ability to earn a living. The bigger the income, the
better. So which line would give you the best income? You may conclude that
in the professions, perhaps the doctors would earn the most.
So as you know, in this country, everyone wants to study medicine. Or
rather every Indian wants to study medicine. They think that they would be
eligible, and they will get good dowry if they are doctors. Because people with
eligible daughters have to pay a very high dowry It's not the same as the
Malays. The Malay man has to pay the dowry. With the Indians, it's the girl's
side who has to pay the dowry If you are a doctor, you'll get a bigger dowry.
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I don't know if that is the motivation or not, but a lot of Indians want to
become doctors. You go anywhere in the world -I went to Ukraine, there were
Indian students studying medicine in Russian. And then I went to Trinidad,
there were Indian medical students. I went to Bali, yes, there were Indian
medical students speaking fluent Indonesian.
Of course, they would never speak fluent Malay. But when they are in
Indonesia, somehow or other they acquire fluent Indonesian. So I think there
should be also among the Indians, some division of labour. If you don't get a
place to do medicine, do something else. We also require people who are
skilled in other areas. We want to have a society that has apportioned its people
correctly so that they can do the kind of work that society needs. And society
needs a lot of people who are trained in different fields. And of course at times,
certain fields are much more important than others. But whatever it is, we need
to have some kind of balance.
Yesterday I was talking to the Islamic Conference on business, and I found
out during my visits to the Middle East that the very rich Arabs feel that the
only thing they need to do is to hire people to do things for them They
themselves don't have to do anything. Some of them are qualified doctors and
engineers, but because they have so much money, they decide to hire
foreigners. If you do that, you will suffer from brain atrophy shrinking of the
brain. Because like everything else, if you don't use it, it shrinks. You know, if
you don't walk, just imagine if you are made to lie in bed for one month or two
months, and one day you are asked to get up and walk. You're going to feel very
giddy. Your legs will be very weak and you may fall down, simply because you
don't use the legs. If you don't use anything, over time, it shrinks. And if you
don't use your brain, it shrinks. In a way, it shrinks. So that would constitute
brain atrophy So it is very important for us to make use of our brain all the
time, to support the use of our other limbs and our capacity to do things. And
the brain becomes very powerful, if it carries with it a lot of knowledge.
It is quite obvious that a very knowledgeable society is more likely to
progress and develop, than an ignorant society. We know there are ignorant
societies. There are still primitive people in this world, and they are quite
unable to' make any progress. They seem to remain primitive through
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generations. But they have certain skills that we don't have. Their skills are
related to their way of life. For example, if you ask a Penan to use his blowpipe
to bring a monkey down, he can do that very easily. But if you ask Einstein provide him with a blowpipe and tell him, 'Please bring down that monkey he wouldn't be able to blow even 3 yards in front of him.
So our skills are different Whatever you do, if you do it often enough, you
are going to be very skillful. And that brings me to this problem of acquiring
knowledge. The problem is that some people seem to have an infinite capacity
to acquire knowledge. They can leam anything very very quickly But some
people find it very difficult to acquire knowledge, to acquire any skills. But here
we are fortunate. We are fortunate because God has endowed us with this
capacity of acquiring anything, any knowledge, any skill, provided we are
prepared to do it repeatedly Whatever you do, if you do it again and again and
again, you are going to become skillful. If you want to learn something in a
book - if you read it once, you are not going to remember. But if you read it
twice, you remember more. If you read it ten times, you remember even more
than you think yourself capable o£
Now when I went to the medical college, I was among those with the least
qualifications. All the other boys, the boys from Singapore and Malaysia, they
all went to medical college with at least six distinctions. Six, seven, eight
distinctions. They were all brilliant I had only three distinctions, and that was
the highest among the Malay boys. So I was brilliant - you know, in a small
pond, you feel big. But when you enlarge the pond, you feel you're small. You
see, among the Malays, I was the best But when mixed up with all these
Chinese and Indian boys, I felt very small indeed. And they told me, actually
to pack my bags and go home. Because the medical course is not for me really
With three distinctions, what can you do?
So because of my consciousness that I was not up to the mark, I had to
adopt certain strategies. One of them was to really concentrate and read again
and again and again. I remember when I took my pathology examination. I
read the path book, I don't know how many times; so much so, when I was
answering the questions, I could actually see the page that was relevant to that
question. I could practically read the page and see the illustration. So it was
easy for me to just extract from what I saw, which was already in my mind. So
when you do it repeatedly it is possible for you, without any effort really I
didn't try to memorise, but I looked at the page, I read the page over and over
again, until somehow or other it became a picture in my mind.
So when you do things repeatedly you learn. The other day I had this
Chinese professor, whom I persuaded the Ministry of Education to hire. Now,
he is a math expert and he teaches children how to memorise, how to
remember huge figures, how to multiply or add huge figures of maybe, twenty
or twenty five figures, times another twenty five figures, and get the answer. At
first, of course, it is difficult But you will be surprised to see a six year old child
able to multiply twelve figures by fifteen figures, and give the answer right away
without any writing. How does he do this? You know the abacus. You calculate
on the abacus. This is the greatest computer ever invented in the world - we
must give the Chinese credit for that They built this computer way back, I
think, two thousand, three thousand years ago.
And the abacus is a calculator. You move the beads up and down, and you
know what the answer is. After some time, after using the abacus repeatedly,
the child remembers the abacus. In his mind he can see the abacus. And when
he calculates, what he does is that in his mind, he pushes the beads up and
down. And he gets the answer from the abacus. So when he is given a figure to
calculate, immediately he can see the figures on the abacus. He then moves the
abacus, whether to multiply or to add, or to subtract, and he can see die answer
in the abacus - because he has done the abacus, he has seen the abacus,
operated the abacus, so many, many times. Although he is only six years old,
(remember, children remember much better than we do) he can calculate
these big numbers very quickly, using the mental abacus.
Why is he able to do that? He is able to do that, not because he is
extraordinarily brilliant No. It is simply because he does something repeatedly
So, we sometimes have an inferiority complex. We think we cannot learn
because we are stupid. We are not as brilliant as that other guy. But if you are
prepared to do things repeatedly do it again and again and again, insyaAllah,
you will become as good as anybody else. This I believe, because that is what
happened to me. That is how I got through my exams. This also is what I have
observed. And in particular, I have observed these little children, able to
calculate - so quickly, in their minds - complex calculations. And of course,
Tony Buzan has got a different method. They use mnemonics. In medicine
also we use mnemonics in order to remember. The muscles of the thighs, for
example, we say 'Say Grace Before Tea' (to represent) Sartorius, Gracilis,
semiTendinosus and something, I've forgotten now.
W h y have I forgotten? Because 1 have not repeated it often enough.
Nowadays I'm asked to write political speeches and such nonsense. It is no
longer about learning medicine. But if you use mnemonics, you associate
something with something else, then you are going to remember things. The
other day 1 had some preparation served to me in Langkawi. And 1 was trying
to tell my wife what it was. Somehow or other I couldn't remember the word.
So I went back to see the thing mentally and 1 related it to another thing, which
is similar to that, and 1 got the word. What was served to me was pancake,
And 1 had to go back to crepe suzette. Crepe suzette is French pancake, and
what was served to me was pancake. So you go to and fro like that.
It takes a little bit of time, but with training, again, by doing things repeatedly
you will learn.
So I'm very hopeful. I'm very hopeful that in Malaysia, we can all do much
better than we are doing now. Whether you're Malay Chinese or Indian, the
main thing is really the drive, the dedication, the desire to do it. And if you have
to repeat a thing a thousand times, you must be prepared to repeat. If you have
to read a book many many times - read it, read it anywhere. But read - do
everything repeatedly Even if it is manual work, it's the same. I, as you know,
dabble with wood carving. Of all the wood carvings I do, the first one looks
horrible. The second one is better, the third one is even better. Eventually, after
doing it many, many times, I get the things right I carved an aeroplane, for
example, not a very difficult thing. Using the wood-turning machine we can
have the body, and then it's a matter of carving the rest And eventually, I did
get a good model aeroplane.
So even if it is manual work, you can become skillful, provided you're
willing to do it repeatedly And, of course, if you do it when you are small,
you are going to be just fantastic You will remember the Orang Asli, the
Mahmeri people in Selangor. They are great wood carvers. Of course, you
don't think much about the devils they like to carve. But in their minds, they
can see these ghosts, these devils, and they can carve. You try carving. I don't
think you can produce as good a devil as they can. Why can they do that?
They can do that because that is the skill they trained themselves for, the
thing that they do very often, and over time, they become very skillful. So if
we feel that we are inadequate, that we are not capable of doing what others
can do, remember that if you are prepared to drive yourself to do it again and
again, you are going to become skillful. As skillful as others. Maybe not one
hundred percent, but certainly you will not be far behind.
Now this realisation of your ability - the genius inside us - this realisation is
very important if you want to be educated. We had an inferiority complex. For
four hundred and fifty years, we were under foreign domination. Either
colonised by them, or under their influence. Four hundred and fifty years.
From 15ll, when the Portuguese conquered Melaka, until 1957, we were
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under foreign domination. And during that time we really believed that we
were stupid, that we cannot do what the orang putih (Westerners) can do.
They are something special, some superior creature. But I look at them, they
have two legs like us, and also ten toes, two hands, ten fingers, just like us.
Except they have no color. We have great color. Yon see, they lost the pigments
So there's no difference. So if they can do it, why can't we do it? I've been
reading the negotiation for the period before independence. The doubts of the
British that if they handed over the power to rule this country to the natives,
would the natives be able to rule. They doubted it But I think that doubt has
disappeared by now, because sometimes we are nasty to them also. But if we
say that we can, I think we can. The reason why we coined the slogan
'Malaysia Boleh' is to convince ourselves that we can do these things. We can
become as educated as they are. And we have proven it We have proven that
in many ways we have done better than them. So the first thing that we have to
do, really, is to convince ourselves that we can do what they can do.
Now knowledge and education are great for developing a country. It will
help the country to develop, perhaps fester than those without education, than
those countries where the people are without education. But there is one thing
that has bothered me for quite a long time. All this while, we have concentrated
on spreading knowledge, on people imbibing the knowledge through the
education process. And so they become very knowledgeable. But when you
are knowledgeable, do you become a very good person, or a very bad person?
We are seeing a lot of very bad people now. Now I don't know anything about
computers, but think of the hackers, the people who are able to go into
somebody else's data and make use of them, or disturb the whole thing, and
sometimes put in viruses and things like that
Now these are not stupid people. They must be very clever people. They
have knowledge, but they don't have the right kind of values. It is important
therefore that if we want to spread knowledge among our people, we need also
to implant in them the right values - that the knowledge is to be used for the
good of himself and his society Not for him to commit crimes using his
knowledge, or to do things that are really not beneficial. Today the scientists in
America are very happily developing new ways of killing people more
efficiently. They're using their knowledge of science, and mathematics, and
their computer skills, in order to kill people. This is the result of merely imparting
knowledge without accompanying that with the right moral values.
So, even as you spread knowledge, you have also got to focus on the quality
of the people who will make use of this knowledge. And the quality of the
people can only be determined through their acceptance of being taught the
right values. They must know what is good and what is bad. They must know
that this knowledge that they have is for the good of the people.
In the good old days, of course, among the Malays, when somebody has some
knowledge, he will not give it to anybody else because he fears the
abuse of that knowledge. In the end, of course, the knowledge dies with him
But today, knowledge is available to everyone. You can learn how to make
the atom bomb through the internet, if you are smart enough. But is that a
good thing to do? That is the question.
A lot of things happening today, they are happening because the people
with the knowledge are abusing their knowledge. They are making use of the
knowledge to do bad things. So if we have to give knowledge to people, we
must also develop the personality of the people. They must understand
that this knowledge is for doing good things, for benefiting himself and
society, for developing his nation, for the people, for humanity at large. That's
what the knowledge is meant to do, for him. So the training of people in moral
values becomes now an essential part of the education process. If you don't
implant good moral values, then the knowledge will either be wasted or they
will be abused.
Now how do we implant good values in people? The best thing of course,
is when they are still receptive, when they are still very young, when the brain
cells are still not used up yet. When they are young, they are much more
receptive. And it is, of course, the duty of the parents to instill in the young
good values, to tell them that this is good and this is bad. Don't do this because
this is bad, it's going to harm you, it is sinful and you will be punished for that
But this is good, and when you do that, you will be rewarded. That should
begin with the parents. But after the parents, we have the teachers. Teachers
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today specialise in different subjects. They are not bothered about teaching
good values. That is not part of their duty Of course, in the good old days, the
respect for teachers was so great that you tried to emulate the teacher. But
today teachers are specialists and they only teach the subjects that they are
asked to teach.
So, in this country, we have introduced religious education and moral
education. Having introduced that, we really did not oversee the teachings.
And I'm sorry to say that some of these teachers, especially the religious
teachers, do not really teach good moral values. Yes, they do teach religion,
mainly about the rituals that must be performed in order to earn merit, pahala,
but they do not teach good Islamic moral values. And all Islamic values are
good. I don't know about you but I have studied as much as I could, in a
language I could understand, the teachings of the Qur'an and the hadith, and
none of them, as far as I can make out, are bad. But some people do not focus
on the moral values that need to be implanted in the muslim person. Instead,
of course, they teach you that green colour is good, blue colour is bad. That is
not part of moral values actually.
But I'm sorry to say that I feel that the religious teachers have failed to
implant good Islamic values in our children so that they will reject what is bad
on their own, and do what is good. I'm sorry to say again that if you read the
papers, almost every day, there is the Malay child, the Malay man, or the
Malay woman - not so much of women though who seem to be involved
in all kinds of activities which are actually forbidden, against the law, and
against the teachings of Islam. Every day Now, we also have moral classes.
I don't know much about the teachings in the moral classes, but I do know that
there are Malay parents who requested that their children attend moral classes,
rather than religious classes. This is a slap in the face for the people who teach
religion, when Malays do not want their children to be taught religion, but to
be taught moral values instead. There must be something wrong with the
teachings of religion.
And this is Something that is not good for us to deny. This is a problem
This is a problem that we face, and we need to take action to correct it It may
be too late now to do it in schools, but at the university level, there must also
be this concentration on moral values, in connection with the particular
discipline that you are in - if you are studying science, if you are studying
mathematics, if you are studying computer science - teach also how not to
abuse your knowledge. If you don't, then I'm afraid that there will be
knowledgeable people, but they will not be good people.
And if we have an educated population in this country whose moral values
are very bad, very low, we are not going to achieve anything. For example,
corruption Even if you are brilliant, but if you are corrupt, this country cannot
move ahead. Today corruption is a very major problem in our country. And we
should begin to teach that corruption is evil, right from the stage when they are
in the kindergarten. Anything that they do that may resemble corruption
should be stopped at once. They must be told that this is a sin, and this is bad,
this is going to destroy you, it is going to destroy your country. That must be
implanted in the child when he is small. But if it is too late, we can still implant
in those who are already in the universities. They must graduate, perhaps, with
some little annotation to say that they have now achieved a certain level of
knowledge about what is good and what is bad. Moral education; I would like
to say this is religious education, but religious education that is skewed towards
implanting good moral values, good Islamic values.
So, I do hope that this course will result in our getting a better understanding
of the role of education in this country, and in other countries, of course; the
role of education in determining whether we are going to make good progress,
or we are not.
olitical Stability is not just about stability but it is also about sustainability.
Sustainability is a key success factor to political stability Nowadays we talk
a lot about key success factors, for example, the key success indicators in
developing Malaysia. I think we would all agree that political stability is good.
Good in itself and certainly good for the economy, and for developing a
country. When there is instability it is very difficult to focus on development
We have very many examples of these. It is very difficult to find stability in
most multi-racial countries in the world. In fact it is very difficult to find them
stable at all. There will always be conflicts because of the differences among
different parties.
I would like to make a reference to Iraq. As you know; Iraq has three
separate groups. There are the Sunni Muslims, the Syiahs and the Kurds.
There was stability when they were all under a very strong ruler that prevented
them from getting at each others throats. Then again, there are those who
think that the best way to run every country in the world is by depending
on the will of the majority in other words, through democracy To
them, democracy is the perfect solution for the world. In order to have
democracy in this world, they are prepared to kill many people so that they
will be free to practice democracy There is a contradiction here; in killing
people in order to free them and enjoy democracy. As a result,
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Iraq is not the most stable country in the world and therefore it is very
unlikely to develop.
Giving the freedom to the people to choose is a very noble thing. But
whether it is practical or not is a different matter. Recently as a result of much
nudging and hints and forceful pressures, the Palestine authority had to have
elections, democratic elections, in order to determine who should rule the
country Since democracy is about the will of the majority the party that won
was Hamas.
However, those who promote democracy through the killing of
people do not like Hamas. When Hamas won, the promoters of
democracy suddenly found that democracy is not good. They have
refused to give Hamas even the tax that they have collected on
behalf of the Palestinians. To them, this denial of support for Hamas is totally
democratic. There may be two million people in Palestine, but the millions
of others in the so-called democratic countries have decided that they
should not support this democratically elected government We again see a
problem that is created by this absolute faith in democracy This situation
will continue because some people want to promote and prove that democracy
works for everyone.
Then there are other countries that are divided by religion. In North
Ireland, for example, although the people are all Christians, white and speak
the same language, one group is however Catholic, while the other is
Protestant Due to this difference, they have been fighting and killing each
other and instability reigns in the country
In no way must one assume that if there is no racial conflict, or if there is no
religious conflict, a country is stable. Today a number of countries in South
East Asia are not stable. There are street demonstrations, which are
considered democratic, that happen at all times. These demonstrations can
lead to instability It is quite impossible to carry on life as usual during these
street demonstrations. Shops will have to be closed, people will not be able to
go to the shops, nor go to their offices, and they are not able to operate as usual.
Their lives are disrupted. All very democratic, and on the contrary
very destabilising.
Political Stability and Sustainability
as Key Success Factors in Developing Malaysia
Therefore, even if the people are of the same ethnic origin, even if they have
the same religion, there is no guarantee that a country will be politically stable.
The differences may be because of personal dislike for the current President or
Prime Minister. It may be because of a dislike for the ideology of the party that
is ruling the country It may be a dislike for the lack of care shown by the
government in power at the moment Whatever the reasons may be, single
ethnic countries with one religion can still become unstable. Malaysia has
actually all the ingredients for instability We are multi-racial, multi-lingual, and
multi-cultural. Furthermore, we have tremendous disparities in terms of
wealth distribution. And, of course, we are all followers of very different
religions. All these factors would lead to instability. We know; of course, that
Muslims in most countries do not seem to get along well with followers of
other religion. Or if you want to look at it in another way; most people of other
religions cannot get along with Muslims. As we all know, most Muslim women
cover their heads. To many people, it is a crime, wearing head covers. People
cannot go to school in some countries if they wear head covers. This happens
in very civilised countries.
Then, of course, there are the economic disparities. The disparities can be
found in the distribution of wealth. If we look into the history of socialism and
communism, the reason why socialists and communists emerged was because
of the extreme disparity in the wealth distribution. The capitalist entrepreneurs,
owners of industries became extremely rich, while the workers were extremely
poor. Karl Marx came along and told the workers that they were being
exploited. That they are entitled to what they produced and therefore they
should have more money. The only way to get more money is for them to take
over the whole country and The socialists believe in nationalising the
industries by the government, while the communists believe in killing the
capitalists and taking over all that from them. But as we all know; the theory did
not work. The socialists did not create heaven on earth for their workers,
neither did the communists. In the end the whole ideology was given up.
What I would like to stress here is that economic disparities can cause
instability and can result in ideas like socialism and communism. There will be
ideas about expropriation of the wealth of the rich, which can lead to the
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nationalisation of the means of production. And as the communists are fond
of saying, the means of production should be nationalised so that the wealth
generated would belong to the government that would in turn distribute it
fairly to everyone. That is the theory but it does not work that way
Racial feelings are also a very strong reason that can cause instability in a
country. You feel an affinity for people of your own race and you identify
yourself with them Therefore, we can come to a certain conclusion that
religion, economy, wealth distribution, race and, of course, language and
culture all tend to create a confrontational situation and tension amongst
people. Malaysia has all these elements that can lead to political instability The
country has three different races, i.e. the Indians, the Malays and the Chinese
who in turn practise different religions. Of course, the cultures of these three
different races are different, the languages are different and finally, of course, in
terms of economic wealth, they are sometimes poles apart
In Malaysia, despite the extreme differences, there has been no major
political conflict Why is there no conflict? When the British decided to create
the Malayan Union, the Malays would have been deprived of their special
position as the definitive people of this country Definitive here means that this
country was named after them and the Malays were given the definition to the
land It was then called Tanah Melayu, the Malay Land. However, the British
proposed the Malayan Union where anybody who wanted to be a Malayan
citizen could become a Malayan citizen. Because of this, and other reasons
such as the demotion of their Sultans, the Malays rose against the Malayan
Union. The Malays are very loyal people as you know; 'Melayu tak akan
derhaka kepada Raja", said Hang Tuah and they didn't like the idea of their
Sultans being demoted to chief Kadis. That was what would happen had there
been a Malayan Union.
However, the Chinese and the Indians were not against the Malayan
Union. Undercurrents and sentiments among various races at that time were
very bad. During the war the Chinese formed a guerrilla group; the MPAJA,
the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army which immediately upon the
Japanese surrender, came out of the jungle and occupied several police stations
and told the Malays in the rural areas that they at this point rule the country.
They took over police stations and there were fights between the Malays and
the Chinese and a lot of Malays and Chinese were killed.
The Malays fought against the Malayan Union, they insisted that this was
Malay land and nobody should become the subject or citizen of this country
except themselves. Before this time, there was no citizenship in Malaya. There
were only subjects of the rulers. W h o were the subjects of the rulers? The
Malays were considered as the subjects of the rulers. The Chinese and the
Indians came to Malaya to work and they did not consider themselves as the
subjects of the rulers either. Most Chinese in those days would fly the Chinese
flag during their national days because they felt that they were still Chinese,
from Mainland China. The Malays wanted a status quo where the Sultans will
remain the rulers of this country and that the only people who would have
citizenship privileges would be the Malays. So thereby began the Malay
politics in those days and the foundations of UMNO.
The British then agreed to the Federation of Malaya, in which very few
Chinese and Indians were given citizenship. The number was so few that in
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1955, during the first election in Malaysia, only 11 % of the electorate voters
were made up of Chinese, although at that time the percentage of the Chinese
population in Malaysia was about 36%. That was why in the 1955 elections,
15 Chinese M C A candidates stood in the Malay constituencies, because there
were practically no Chinese constituencies.
Tunku Abdul Rahman decided that confrontation between the Chinese,
the Malays and the Indians was not proper and was not going to result in
independence for Malaya. He came out with the idea of a coalition. The British
may not give independence to a Malay-dominated Malaya or to a country
where the Malays might be oppressive against the Indians and Chinese. In the
1952 municipal election, for the first time, M C A and U M N O joined together
to contest municipal elections against Dato' Onn's IMP (Independence
of Malaysia Party) and some socialist and independent groups. T h e
coalition between U M N O and M C A worked so well that they defeated the
other parties.
When you have one party that is open to many races, chances are that
party will be dominated by one race. However, in a coalition, the identity and
the representation of each part remains. A coalition was formed between
UMNO and MCA and subsequently MIC where each party gets equal
representation. There is no loss of identity each party can speak for its own
constituency and because they can raise issues that affect their own supporters
and their own race, they felt more contented.
And today the country has a coalition of 14 parties. Any party can walk out
at any time, but the government will still remain and during the election
campaigns, two thirds of the majority should belong to the governing
party If any party leaves the coalition, it will not be able to join another
party to form a government Therefore a coalition is a better formula than
the single multi-racial party This coalition was the result of the work of
Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Hence, the one person most responsible for political stability in this
country was Tunku Abdul Rahman. He promoted the idea of the coalition. He
also spelt out the sharing power and wealth in this country. The Chinese are
represented by the MCA, the Indians by the MIC and we also have parties
from Sabah and Sarawak.
There are also several Sabah and Sarawak parties which joined the coalition
and what could have been called the grand alliance. Each ethnic group,
whether Ibans or Kadazans, can be in the main council to speak up for its
constituency and supporters. They are in the main council of the party that is
Barisan Nasional. Every party has three representatives. And at meetings they
are free to voice their opinion and to speak up for their own particular group.
Clearly every party has its own problems. There is no one group that is very
happy with what it has. One of the essences of sharing is that you don't get one
hundred percent You clearly have to share the economic cake. You have to
give slices of the cake to everyone. And to give slices of the cake to somebody
else means you have to make some sacrifices.
So, when you have a coalition you have to share. Otherwise it will not
work. However, the sharing is not always equal. Some will get more, some will
get less but nobody will get one hundred percent This is a very important
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principle. You can only share if you are prepared to give something up. And this
principle of sharing is what has enabled us to remain politically stable. Without
political stability there will be no development, no economic growth of the
country and we will become poor. So what will the person who gets one
hundred percent of the cake get? In the end he will get a shrinking cake. In the
end, of course, he gets nothing. So the choice is between sacrificing slices of
the cake so that the cake would grow and each slice can be as big as the original
cake or to take one hundred percent for yourself and find that the cake
gradually shrinks and becomes nothing.
This political stability was engineered, shaped by Tunku Abdul Rahman
and continues to grow under the different Prime Ministers: Tun Razak, Tun
Hussein and myself Most people are moderate but there are extremists to the
right and the extremists to the left. And these people do not understand why
there is stability in this country. They think that they can continue to make
demands. There are some Malays who do not welcome the use of English for
teaching Math and Science claiming that Malaysia is entirely a Malay coimtry.
Those are the extremists among the Malays. We also have extremists among
the Chinese who forget that this is Malaysia and not China. These are the
people who want one hundred percent of the cake and they are not going to
get it, fortunately for us. A majority of the people in Malaysia have accepted
that in order to remain stable we have to share and to sustain that stability, we
have to continue sharing. We will have to reject extremists in each racial group
in each party that we have in Malaysia.
When you talk about political stability, you have to try and eliminate the
differences as much as possible. We would like to create a Malaysian nationality
where we can forget our racial origins. When asked "Who are you?', (The
answer will be) "I'm a Malaysian" However, this will take a long time. Effort has
been made. Firsdy, of course we wanted everyone to go to the same schools.
But the idea of a vision school has not taken off really I hope that one day it will
take off, because if we don't meet each other you cannot really love each other.
Like the Malays say "tak kenal maka tak cinta".
You won't lose your own identity You'll still remain what you are. Because
when you go home, you go home to almost a different country. But I'm happy
to say that today Malays handle chopsticks with great skill. They could even
lift mushrooms, very slippery with chopsticks. That shows how far they have
gone to integrate. But I would like to see more Chinese eating with their
fingers. But nowadays they have gone the other way. They use chopsticks. In
Kedah, Chinese used to eat with their fingers. It is because Malays ate with
their fingers. So, once in a while, perhaps, you will have a party where the
Chinese and the Indians will sit together and eat with their fingers on daun
But we are sensitive and therefore we can still live together and achieve
political stability Now I think I have said enough about why we have political
stability in this country. Mainly, it is the realisation that when we live in any
place, we have a need to share and when we share and make sacrifices, we will
have stability. If you think that you want to take everything for yourself there
will be no stability. So that is the main factor, the key success factor for
developing Malaysia.
alaysia was once a British colony Although it was not directly ruled by
the colonial office, Malaysia was designated as a British protected
state, or British protectorate, but in actual fact, the British colonial office
controls Malaysia fully. The area that they were most responsible for was the
area of foreign relations and defence. Therefore, before Independence,
Malaysia had really no knowledge about our foreign relations, accepting
whatever it is that is prescribed by our colonial masters, and we did not quite
know how to position ourselves when we gained Independence. Like most
people we sought comfort, and we found comfort with the people we knew.
The people we knew at that time were the British and those who were with
the British, principally the countries of the British Commonwealth. There
were not so many nations at that time in the Commonwealth, but the
principal members of the Commonwealth were Britain, Canada, Australia
and New Zealand, and also South Africa, before it was expelled from the
So Malaysia's position at that time was to be close to its comfortable
friends. We were very close to the Commonwealth, and, of course, to the
Head of the Commonwealth which was Great Britain. We were very close to
Britain. We obtained our Independence, not through war nor through
military uprising, but rather through negotiation. Obviously we were very
grateful that the British gave us Independence without too much resistance.
They did resist by imposing certain conditions, but in the end they granted us
Independence on a silver platter, so to speak.
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Malaysia had nothing against the British, and we felt that we should be
with them and continue to seek comfort in their company Therefore, initially
when Malaysia became independent, we positioned ourselves as a member
of the British Commonwealth. Since the Commonwealth followed British
foreign policy, we naturally became a part of that. In other words, since Britain
was a member of the Western group of countries, as opposed to the Eastern
group headed by the Soviet Union, we were linked to the Western group.
The Western Bloc believed in a certain form of democracy, and a certain
degree of freedom. Therefore, Malaysia subscribed to such a belief and
rejected the Eastern Bloc We rejected the Eastern Bloc because there was a
rejection from the British and the Commonwealth and the Western Bloc; the
Eastern Bloc was perceived to be made up of evil countries which were out to
harm the rest of the world, and would harm Malaysia.
I must admit that Malaysia had good reasons for rejecting the Eastern
Bloc, because at the time of our Independence in 1957, we had a communist
uprising in Malaysia We had guerillas in the jungles actually fighting against
our military forces. The guerillas were communists and therefore supporters
of the Eastern Bloc, and they wanted to overthrow the government by force
of arms. So our rejection of the Eastern Bloc of communism was not merely
because we were affiliated or we were comfortable with the Western Bloc
(British), but more because we really had a problem with communists who
were supported by the Eastern Bloc.
So that was Malaysia's position when it became independent And the
country continued to have this affiliation, this association with the Western
Bloc for a long, long time especially during the premiership of Tunku Abdul
Rahman Tunku always felt very comfortable with the British, having been
educated in England, coming, of course, from a member of the Royal family
As such, Tunku could get along with the British much better than he could
get along with the Russians of the Eastern bloc
So Malaysia's foreign policy at that time was very pro-Western and prodemocracy. I say democracy simply because the Russians also considered
themselves democratic. Hence the German Democratic Republic and all the
countries' affiliated to Russia, regarded themselves as democratic republics.
Positioning Malaysia in the International Arena
So, democracy was hijacked by both sides. The Western side also considered
themselves as democratic. The Eastern Bloc also considered themselves as
democratic But; due to our affiliation with the West, our version of democracy
was shaped like the Western bloc
Malaysia became a part of the Bloc and since we were not any great
power, we were rather weak. In fact, the country was still dependent upon the
Western Bloc for many things. Malaysia was dependent upon the British for
support in fighting against the communist terrorists; its association with
them was natural. That was Malaysia's position then. The country went so far
as to support the Americans in Vietnam Malaysia actually supplied the
Vietnamese government (South Vietnamese) with old rifles and other
discarded arms that it had, for them to fight against the Vietcong.
So Malaysia not only associated itself with the Western Bloc, but it was
ready, in fact, to participate in some of their activities, for example, their
attempts to suppress the spread of communism Malaysia believed fervently
at that time in the domino theory, that if Vietnam were to fall to the
communists, then there will be a spread of communism throughout South
East Asia - from Vietnam it would go to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, down to
Malaysia. Such a belief was further strengthened when our neighbour,
Indonesia, mounted a confrontation against us which was due, to some
extent, to an influence of the Indonesian Communist Party or KPI. Malaysia
felt itself threatened by the communists and wanted to be helped. Therefore,
we associated with those who were anti-communist: the Western Bloc, such
as the British, the Australians, the New Zealanders and others.
But over time, things developed quite differently. Malaysia began to be a
little bit more sophisticated about its knowledge of the world. Having just
gained Independence, of course it was not too knowledgeable about the rest
of the world. But over the years, "during the period when Tunku Abdul
Rahman was the Prime Minister, we began to rethink about our position in
the international arena. Should Malaysia always be aligned with the Western
Bloc and move against the Eastern Bloc? Should Malaysia always consider
that the ideologies of countries must influence its relations? We asked such
questions and I believe some younger people in the Party, for example, began
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to question this close association with the Western Bloc, whether it is really
what we want or whether we should become a little bit more independent
But, always at the back of our minds, we have this problem of a communist
insurgency in the country and therefore, we should be anti-communist How
do you deal with the insurgency? We deal with them with guns. We fought
them We defeated them. We did not consider negotiating with them
Although Tunku had a negotiation in Baling, it was a failure.
But despite all this anti-communist feeling that we had, Tunku actually
thought that we should not associate this communist uprising entirely with
communism. Maybe there were other elements which influenced the
insurrection. Not just ideology but other local factors. It was Tunku who
concluded that the Chinese in this country were dissatisfied.
When we had the Malayan Union, the Chinese had easy access to
citizenship, and at the same time retained their Chinese citizenship and still
became Malayan Union citizens. But when the Malayan Union became the
federation of Malaya, after pressures by Dato' Onn, the Chinese community
was deprived of opportunities to become Malaysian citizens, and therefore
they felt discriminated, and began supporting the communist uprising.
Tunku in his wisdom decided to minimise such dissatisfaction among the
Chinese. One effort was by giving one million Chinese citizenship status
without asking them too many questions. They were automatically made
Malaysian citizens. This effort appeared to minimise the Chinese's support
for the communists. So, it was clear that it was not communism which
motivated the Chinese to support the communists but rather a feeling of
dissatisfaction as the Communist guerillas were mainly Chinese.
At that stage, of course, people began to think that we should not link race
with ideology Yes, China had become a communist country by that time,
and we had no relations with China. We had diplomatic relations with Russia
but we regarded Russia as a kind of enemy state. And, of course, we had very
little relations with the Communist Bloc, We were people of the West That
was the situation that Tun Razak inherited, Malaysia was positioned as one of
the extensions of' the Western Bloc, Not a very important member but still
considered as worthy of being helped when needed. They (the Western
Positioning Malaysia in the International Arena
Bloc) even had the Five Power Defence Agreement which stipulated that
should Malaysia be attacked by the communists then the Five Powers would
act in order to fight against any communist attempts to invade Malaysia.
Tun Razak inherited that position. However, Tun Razak had other ideas
as well. Instead of a "black and white" analysis of the character of countries,
or as between "left: and right", between East and West, communist and
non-communist, he decided that our position with the rest of the world
should not be based on ideological affiliations. Countries may have different
ideologies but we can still be friendly with them. It was Tun Razak who
decided that instead of being exclusively associated with the Western Bloc,
Malaysia should be friendly with every country washing to be friendly
with her.
The change was radical. From the years of the Tunku when Malaysia was
just a part of the Western Bloc now Malaysia took a non-alignment stance.
We were not aligned to the Western Bloc nor were we aligned to the Eastern
Bloc We belong to that group of countries that befriends any other country.
The Non-Aligned Movement was initiated in Bandung. We were not
there at Bandung when it started. We had problems with Indonesia because
Indonesia accused us of being part of the Western Bloc, and therefore not
Non-Aligned. But, by the time Tun Razak took over which was in 1972 the
problem with Indonesia was over a long time ago, and there was not much
opposition to Malaysia slowly moving towards the non-alignment movement
Tun Razak visited Russia and China. He visited China in 1974 just before
the election. It was a good move because it influenced Chinese thinking in
Malaysia, not because the Chinese were communists in Malaysia, but because
they were Chinese and they felt some affinity with the Chinese in China.
Therefore, the 1964 election saw a great victory for the Barisan Nasional
party because the Chinese who were unhappy then, changed their minds and
decided that they should support the government
So the position of Malaysia in the world scene was also being influenced
by internal factors. Tun Razak decided that Malaysia should be a part of the
Non-Aligned Movement Indeed, he tried to do this even during Tunku's
time. I was sent to Ghana for the purpose of getting Malaysia admitted into
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the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organisation (APSO). APSO was almost
a Communist Bloc but Tun Razak wanted me and a few others to ensure that
Malaysia could become a member. But I failed to bring Malaysia in as a
member of the APSO, and when I came back Tunku scolded me. He said had
he known that I was going there, he would have stopped me. But he was away
in Tokyo when Tun Razak sent me.
Well, I received some scolding for being part of it, although I had explained
to Tan Sri Dr. Tan Chee Khoon* that we were quite liberal in our thinking and,
within the party itself we may differ. Despite knowing that Tunku disagreed
about me going there, it was clear that Tun Razak, even at the time when he was
Deputy Prime Minister, wanted to move Malaysia away from the Western Bloc
He wanted Malaysia to become a neutral country - a non-aligned country But
when he tried it during the Tunku's time he could not do it But once he took
over as Prime Minister, he began to show his thinking in terms of positioning
Malaysia in the international arena. Malaysia should be a country that is nonaligned, friendly with all countries and is not to be involved in any fighting
between the Western and the Eastern Bloc We will not support anyone. We do
not want to offend anyone, so it's better not to support anyone. Slowly Malaysia
became more and more non-aligned.
Unfortunately, Tun Razak was not the Prime Minister for a very long time
but efforts were made by him in repositioning Malaysia from being a Western
Bloc country to a non-aligned country.
Tun Razak was succeeded by Tun Hussein Unfortunately Tun Hussein
also did not stay very long. He did not modify Tun Razak's foreign policy
particularly in strengthening Malaysia's positioning in the international arena.
He continued Tun Razak's legacy in strengthening Malaysia's non-aligned
w h e n I took office, I thought that we should not only be non-aligned but to
be critical of the West. So there was a slight shift when I took over. I thought that
we should be critical of those countries which like to be critical of us. Through
thorough analysis of news and records, the reporting (at that time), the Western
countries were very fond of taking the high moral ground and telling us that we
were not good enough; we were not liberal enough; we were not democratic
enough; we had no sense of Independence; we did not believe in the
independence of the judiciary; and a whole lot of nonsense.
So, in our quest to be non-aligned, we moved slowly from the West, and
became critical of the West. The policy that was adopted at the time was to
actually grade the different Bloc or the different groups of countries.
Malaysia decided that its first priority would be ASEAN - the countries
around Malaysia - because these countries were obviously important to us
especially our closest neighbour, Indonesia. That was our first priority. It
became important for me to make visits to the ASEAN countries.
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Almost as soon as I became Prime Minister, the expectation of some
Western countries was that I should make a pilgrimage, not to Mecca, but to
Washington. So the American ambassador came to the office and informed
me that he was trying very hard to get an appointment for me in Washington,
and he emphasised to me how difficult it was to see the President of the
United States. He assumed, of course, that would be my priority but I had
decided that my priority is not United States but ASEAN countries. I hardly
responded. When the Ambassador went off, I told Wisma Putra to inform
the American Ambassador that I had no wish to visit Washington and to see
the President of the United States. So he (the American Ambassador) should
stop trying to make arrangements for me.
Besides the ASEAN countries, Malaysia decided that among the countries
which we should be friendly with were countries like Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.
Most people thought that it was a silly' move. Why do you want to be
friendly with these little countries which are of no use to you? But we want to
show the world that we were not going to make friends only with countries
which would be useful to us, but also with countries with which we want to
befriend. It doesn't matter whether they are powerful or not We need to be
friendly with anyone and that was why among the first visits I made
after visiting ASEAN countries was to go to Samoa, Tonga and Fiji and also
Papua New Guinea.
So we had made our position in the international arena very clean We
were not going to be with the powerful countries only. We also befriended
other countries, especially with ASEAN member countries, the small
countries and following that, the other non-aligned countries, followed by
the Islamic countries, and finally of a very low priority would be the
Commonwealth. I only attended the Commonwealth meeting in 1985, four
years after I became Prime Minister.
Commonwealth is low on our priority and Malaysia is not a strong
supporter of the British Commonwealth. I used to tell people that it is called
the Commonwealth but the wealth is not common. The wealth is dominated
almost completely by the four big European countries, namely, Canada,
Britain, New Zealand and Australia. They control the discussion and they
Positioning Malaysia in the International Arena
have the wealth. The others have no wealth. To me it is not a common wealth
at all. So I didn't see anything to gain by going to a Commonwealth
conference. But I did go to a Commonwealth conference in 1984 in the
Bahamas and subsequently in 1987 in Vancouver. At Vancouver I did
something quite unusual in the sense that I decided that Malaysia should play
host to a Commonwealth conference in 1989.
That was not for love of the Commonwealth. It was because the
Commonwealth has got a lot of poor countries, newly independent countries,
Third World Countries. We wanted to make friends with these Third world
Countries as part of our foreign policy in positioning ourselves in the
international arena. I had tried to invite their leaders to come to Malaysia
whenever I met them But they did not want to come to Malaysia because
they thought that what was there about coming to Malaysia, which is another
Third World country. For a Third World country to see another Third World
country, there was nothing to gain and we were not the kind of people who
were giving aid, monetary or non-monetary. Although we had already started
on our Malaysian Technical Corporation (MTCP) programme, we were still
regarded as backward as all other Third World countries.
But I thought perhaps if they come to Malaysia they might learn that
Third World countries need not be so backward. But since they won't come
to Malaysia, they won't see Malaysia. So the only way to get them to come to
Malaysia was to host the Commonwealth Conference. Sure enough, when
we held the Commonwealth Conference in 1989, practically all the
Heads of Government came here and after that they changed their
minds about Malaysia and continued to visit Malaysia anytime that they had
the opportunity So we were able to erase the perception that as a Third
World country, Malaysia was a country where the roads had potholes
and nothing worked. Malaysia had already made some advances and
that encouraged those countries to think that they also could do the same
and we were in the position to help them.
Clearly, our position in the world was that we were beginning to work
more and more closely with Third World countries. Our priority was not to
the rich and powerful but to the poor countries of the world - the Third
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World countries. Although we were basically non-aligned, we were also
especially close to the Third World countries. On hindsight, I think we were
well appreciated by those countries. Through our MTCP programs, we
brought people from the Third World countries to Malaysia and exposed
them to projects and action plans that they could emulate. In addition, we also
provided training programs to increase their capabilities in developing their
own countries.
At this stage, Malaysia had moved itself far away from being a Western bloc
country to a fairly neutral and non-aligned country to a country that was
more aligned towards poor countries. A lot of people felt that it was a "wasteful'
move to befriend poor countries as these countries had nothing to offer.
But, in actual fact, they had the power where not many people could see.
A power that was, and is, very useful to Malaysia. Each country including
the poor countries, has one vote in the United Nations. It was through these
small' gestures that Malaysia gains quite a lot from their support Though the
vote is only one, but considering the number of poor countries in the United
Nations a long time ago, we had a lot of countries that supported us.
There was some gain and later on, of course, after we brought a lot of their
diplomats and their people to be trained in Malaysia, our people were given
easy entry to their countries. Whenever we go to these countries, doors were
opened very easily. We had only to say we were from Malaysia and their
common response would be "Look, I was trained in Malaysia. I went to (this)
and (that) institution for administration and diplomacy courses". They were
trained here and I think we had gained more than just their votes. It had been
a worthwhile effort
Malaysia spent quite a bit of money in the MTCP bringing these people
here. But I think it was a good investment because today Malaysia can go into
these countries and do business there. Petronas, for example, is very well
received and has been given a lot of oil concessions. Furthermore, Petronas is
different from other national oil companies. Other national oil companies
confine themselves to their own country but Petronas has become, in a way a
multinational company simply because we made an effort to be friendly to
poor countries.
Positioning Malaysia in the International Arena
These countries were poor not because they were really poor. They have
huge resources. Unfortunately they do not have the capacity to exploit their
resources. Therefore they remained very poor. For example, Angola is very
rich but they needed somebody to help them exploit their resources and
transform them into a rich nation. Chad, for example, was a very poor country
until Petronas helped them in their petroleum industry Today Chad is one of
the major oil producers. Sudan is another similar case. Sudan was a very poor
country as there was no oil at that time. Some American companies were
doing some research, some prospecting there and they claimed that Sudan
had a reserve of 10,000 barrels a day That's all that Sudan had.
The Sudanese government then gave oil concessions to Petronas. This
was a reward' from what we gained by supporting third world countries.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Malaysia had trained one of Sudan's first
revolutionaries. General (Omar) Bashir. He was not a General when he came
here. He came here for military training and naturally, he was very friendly
towards us and he gave Petronas the concession. Today, Petronas produces
300,000 barrels a day, and there are a lot more oil reserves, I think, in Sudan.
It was not just a waste of money having the MTCP to train people from the
poor countries. On the contrary there were opportunities.
I am not saying that we started the MTCP in order to gain concessions to
make money for ourselves. We were very sincere in wanting to help develop
their human capital and to be associated with them. We even went to so far as
to start the Langkawi Dialogue where there was an exchange of information
on how to run and develop a country Malaysia has its experience and other
countries also have their experience. They have their resources and we have
our resources. Thus, we exchange information and we helped each other to
develop. They in turn, set up the South African International dialogue in
order to exchange information on how to develop countries in South Africa.
All these were evidence that we were moving closer and closer to poor
countries. This was something that a lot of people don't understand - why
should Malaysia want to be friendly with poor countries? Malaysia should be
friendly with rich people, they said. Had we befriended the rich, the rich
would pay for our dinner, but if we had a poor man as our friend, when we go
Perdana Discourse Series
out to dinner, we will have to pay. But, somewhere along the line, I think we
had gained a lot We had gained not only good friends, but also those who
were grateful.
I feel that when you visit the poor countries you are much more sincerely
received by them. They are really happy to see you. But when you go to some
of the rich countries they couldn't care less. You are just one of those people
coming with a 'begging bowl'. Although I never carried the 'begging bowl' it
is against my principle to go and ask for anything from people. We will do
things on our own and although we don't have the same kind of oil and other
resources, we have been able to grow our country and make its economy
fairly strong without having to go asking from people.
This is very important because we need to have some pride and we must
not go begging from people. Yes, we borrow money sometimes but we
borrow money when the money is cheap. We don't just borrow money because
we are short of funds. Actually we borrow money sometimes just to benchmark
our credit worthiness not because we need the money We do borrow when it
is cheap to borrow. There was a country which has so much money that the
banks don't even pay interest to people who keep money with them. And this
country offers loan at 0.7 percent per annum repayable within 40 years. It's
almost like getting free money.
In this instance, if you use your own money, you are actually losing your
money You know if you can borrow their money and pay this small interest, it's
better to borrow. I don't know whether the Finance Ministry would agree with
me or not But if you can borrow at 0.7 percent per annum, don't spend your
money Put your money in fixed deposit, earn 6 percent and borrow this money
at 0.7 percent That's why we borrow that money We don't borrow when the
interest rate is very high.
As a result of this kind of financial management, this country has managed
to grow over the years and has become economically strong so as to be able to
stand on its own feet and to raise its nose, literally at the big powers. That is why
by positioning ourselves as non-aligned and closer to poor countries, we have
been able to truly become neutral. Able to stand up and tell people that they are
wrong even if they are giants and we are midgets. We want to be able to tell them
Positioning Malaysia in the International Arena
that they are wrong. That has given us a lot of credibility in the world. We can
say what we like and still gain their respect
Of course, some countries are much richer than us, but they for some
reason or another, are unwilling to say anything because it might annoy certain
people - certain people with certain capabilities. If these people are annoyed
they can do a lot of damage to the country which is critical to diem But we have
been very critical of some countries, powerful countries, but we have still been
able to attract foreign direct investment from these countries. That is something
that people cannot understand - how does Malaysia criticise these countries
and yet attract investments to Malaysia?
What is our position now in the international arena? We are non-aligned
certainly. We are closer to poor countries than rich countries. We are independent
in the true sense of the word. We are independent financially, economically and
politically We can say what we like and still survive. Not merely survive, but
actually we are able to prosper Now if you talk about positioning Malaysia in
the international arena, you can see that we have choices. We have gone through
the whole gamut and now we have come to this position of being fully
independent, friendly with all nations, big and small and able to stand on our
own feet and be critical of whoever we feel we should be critical of That was the
position of Malaysia, until 2003.
othing is absolute and there is no such thing as anything absolute. This
is the first statement that I would like to make. Absolute freedom does
not exist as freedom must always be limited by certain requirements of the
society or even the environment The same rule applies to the media whereby
freedom of the media is not absolute.
Secondly I would like to point out that the instrument is never wrong. For
example, if you have a knife, you can use the knife in order to carve very
beautiful objects or you may use the knife in order to stab a person. That is
your choice. There is nothing wrong with the knife as it is a very useful
instrument However, if you use it wrongly, you will get bad results but if you
use it correctly you will get very beautiful results. So, I do hope that we will
bear these two things: that nothing is absolute, that the instrument is not
wrong. Its the application that can either cause problems or give benefits. If
you remember that then I think the discourse on media and national
development will be better understood. As we know, in Malaysia, we talk
about the media being controlled.
In fact, if you read foreign press reports about Malaysia, even if they are
talking about something else, they never fail to mention Malaysia where the
press is controlled. And we cannot deny that die press is controlled. But again
control is something that can be used either in a good way or a bad way. Some
controls are good; I think our currency control yielded good results, but some
controls are bad.
Petdana Discourse Series
The media obviously plays a very big role in our lives. We all need
information in order to do anything in life. We need information because
without information we may do the wrong thing. If you go into a very dark
place, you hesitate to walk freely because you have no information about what
is there in front of you. There may be some spears directed at you and if you
walk right into the tip of a spear, you might hurt yourself
In order to have information, you need light and the media, of course,
brings light to us because it tells us what is there around us and what is
happening around us and this enables us to make a decision. In the case of the
very dark place that I mentioned earlier, if it is lighted then we get information
about the actual surroundings. This will enable us to make a wise choice
whether to proceed forward, or sideways or in any given direction based on
our information.
Information is also obviously very important in the affairs of our country
This is because if you know the right information and you are wise enough to
study it and decide which one to accept and which to reject, then you can
make progress and achieve development If you live in a country where there
is no information, the likelihood is that you will make mistakes. It is because of
this need for information that we prefer a country where people are informed
and are able to make decisions based on the information. That is why we
adopted democracy in this country because before Independence, we were
very feudalistic.
I remember when I was a boy; people told me that politics is not meant for
the people but only for the rulers and elites. They are the ones who make the
political decisions while we have no say and we shouldn't try to influence
politics in any way What was the result? The result was that the rulers made
very bad decisions. Among them was, of course, to accept British protection;
our rulers did not study the treaties very carefully
The British interpreted protection as colonisation. However, the rulers
were happy enough to sign the treaties without knowing fully the implications
as long as they got a good life. They were given political pensions, provided
with palaces, Rolls-Royce and yellow umbrellas. These were very important
things to them. However the decision they made was based on improper,
Media and National Development
incorrect or incomplete information. If they had known what the British were
like, I think they would have hesitated. Similarly they would have hesitated in
selling Singapore for RM60,000. Selling Singapore for RM60,000 was very
cheap. Even now, I think, buying a piece of land that size for RM60,000 is quite
cheap. In those days that was quite, quite costly but the people who sold
Singapore thought they had a good deal. They did not realise, however that
they were making a decision based on improper information
Now in a democratic system, we presume that the majority of the people
know what is best for them However, this assumption that the majority knows
what is good for them may not be always correct They may have some twisted
idea they are a superior race and because they make up the majority they
would choose a government that would represent the majority but be very
oppressive to the minority Therefore, the majority is not always right, but they
would be less prone to make mistakes if they were properly informed. But who
is going to inform them?
Political parties will, of course, give information but this information which
may be beneficial to the political party may also be wrong. For example, if the
economy is not doing so well, you can always quote figures to show that the
economy is well and get people to vote for you. However, in a society where
information is available not only from one source, but from many sources,
then the people would be able to make a decision as to which one to believe.
In this case, when they make their choices, they are most likely able to make
the correct decision compared to if they were fed with information from one
source only
In politics, particularly all of us will say things about ourselves which make
us look very attractive. They however, may not be always correct. If we were to
have a democracy that will be beneficial to people, it is necessary the people
are given all kinds of information so as to enable them to assess the information
and then to make a decision as to whom to choose or what kind of government
they would like. If they get information from one source only it is most likely
that they would be wrong. But then, information coming from many sources
can be destructive. Some information may also be untrue. People may have
certain agenda and because of their agenda, the information may be twisted.
Perdana Discourse Series
Nowadays, we have spin doctors who can spin anything. No matter how bad
things are, they can be made to look good. That is what doctors are for: if you
are sick, they are supposed to make you well. But sometimes if we have wrong
information, they can make the information look good.
I was once advised to have a spin doctor because Mr. Blair had a spin
doctor when he was elected as the Prime Minister of Britain. A friend of mine
in England wrote to me and said that I should have spin doctors. But I have a
habit of doing things myself and shooting my mouth off so, I do not think that
spin doctors will do me any good because they might say something and I
might go off and say something else. Therefore, I decided not to have spin
The main thing is that one should have access to real news. It is not only
the spin doctors who feed you with the wrong information. Others, for certain
reasons, may give you the wrong information resulting in you making the
wrong decision. This is something that happens all the time. However, beyond
that, there must also be a limit to the information you receive.
Today we live in a world where information is readily available. But, they
have been abused; abuse of the media in spreading the wrong information.
Because of this freedom, people have abused it to the point where it has hurt
society The information that we get today can damage society Others may
not agree with me, but I would like to say this: today we see the spread of
crimes especially sexual crimes, rapes and other things connected with rapes.
Even a baby or old ladies are not safe from rapists. Why is this so? This is so
because information is free to everyone. And if you care to access the internet
you can get all kinds of pornography I am not very computer literate and I
thought that it is not easy to get these dirty pictures on the internet but I found
that accessing pornography on the internet is the easiest thing in the world.
If we have some control over ourselves, although we may get excited, but
we know that we should not do certain things because they are wrong.
However, imagine a teenager looking at all these filthy pictures, he may get
uncontrollably excited and feels that he has to do something about it As
result, almost everyday we hear news about sexual crimes committed by young
people and not so young people and in order to hide these crimes, they will
Media and National Development
resort to murder. I am not sure whether it is because today we get more
information and data compared to before, but it does seem to me that the
crime rate has mounted. The number of crimes involving rapes and murders
has increased and we even see unusual crimes being committed.
And I think this is basically caused by people having access to
pornography and that is also information. We did not have this information
before. When I was a child we could not imagine anything like this at all
because everything was kept hidden from us and we lived in a very
conservative society where nobody even talked about these things. Although
we were curious, there was no way for us to access this information and get
excited over it
So you can see that when information is too free, it can be abused. Some
people say, well, so what? You have a right to know and that is the most
important thing, the right to know and the right to be informed. We had this
International Advisory Panel (IAP) for the Multimedia Super Corridor and
one lady asked me whether we ever thought of censoring the internet
Although freedom of information is very important, I still think that there
should be limits. The promotion of behaviour not acceptable to society which
may result in crimes being committed, I think, should be limited and
When I was in the government, I suggested that we take this up with the
United Nation so that anyone who puts pornographic materials on the
Internet be arrested and prosecuted and jailed. People might say that we are
denying freedom of information. Although this might be true, but it is done for
the good of the society as a whole.
So, while we must uphold the freedom of the media to provide information,
we must also remember that the media must be responsible. Tell the truth,
certainly, but do not fabricate things in order to achieve certain ends which are
not really good for human society
How does the media play a role in development? I believe that the
development of a nation depends upon the quality of the people living in that
country. This is extremely important because if you look around, you will find
that some people do better than other people, some countries do better than
Perdana Discourse Series
Other countries. And we are different, but why? Is it because they are made
differently? They have bigger arms, perhaps, or bigger brains and they are
much better built? But we see that generally the human body is about the
same. No matter whether he is black, white or yellow, no matter whether he is
Caucasian or Mongol, or Mongolians or Africans or brown people. They are
about the same.
However, if you study them, you will find that they have a different way of
life, different cultures and different value systems. Some value systems
contribute towards development while other value systems obstruct
development So, value systems are very important and it may develop
naturally over the years, over the countries. We inherit much of the value
system of our ancestors and we absorb them without questioning, that is our
way and culture. But value systems do change over time. If they do not change
than it is not possible for human society to progress. Value systems change due
to some realisation that such value systems are either good or bad. The value
systems which are good should be promoted while those bad ones should be
These things do happen throughout the centuries, probably without
any conscious effort But today we have the media and the media can
play a role in shaping the value system of the people so that they can
succeed in developing their country. The media can play a very big role here
because the media can influence and shape the minds of the people. They are
able to tell the readers repeatedly by using clever phrases in well-written articles
that these are the things that need to be done in order to develop the country
But for this to happen, the media must, of course, be conscious of its
responsibility and its role. The media, however, is also influenced by other
things like making money Certain people have invested in the media and want
to make money out of it They teach people that a little corruption is all right
or they might tell people that you should not be corrupt which is good for the
But this may not sell the papers and may not be interesting to the readers
They may not read or buy and this may result in the media not making money.
What will make money? On TV, for example, we hardly see any film anymore
about families and things like that. You do not even see "Mind Your Language"
anymore. 1 use to love this series called "Eight is Enough" an American family
with eight children, unthinkable now, but it was great fun watching what
happened in the family of eight children.
Today you see nothing else except guns blazing away and killing many
people, gory scenes and, of course, to make it more interesting there will be
pretty girls. The lesser they are clad the better. It will sell more. I know this is
their freedom, their right. But the fact is that they are being exploited and we
tolerate this exploitation of women because we enjoy it. I do not know what
the girls think about looking at pictures of their own sex in such positions but
I think the men buy them. That is why fewer men go to universities because
they are busy studying these magazines. And this makes money.
Therefore, you are torn between the desire to contribute towards human
development and the development of the country the nation and the desire to
make money. Those who try to be correct and be morally upright do not make
money They will not get any advertising at all and people will
just not buy their newspapers or watch their channel. So, there is a big
conflict bugging the minds of media moguls and other people involved in the
media. They are caught between the desire to make money which is important
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in order to stay in business, and the desire to do something good for the society
and contribute towards development
It is very seldom that newspapers can succeed in being popular
while at the same time being responsible. So you are subjected to this
conflicting demand. As was said just now, it is like having a knife in your hand
where you can either use it to carve something beautiful or you can use it to
stab a person and kill him. The newspaper and the media is in the same
position where you can use it in order to help develop the country or you can
use it to make money and in the process, you prevent the country from
We feel that the media can play a very big role but we also feel that it needs
supervision to ensure that the media does not become irresponsible. Of
course, in Malaysia, you will try to produce tabloids with a front page similar to
that produced in London. Do you know that every front page of the tabloids
in England are always decorated with pictures of pretty girls? Scantily dad
pretty girls. That is what sells.
But if you try that in Malaysia, I am quite sure that the government will
decide that your license might not be renewed at the end of the year. That is
why there is a licensing law in this country This is absolutely legal because it
does not exceed the legal power of the government It ceases to be the rule of
law if you do something which is not provided by law; for example, if you ask
a policeman to frighten somebody. This not provided by the law.
If you ask a policeman to stop people from holding meetings or such, it is
going beyond the law. But if you apply the ISA, it is still legal because it is
provided by the law. It is not an action outside the law. The rule of law also says
that the government can take away your license without a reason. That also
would be wrong because laws are made in order to prevent certain misdeeds
and so you have to know what the misdeeds are.
There is also a law that would enable the government to arrest people, but
you need to have proof In some countries, you can arrest people without any
regard for the law. But in Malaysia, you cannot arrest people by disregarding
the law. But these things are quite elastic Clever people can somehow
manipulate the law and do wrong things and still get away with it.
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Therefore, when we have a law, publications and the media need to be
licensed. It is there for a good reason. I have explained what the possible abuses
of the media are and we do not want that. But on the other hand, if we prevent
the truth from being publicised, it may result in people making the wrong
decisions as they want to know the truth. So, in order to enable the truth to be
known, we need to allow the information to be publicised.
In Malaysia, we have many types of newspapers. Many people say that in
Malaysia, the newspapers are censored. We have certain guidelines, but the
vernacular papers, the Malay papers, the Chinese papers and the Tamil papers
enjoy more freedom compared to the English press for some reason or the
other. So, if you want to develop the country it is good that you read the
vernacular papers and not only the English papers. English papers are very
prosperous because they get all the advertisements, including government
notices, and therefore they do very well. The Malay and Chinese papers may
not do so well because they do not get revenue from advertisements but
they are likely to give more reports as compared to that reported by the
English press.
The most important thing is to have many sources of information. Now we
have the internet and the bloggers who publish things that normally the media
would need license for At the moment the bloggers do not have to get any
license to publish anything that they want on the internet. However, it is very
necessary for the bloggers to stick to the truth and not give false information
although they are not subjected to the law. In this way the bloggers can play a
role in correcting any false information that come from other sources. If we are
allowed only one source of news, we might be misinformed and make the
wrong decisions.
Although some countries dispute the fact, Malaysia is a democratic
country; elections are held every five years and these elections are generally
fair. We are a democratic nation and in a democratic country, information
plays a very important role. If you find that you are being fed with one source
of information and that source has an agenda of its own and does not mind
telling lies in order to support itself then, of course, you are going to make
wrong decisions.
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In Malaysia, it is not only information that influences us in making
decisions. Sometimes, we make decisions quite blindly based on our race, our
religion and our party; 'I do not care what really happens but this is our party
and therefore I must vote for my party even though I know that the party is
doing something wrong'. With this kind of mentality information will not
work very well. So, these are the problems that we face regarding the
information which comes from the media. However, if we want to use the
media for development we obviously need a responsible media.
There are times when we need to suppress some news and this imposes a
very difficult choice for the press. In fact, it also presents a difficult choice for
the government because they have to suppress some news because they may
lead to disasters in the country In Malaysia, the ISA was initially used to
prevent people from supporting communist ideology. When anything goes
wrong, the communists always take the blame and there is also a tendency to
label people who are not communists as communists so that we can take
action against them.
I believe that in some countries, people are arrested not because of what
they are accused of but because they oppose authority For example, a
newspaper editor can be accused of being a communist so that he can be
arrested and detained under the ISA. This is, of course, wrong as this provision
is to ensure that the media is responsible. But when the government abuses its
power by using this provision in order to prevent people from speaking the
truth, the country would be facing problems.
The people might be able to get over this but if it is frequently used and
wrong information is fed to the people, this might invariably result in a lack of
development And so, the law in Malaysia that requires the media to have a
license can be used for the good of the country or can be used to abuse it In
fact, law can be used to perpetuate certain things such as the power of certain
I do not know whether when I was a Prime Minister, I used such a provision
to ensure that I stayed in power for 22 years but I am quite sure that many
people are quite confident that I did. But, my conscience is clear; if people
want to oppose me, they may do so. I am not going to arrest them and abuse
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the law. Sometimes, however, leaders are afraid that information might
undermine their authority and therefore they would try to stop information
from being disseminated, either by individuals or by the media.
The media is, of course, very important because it can reach practically
every individual in this country. If they disseminate the right information to
the people, this will contribute to the development of the country but it is
not impossible for the media to give the wrong information. Recently we
had a case of a child who disappeared but was finally found after two weeks.
The people who found the child were, however, arrested, causing the parents
of the child to receive many abusive letters. This news was highlighted by
the media and although I am not sure whether this is good or bad, I think that
we should be mature enough to judge whether the information given is good
or bad.
Although that is not very serious, there are other serious matters which
might affect our country and destabilise it. After ISA was used to prevent the
spread of communism in Malaysia, we find there is a need to restrain people
from talking or promoting racism This country consists of three races that are
differentiated not just by ethnicity, but also by religion, language, culture and
most importantly, economic achievement And this is in away a tinderbox; all
that you have to do is to get people to feel envious and jealous of each other
because over long periods of time, there will be animosity between the
different races and this in turn will bring political instability to the country. We
therefore must try to prevent this from happening.
This is why the media will have its license withdrawn if it is proven that the
media was deliberately causing racial tension in the country What they are
reporting may be quite time but it may not be wise. They have to restrain
themselves from telling the truth and instead help to stop the slide towards
conflict between the races. If they do not, then they are likely to have their
license revoked in Malaysia. Sometimes, even if the media feels that there is
something wrong with the country but it (the issue) will not attract the readers,
they publish pictures of scantily clad girls. A responsible media, however, must
report the way things are in a country whether it is good or bad, so that the
people can make a reasonable choice when they go for the elections.
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This is very important because the media can play a role in ensuring that we
have a government that can rule the country and rule it well. This is because
indirectly by choosing the right government, you will help in developing the
country We have seen many countries that failed to develop because they do
not have the right government Although sometimes it is not the government
that is wrong but the people themselves, the government plays a very important
role in development The media therefore can help in determining the kind of
government that should govern a country and contribute towards national
There will be contradicting views. Even in terms of how to develop the
country there will be differences in terms of opinion as to what needs to be
done. The role of the media in a modem society is very important as it is a very
powerful weapon that can either develop or destroy the country. We have to
remember that people do not always act rationally Common sense is one thing
that is not very common and people do things which we know are wrong.
Lets take, for example, a film which I saw recently entitled "Downfall" which
was about the last days of Adolf Hitler in Germany From the film you will
wonder how was it possible for the German people to have chosen him as a
leader and supported him until the last moment when he committed suicide.
Although he was raving mad, the Generals were still standing erect raising their
arms and saying "Heil Hitler". Here we can see not only that leaders can be
irrational, but the people can also be irrational. Hitlers behaviour was not
rational but the people still followed and obeyed him showing that they do
behave irrationally under certain circumstances.
In a country like Germany during Hitler's reign, where people are fed with
wrong information all the time, they are not going to be rational And not only
that, although they are being fed with the wrong information, they still agree
and follow because to the people the leader must be right That is why the very
intelligent and highly cultured people like the Germans allowed themselves to
be led by a mad man for so many years until there was total destruction of
That happened in a highly civilised and advanced country like Germany
what about a country that is not so advanced? The chances of being misled by
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the wrong information is greater If the media does not feed the people with
the right information or tell the truth to the people then obviously, irrationality
will rule the day For example, even if you know that there is freedom of speech
but you fear that something might happen to you should you speak out,
then you might choose to play it safe and toe the line. By this, you are not
helping the country
The point that I would like to stress here is that although we believe in the
freedom of the press, we also believe that there is a limit to that freedom It is
the exercise of that limit that is important. If the authority abuses its power and
stops the press from telling the truth, then this will cause the country to suffer.
On the other hand, if the press steps over the limit and does something that
will not contribute to the development of the country then the press deserves
to have their license withdrawn or action taken against it
We live in a very complex environment legally and we know that we have
to comply to the morals of the society to the beliefs of the society and also be
conscious of our responsibilities. In a complex modem society we would like
to see good things happen and so the freedom that we have should not be
abused to the detriment of the society Although we are in the internet age
where we can get alternative sources of information and which provides an
avenue to have our views heard, I hope that we will always be conscious of our
responsibilities and not abuse the freedom that we have.
Both the government and the press need to be restrained. The press and
the government must also discipline themselves and think very carefully
whether they are contributing towards the development of the nation or just
merely thinking of their own personal or private interests. Resolving conflicting
interests is a very difficult thing to do. But, a country that is able to make wise
decisions on what can and cannot be abused would be a country that will
achieve development fast for the benefit of the people.
irstly; I would like to thank the organisers of this discourse for once again
inviting me to speak on a subject that can be controversial or it can be just
an exercise in educating ourselves. We are going to talk today about "National
Sovereignty". Of course, in order to talk about national sovereignty we need to
know what the term nation means.
Actually the concept of the nation state did not exist before. In those days,
in the old days, in Europe as well as in Asia, there were small fiefs, principalities,
dukedoms and regions headed by the local chief In some instances, the local
chief was very powerful and controlled big fiefs. There would be other small
principalities where the chiefs were weaker and they would constantly be
subjected to pressure and attack by the stronger principalities.
Therefore, it happened that over time, the stronger principalities would
subjugate the weaker states. When the leader or prince was particularly
powerful, the subjugated states would be brought together to form a nation.
The case of Garibaldi [Giuseppe Garibaldi], the Italian leader, is an example of
how a powerful leader was able to unite so many principalities to form a new
state, and to establish sovereignty for that state. Of course, for this to happen, it
would require subjects with absolute and completely loyalty to the particular
It was the same with the Germans. When the Prussians became very
powerful, they united the German speaking states. In their enthusiasm, they
also include the non-German speaking areas like Alsace-Lorraine. In the Far
East we witnessed the same phenomenon. We saw many warlords in China
and they were constantly waging wars with each other. Strangely however, the
Chinese warlords did not manage to unite the Chinese territories. The unity
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was instead accomplished by the Mongolians. When the Mongols conquered
China, they brought the southern and northern parts together to form
the great nation of China. China therefore has to thank the Mongols for
their unity.
In Malaysia, we had little states, fiefdoms and principalities that we refer to
as negeri'. These principalities were not defined by officially recognisable
boundaries. The states were weak and were submissive to their stronger
neighbours, becoming vassal states to more powerful neighbours like Siam,
China and Malacca. It was not until the Malayan Union was formed during
the British occupation that the Malay states were unified to form a Malay
Similar phenomena occurred in the other parts of the world. Over time,
there seemed to be a movement towards unity, towards bringing people of the
same race and language together as a group. They would form states and
pledge allegiance to other states. Over time, the concept of nation states
became the acceptable form adopted by people all over the world.
Today we talk about states and we consider these as entities that exercise a
degree of authority within their own boundaries. In other words, they are
sovereign states. Being sovereign, however, is not always easy. You need to be
strong in order to maintain your independence from the threats of foreign
hegemony or colonisation. Many of us, once weak states of the world, were
colonies of the very powerful nations of Europe.
Colonisation began when Europeans started sailing beyond their shores.
In 1492, for example, Columbus (Christopher Columbus) crossed the
Atlantic to America. Shortly after, Vasco Da Gama sailed around the Cape of
Good Hope and discovered (for the Europeans) the East
India, China, and
Japan, including die Malay states. The Europeans were aware of the existence
of the East but had no knowledge about these countries and the relationships
between nations. There was a conflict between the Europeans view of relations
between nations, and that which actually existed between nations of the east at
the time,
In Asia, small principalities were able to govern themselves under the
protection of powerful forces in the region. These forces did not exert influence
National Sovereignty
over the internal affairs of the principalities under their control'. Therefore, the
Malay states remained independent as long as they paid tributes to powerful
states such as Siam and China Such token tributes were mostly in the form of
gold and silver flowers sent annually to appease the overlords of these powerful
states. Instead of occupying the Malay states, they exerted influence over the
states' defence and foreign relations. Otherwise, the Malay states were quite
independent This understanding defined the relationship between nations of
the east including that of the Malay states. The Malays understood that weaker
states submit to and become vassals to more powerful states but retain the
rights to run their affairs within their own boundaries. This was a good and
practical arrangement that prevented many wars and allowed the Malay states
to retain their Malay identity, culture and characteristics, prior to the coming of
the Europeans.
In 1509, however, the Portuguese arrived in Malacca With the arrival, the
Europeans introduced a new era and redefined the relationships between
nations. The Europeans failed to comprehend the nature of the relationships
existing between the sovereign states, and between vassal and protector states.
The European idea of relations between nations was defined in terms of the
positions of conquering state vis-a-vis the conquered state.
When the Portuguese conquered and colonised Malacca in 1511, their
occupation was total They then proceeded to colonise the whole of Indonesia
and eventually all of the Malay states.
It is interesting to note that despite the invasion by the Europeans, the
Malay rulers still considered themselves as vassal states not colonies. When
they initially entered into a relationship with the British, they thought they
were becoming vassal states of the British. They mistakenly thought that they
could send gold and silver flowers in return for autonomy to rule their states as
they see fit with minimal advice from the British. Unfortunately the British
had other ideas. Once they established themselves, they treated the Malay
states as colonies over which they exerted their rule and left the local rulers
without any authority The local rulers were told not to be involved in the
running of their states and they were compensated in the forms of allowances,
palaces to live in, and a continuation of royal traditions and practices (for
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example, the use of yellow umbrellas). These concessions were largely
achieved via the use of semantics and agreements, where the British were able
to say something yet meant a different thing altogether.
As an example, I used to tell people that they could refer to the Malay
sultans as 'the ruler' although in reality the rulers were not able to rule. In
parliament, for example, you have Members of Parliament and Mr. Speaker.
However, Mr. Speaker does not speak while the members are the ones who
actually speak. So that is the English language for you. Another example would
be the word 'Commonwealth'. The British Commonwealth is a grouping
of nations where the wealth is not common. The wealth belongs only to
about five nations, while the rest of the nations are poor. However, they
still call it the British Commonwealth until today. The British came
as 'advisers' whose 'advice' must be accepted by the sultans. This simply means
that the British were the ones who actually ruled. The British had a very subtle
and diplomatic way of accomplishing things without being viewed as
So, when the British came here and signed agreements with the Malay
Sultans who naively thought that they would retain their autonomy, they
discovered that the British had other ideas. The Malay Sultans were fond of
poetry and treaties were often written in the poetry-like Malay language,
which often convey ideas that they do not actually mean. In all the treaties
signed between the British and Malay Sultans, it was stated that the agreement
will last for 'as long as there is the sun, the moon and the stars', which taken
literally means permanently So the agreements signed by the Malay Sultans
had the effect of permanently tying the Malay states to the concessions made
to the British.
So, thinking that they would remain internally autonomous, the Malay
states signed all these treaties only to find later that they had become British
colonies. The British tried to bring the Malay states together in a Malay Union
in an attempt to facilitate administration of the different states, not to form a
nation state. The subjects of the Malay states, although speaking the same
language, did not consider themselves as Malays. They considered themselves
as subjects loyal only to the ruler of their states. So the people of Kedah were
National Sovereignty
loyal to the Sultan of Kedah, the people of Perlis were loyal to the Raja of Perlis,
and so on with the other Malay states.
There was therefore no Malay nation state during the British occupation.
This was particularly troublesome to the British because they had to maintain
many advisors and residents, and faced difficulties in passing laws for the
nine different states. In an attempt to facilitate the administration, after World
War 2, the British tried to bring all these states together under a union. We can
perhaps say that the formation of Malaysia was actually the result of a British
effort rather than a Malay effort
The Malays were quite happy after the war to return to the status quo of
being British-protected states. But the British had other ideas. They came up
with the proposal to form the Malayan Union. They proposed that the Malay
rulers surrender their rights and authorities and become responsible only for
the customs, traditions and the religion of Islam With this proposal, the Malay
rulers would be reduced to being chief 'khadis' of their states. Having previously
signed this agreement with MacMichael (Sir Harold MacMichael), they
would actually be reduced to this very status had the proposal been accepted.
Fortunately, the rakyat (subjects) protested and refused to accept the
Malayan Union as proposed. This objection eventually forced the British to
replace the concept of the Malayan Union with that of a Federation of Malay
states. Under the federation, the states function administratively as a nation
state, but with each state maintaining separate identities. The federation
obtained independence from the British in 1957 giving birth officially to a
Malay nation state.
Subjects of a nation state owe loyalty and commitment to the state. For a
multi-racial society like Malaysia, it is a challenge to instil a sense of purpose
and commitment to the state amongst people of different races, groups,
religions and who talk different languages and practise separate cultures.
Nevertheless, Malaysia has been successful in developing its Malaysian identity
while retaining the characteristics and personalities of its people from the
different races, groups and religions.
The good thing about Malaysians is that they are peaceful people who do
not like violence. If they do not like a leader, they do not resort to exploding
bombs and killing the leader. They will tolerate the leader and hope for the
best. 1 think leaders in Malaysia should be happy as they do not have to worry
about being assassinated. 1 have survived 83 years as a leader But 1 suppose in
some other countries, if 1 were driven around standing in an open car, 1 might
have to sit down very quickly
In Malaysia, we have Malays, Chinese and Indians, who are peaceful people
and dislike violence. Because of this attitude, it has been possible for us to
survive as a nation state. 1 believe all citizens oft this country are very proud to
be Malaysians and they would like to remain independent.
But today there is a new trend. As much as in the past when the principalities
began to coalesce and form nation states, today nation states are undergoing
the same process especially for small nation states, simply because they are not
viable on their own, and they need bigger markets or a bigger population in
order to compete with other population centres.
It was mentioned just now by Tan Sri Azman Hashim that Europe is now
a union of many different countries. They have formed what may be called 'the'
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United States of Europe, almost as if the union is a nation state. The union can
negotiate on their behalf and can commit all its members to the decisions
made by this larger entity.
Of course, the model would be the United States (of America), although
the United States is not the result of the coming together of nations or
principalities. They were the product of the growth in the population of people
who settled in the United States, who subsequently got rid of the Red Indians
and who occupied their lands. They did not consider the Red Indians as
having any rights to the State or to the country that they lived in. They occupied
this land and set up their own small states, which belong to the bigger
federation or union.
Now Europe is trying to emulate that To a certain extent, Europe has
succeeded in coming together and speaking with one voice, and as a result
they have become more powerful. This is despite the fact that they speak
different languages and have slightly different cultures. Even in terms of religion
they are not the same. But the European civilisation is based on the Greek
civilisation and value system So, there is some commonality there and it is
possible for European countries to come together into a European Union, a
bigger nation state.
But this trend is also being seen in other countries. Southeast Asia
somehow has managed to come together and to work together A lot of people
felt that Southeast Asia could not join as a group because they have competing
economies and nationalism and all that, but they did manage to form a
grouping of five states, the ASEAN states made up of Indonesia, Singapore,
Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. This then has been expanded to include
all the ten states in Southeast Asia. Their cooperation is still minimal, but
obviously, if you can find areas of common interests, for example money we
might be able to be united so that the union between us might be stronger.
This morning, the papers quoted Lee Kuan Yew as saying that we will
eventually be like the European Union. I do not foresee it happening in my
lifetime (because my lifetime is not going to be very long).You may be able to
see it but it will take a long time before we can achieve that We have to admit
that we cannot exist on our own today, that the notion of an independent state
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is not as practical today as it was at one time when the idea of the nation state
was first conceptualised.
So this is something that we have to think about very carefully. Will we
remain as Malaysia, an independent state that has sovereignty over all its
affairs? Or will we sacrifice some of our sovereignty and join together in a
union with the other ASEAN nations? The answer to that will have to come
some years later perhaps.
However, in the meantime, do we fight to preserve our sovereignty?
This is a very important question. Some people feel that we should be
internationalist rather than nationalist in our outlook; that today
the nationalism of old cannot be sustained anymore. You need to come
together in order to be stronger. There is some merit in that argument
As a union of ASEAN nations we would become a bigger market, for example,
and we would be able to compete with China. China has 1.3 billion
people while Southeast Asia has more than 500 million people. It is a big
market about half the size of China and there would be benefits if
we can work together. But it will take a long time before we can reconcile
the differences in the ambitions, objectives and targets of the different
As I have said, in the meantime, we need to safeguard our sovereignty. That
means we have to be independent To be independent means that we would
have to be in total control of our country and not let others make decisions
affecting our country We need to be tough on this. We do not want to be
dictated by anybody We must be willing to defend our country against any
nation, however powerful, if they try to undermine our sovereignty
But that depends on our attitude really. Some people say that it is not
worthwhile to be independent because we would benefit by submitting to
some powerful countries. Well, that is something that we should think about,
as we would lose our freedom to decide for ourselves if we do that.
We are small and cannot actually fight bigger and more powerful countries.
But we can judiciously maintain our independence without provoking these
countries, to the extent that they want to invade and send their troops to shock
and awe us. So how do we do this?
National Sovereignty
I believe that even small countries can maintain its own independence by
developing and maintaining relations with different blocs or countries such
that we are able to counteract one power against the other. It used to be that
during the Cold War small countries tended to rely on the conflicts between
the Eastern and Western blocs in order to sustain their independence, in fact
to get support from these antagonists in the Cold War.
Unfortunately the Cold War has ended and for a time there was only one
power in the world. We thought that this would mean peace for all. We thought
that this would mean that our sovereignty could be sustained because this sole
power is dedicated to the rule of law, justice, independence, democracy etc.
We felt reasonably safe.
Unfortunately this sole power started using things that are not compatible
with their declarations regarding human rights and the independence of
nations, etc Today the whole world is being told only one ideology may be
practiced by any country and that is democracy. If you are not democratic then
you will be hammered into the ground until you say, "Yes, we are going to be
democratic". Somehow, I think that there is some conflict here between the
principles of democracy and human rights, and this hammering that you give
to people who do not accept your ideology
But, of course, we still live in a world where might is right. And today, we are
all dedicated towards the propagation of democratic principles in our country,
although I have often been accused of not being democratic The latest to
accuse me was this man (Stephen Sackur) on the BBC (British Broadcasting
Corporation), although I pointed out to him that he was also not being
This is the problem that we face. Democracy does not necessarily result in
good governance everywhere. In some place it works very well, in others it
does not When it does not work, it weakens and exposes the country to a lot
pressure from various quarters.
Today, for example, a sovereign nation must not only have borders on land
but also at sea. In the good old days, each country can claim maritime
sovereignty covering an area three miles from its shores. So three miles from
the shore are your waters or national waters. Back in those days, if you fire a
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cannon, the missiles would go up to a distance of about three miles from the
shore. But when they improved the cannon, it could shoot much further.
Because of this, some countries want the border to be extended to twelve
miles. When you have borders extending twelve miles from the shores, very
often there will be overlapping claims, which create tension between
neighbouring countries.
But beyond their borders, countries began to claim rights over the
continental shelf This is a new development Before, it was not something that
was worth thinking about However, when technology advances to the point
where we can drill for oil at sea, this claim to the continental shelf becomes
very important The continental shelf sometimes extends for two hundred
miles beyond the shore. Obviously a country's claims will overlap with other
claimants and there will be tension between the countries involved.
Now, how do you maintain your sovereignty when you find people of
other countries actually occupying areas that you claim are within your
continental shelf? This is something that is challenging lawyers. In Malaysia,
people who have studied maritime laws still cannot determine precisely the
extent of our sovereignty over territorial seas. So we often face overlapping
claims. A simple way of solving this would be to draw a middle line between
the shores so that the midpoint of the sea then becomes the boundary of the
territorial waters. But, of course, it is not as easy as that
Malaysia and Thailand, for example, had overlapping claims on the part of
the sea northeast of Malaysia. Fortunately, we were good friends and the Prime
Minister who preceded me, Tun Hussein Onn, entered into an agreement
with Thailand to share the output of this triangular area claimed by both sides.
It was a good agreement if not for the fact that most of the oil and gas found
was in the Malaysian portion of the triangular area. But never mind, as we want
to live at peace with our neighbours, we are prepared to share.
But in other places, the solution is not that easy Today we have claims over
offshore islands. There were conflicting claims between Indonesia and
Malaysia on the island of Sipadan and Ligitan. Sipadan is described by Jacques
Cousteau (Jacques-Yves Cousteau) as one of the ten most beautiful islands in
the world; and therefore very important to us. Both Malaysia and Indonesia
claimed the island. The dispute was mediated by the World Court and was
ruled in Malaysia's favour So today Sipadan and Ligitan belong to us.
However, that is not the end of it as we face overlapping claims over the
island of Batu Putih. The other claimant referred to the island by a different
name to be able to make a legitimate claim on it. This dispute again was
brought to the World Court tor resolution. The claim started at a time when 1
was still Prime Minister It has been 5 years since 1 stepped down but the
decision on the claim is still pending. If our people are unable to argue well or
if the documentation is not proper or complete, we may lose this island.
Unfortunately when that happens, you also lose part of the seas around the
island. And this can lead to more conflicts.
By and large, our boundaries with our neighbours have been well
demarcated. We have worked with Thailand on the Thai-Malaysia
boundary We have worked with Indonesia and with Singapore. The
boundary between Malaysia and Singapore in the Straits of Johore is the
midline; or rather the deepest part of the channel between Malaysia and
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Singapore. Once that was surveyed and demarcated on our maps, it cannot be
changed any more even if the seabed moves and the deep part now becomes
the shallow part
If you base your boundary on the deepest point, obviously you are going
to have a shifting boundary if the seabed moves, and that can cause problems.
But it was decided that once we have demarcated the border which consisted
of the deepest part of the channel, it would remain unchanged. So practically
half of the straits belong to Malaysia and the other half to Singapore. There
should be no problems with this.
We have two links between Malaysia and Singapore. One is the old
causeway and the other is the new second link. The old causeway was built in
1926, at a time when it was too expensive to build a bridge. It was not very
important then whether boats can sail from east to west So, in 1926, a causeway
was built which belongs to both Malaysia and Singapore. I am not sure who
paid for it as both territories (johor and Singapore) were under British rule at
the time, and the British did not tell us where they got the money The situation
remained when we became independent and when Singapore left Malaysia to
form an independent state. The boundary remained as it was and half the
causeway belongs to Singapore and the other half to Malaysia.
In exercising our sovereign rights, we can do what we like with our half of
the causeway as long as we do not disturb the Singapore side. We had proposed
the building of a bridge from Johor Bahru to Singapore (to replace the
causeway). It was not the brainchild or the special project of the Prime Minister
then It was felt that the bridge was necessary to ease the traffic congestion in
Johor Bahru. The number of cars was growing and there was a need to find a
solution to the problem.
The plan was to build an elevated road to the bridge so that traffic can pass
underneath and ease the congestion. This road would then link up with the
proposed bridge to Singapore. The Singapore government, however, decided
not to build the bridge on their side, preferring to retain their half of the existing
In order to build the bridge and get the most out of this project, the bridge
needs to be elevated high enough (at least 25 metres) so that ships or small
National Sovereignty
boats can pass through under the bridge. To accommodate this height, it is
necessary to lengthen the bridge in a curve so that the slope is not too steep.
The bridge construction would be done on the Malaysian side of the
Early work on soil investigation was carried out. Unfortunately the
government then decided to build a straight bridge and to persuade Singapore
to build the bridge on their side. Singapore needs a lot of sand for reclamation
projects. So in return for this agreement to build the bridge, Malaysia offered
to sell one billion cubic metres of sand to Singapore. One cubic metre of sand
from Malaysia may cost about RM420, RM30 or RM40. If one cubic metre of
sand from Malaysia enables Singapore to reclaim one square foot of land, and
one square foot of land in Singapore could sell up to S$7,000, the deal would
indeed be very attractive to Singapore.
Of course, Singapore would agree to build a straight bridge in return for the
purchase of a billion cubic metres of sand over a period of 20 years, together
with permission for Singapore military aircrafts to fly over Johor for some
practices. So that was, I think, agreeable to the federal government.
Unfortunately, the people of Johor became very difficult They decided that
they did not want to sell the sand nor did they want to have war planes flying
over Johor Bahru. They protested and made the deal impossible.
The people of Johor protested for good reason. You know, when you take
sand from the seabed you will cause erosion of the shoreline. Besides that you
will destroy the breeding ground for fishes and that will affect the livelihood of
the fishermen. So, Johor refused to sell sand to Singapore and the straight
bridge proposal with Singapore was aborted, and with it the proposal for the
crooked bridge.
As a sovereign nation we have a right to build anything within our own
territory. So we could have gone ahead with the plan for the crooked bridge,
but the government decided not to go ahead with the project
Lately I hear something that I find to be most disturbing. There is a
document or something similar that stipulates that ownership of the causeway
is vested with both Malaysia and Singapore. What does this mean? It means
that the whole causeway belongs to both Singapore and Malaysia. Singapore
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has a right to the Malaysian half of the causeway and Malaysia too has a right
to the Singapore half of the causeway This agreement however infringes on
the principle of national sovereignty which is, a sovereign nation is free to do
as it likes within its territory However, if a part of your territory is now jointly
owned with your neighbour, then you lose some of your sovereignty. Perhaps
I am wrong but this is my interpretation. So you can see that when you talk
about national sovereignty there can be this little problem
Of course, we can facilitate and improve relations with our neighbours by
agreeing that a part of our territory also belongs to them This kind of 'Quid
Pro Quo' agreement should be welcomed by everyone.
We unfortunately have not been very good at claiming our rights. When
we entered into agreements we signed off what belonged to us so very easily,
especially when we let treaties be valid 'for as long as there are stars, moon and
sun'. We did not foresee that in the future people might want to be independent
or want to change the conditions of the treaty That is very bad. There must
always be an 'exit' provision in any agreement so that at a certain stage in the
future, the treaty could be renegotiated or terminated.
We were also careless when we drew up the agreement to supply water to
Singapore. Of course, as human beings we sympathise with the people of
Singapore. We do not want them to die of thirst in Singapore. So way back in
1960, we were prepared to sell one thousand gallons of raw water to Singapore
at 3 sen per gallon.
Today, what can you buy with 3 sen? Not even nasi lemak. However the
agreement was drafted in such a way that we cannot change the rate charged
for this water unless Singapore agrees. That is the condition of the agreement
Any change to the agreement must be through mutual agreement between
Singapore and Malaysia. So, of course, if you have an agreement to buy one
thousand gallon for 3 sen, why would you want to change it for a higher price?
We were therefore not able to revise the rate.
The treaty will lapse by the year 2011. Another treaty will only lapse in the
year 2060. So we will continue to get 3 sen per thousand gallons of water that
we supply to Singapore, which according to them is extremely equitable. They
in return 'sell one thousand gallons of water to their public at RM14, and to
National Sovereignty
ships berthed at their port, about RM40 per thousand gallons. So I think that
they make quite a bit of profit on this deal. On top of that we buy treated water
back from them at 50 sen per thousand gallons. So with the 50 sen they get for
selling treated water to us, they can pay for all the raw water they take from us.
So it is a very neat arrangement for them. It does not speak well of our
understanding of international treaties. But that is our problem, we were not
very smart and we were a bit naive. For the British, this arrangement worked
well as both Singapore and Johor were part of their colony So the British made
this arrangement and we are now the benefactors of these arrangements.
So, if we understand the meaning of sovereignty we must be very guarded
about how we enter into agreements with other nations. If you are not, then
you stand to lose your sovereignty
I would like to go back a little and mention that before the British came, we
did not have a proper survey team When the British came, they set up and
trained survey teams and surveyed the borders. With regard to the border
with Thailand, for example, a lot of Malaysian land was lost because we were
not able to identify the land belonging to us. So we find people living at the
border areas who speak our language while the land they live on belongs
to Thailand.
So, if you want to remain sovereign as a state you must always be alert and
guard your possession. Otherwise you will not be a sovereign state for long.
Anyway I would like to end by saying that there is a need for us to understand
the meaning of sovereignty and the nation. If we really care to become a nation
state or a sovereign nation, then we must make sure that our leaders are equally
well educated in this matter. Otherwise we are going to lose part of our
sovereignty and we will not be truly independent.
irstly I would like to thank the Perdana Leadership Foundation as well as
Universiti Teknologi MARA for inviting me to speak on this very
important subject, 'Bangsa Malaysia'.
I have noticed that we have a full audience today and most of them of
course are young people. This means that young people in Malaysia are
interested in the future of their country I imagine that they would want to do
what is best for this country, and to do that I think, they must believe that
attending a meeting such as this would be useful for them I feel greatly
honoured that there are so many people attending this event and I will try my
best to confuse' you on this issue.
I have been interested in this subject for a very long time. If you care to
read the 'Malay Dilemma] you will find that I have discussed about this a long
time ago.
When I wrote the 'Malay Dilemma in 1970,1 was trying to find a model
for Malaysia, that would enable us to bring the different races together as one
nation, to make them feel that they belong to the nation, that this nation is
distinct from other nations, and that they are the people of Malaysia To show
the representation of Bangsa Malaysia, I have looked for examples in other
multiracial countries and I find none that is the same as Malaysia, in terms of
its racial mix and its origin. The closest that I could find was Switzerland, and
in my book, 'Malay Dilemma, I have also discussed at length about Switzerland.
It is not exactly like Malaysia but it has a multi-racial population, although
these races are ethnically the same in the sense that they are all Europeans.
Europeans are divided into not only different races but also different ethnic
groupings. For example, there are Latin people who can be found around the
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shores of the Mediterranean. In the north, they have Germanic people who are
quite distinctive from the people in the south. Then, of course, they have the
eastern people, the Slavic These are the three major groups that can be found
in Europe. These groups have further broken up into different countries and
races. The Germanic people include the British who are English, Scots and
Welsh, and Germans. The people of the Nordic countries have common
ethnic backgrounds and they too belong to the Germanic group.
In the south, the Mediterranean people are referred to as Latin. These are
made up of the Spanish, Italian, French and some other smaller groups.
In the eastem part of Europe, the Slavic people are also divided up into
Russian, Polish, Czechs, Yugoslav and the rest who originally came from
central Asia and had migrated to the West and settled down in the eastern part
of Europe.
They are different yet similar in the sense that the European culture is
based on the Greek culture. This is common to them Although they come
from different ethnic groups, they tend to share the same basic culture. In
terms of their skin colour, they are white or what is known as Orang Putih.
There is not that much of a difference in terms of skin colour between the
groups in Europe as there are, for example, between the Asian people who are
very different culturally Of course, there are certain Asian groups like the
Mongolians, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese who are physically similar. We
also have the South East Asians, the brown people, and of course, we have
darker people in South Asia, in India.
In Europe, all three groups are represented in Switzerland. Switzerland has
four separate ethnic groups. They include the people of Germanic origin, the
Latin people who are more akin to the Italians, the French and Romanic
people, a very small minority group. They speak four different languages in
Switzerland, including French, which is the language around the western parts.
In the southern part of Switzerland, they speak Italian. In the northern part,
they speak German, and a scattering of Romanic people speak their own
language, which is unique and is quite distinctive from the other three
languages. We can say that these people are of different ethnic origins - the
French, Germans and Italians.
Bangsa Malaysia
The Swiss people speak the language of these countries. There are German
and French-speaking groups and then, there is the Italian speaking group. So,
they have three languages (if we ignore the Romanic language). However, they
have long formed this country called Switzerland and they even live apart from
each other. In the northern part of Switzerland, the people are mainly of
German origin, the western part the French; and the southern part the Italians.
Yet, they call themselves Swiss. They do not identify themselves as Italian
Swiss or German Swiss or French Swiss. They regard Switzerland as their
country and they are very nationalistic because Switzerland is a country
defended by volunteers. Every Swiss adult must be able to handle a gun and
train as a soldier. They actually keep their guns in the house so that if there is
any attack against Switzerland, they will know exactly where to go to defend
their country. They do not require that German Swiss should defend the
German part and French Swiss should defend the French part They are Swiss.
How do they solve the language problem? How do they talk to each other?
The Swiss are very good linguists. They are able to speak sometimes in as
many as five languages. English is a very common language among the Swiss.
Practically, every Swiss person can speak English. In addition, each person
could speak at least two other languages. They can be French, Italian or
German. When you have three languages and people have a command of two,
there will always be a common language they can speak to each other with. If
they are from the French group, they may speak French and Italian. The Italian
group may speak Italian and German, and therefore, the French group can
speak to the Italian group in Italian. The German, in addition to the German
language would know enough French to be able to speak to each other in
French. Therefore, there is no notion of a national language in Switzerland. Yet
they are very much together and they are Bangsa Swiss. There is no doubt
about their loyalty and their identification to Switzerland.
This is the situation in Switzerland. Then, we have other countries where
the population is made up of various immigrant races like in the United States.
This is a very interesting example, because Mr. Obama, a black man who must
be in some way a descendant of slaves, has now become the President of the
United States. Americans come from different countries in Europe and from
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Africa. Of course, we do not know exactly which particular part of Africa they
come from because it is lost in history Obviously they must have come
from many different tribes in Africa. However, once they are in America
they lost contact with their tribes and carry no more the culture of their own
tribes. They do not know any of the languages of Africa. After years
of being in America, they speak English. English is their mother tongue and it
is the same with the European migrants including Jews who migrated
to America.
In America, the migrant becomes naturalised American citizens and swear
allegiance to America. Beyond that, as Americans, they have to accept English
as their national language. They go to schools where teaching is done in
English and they speak English at home. I do not know if anybody knows of
Americans who do not speak English, but the Americans I have met speak
English. English is the national language of America. This is despite the fact
that the Anglo Saxons may not be the first to settle in America and 'found" the
country we now call the United States of America. Their numbers were not
very big but they have inter-married with the descendants of English-speaking
settlers from England, Ireland and Scotland. They constitute the original
people of the United States and they gave their language, culture and identity
to the United States. The United States has accepted English as the mother
tongue and all migrants who come to the United States must learn and speak
English. After the first or second generations, they would have forgotten their
European languages. They may come from Germany, Italy or France, but they
have become American citizens.
Perhaps the first generation Americans might be able to speak the language
of their original country but after the first and second generations, they may
not be able to speak their native tongues, although their names may indicate
that they are from Germany France or Italy Frank Sinatra was an Italian, but he
has not sung in Italian (I do not know if anybody has heard him singing in
Italian. I do not think he ever did). He spoke American English. In my opinion,
American English is not good English, just like Malaysian English, but we
accept that they do speak a language that is based on English. That is
their language at home, in school and in universities. They accept that as
Bangsa Malaysia
Americans, English is their national language. However, that is not the situation
in Malaysia.
Although Americans come from many countries, they identify themselves
as Americans who speak English as their national language, study and conduct
research at their universities in English. In fact, everything is in English. They
may be originally Kenyan like Obama and other blacks who were forcefully
taken to America as slaves, but they have now become Americans, Black
Americans (their colours could not be changed). Obama is not a pure black
man nor does he have a big nose like mine. He is a person of mixed race but
people still regard him as black. I had this incident in which I said, T m a
coloured man' to an American. He said, No, no, no. You are not a coloured
man". For them a coloured man is a black man. A brown man is not a coloured
man. Of course, America has its own definition of words, which we have to
accept when we talk with them
However, Obama is still regarded as a coloured man, although they don't
say 'Coloured' anymore because that term is derogatory They don't even say
'Negro' as people get offended if you call them that They are Blacks (although
Black and Negro mean the same thing. Negra, a Spanish word means black.
That's how the term Negro is derived. Therefore, Negro is Black.) These
blacks may come from many different parts of the African continent However,
once they are in America, they shed their culture, forget their language and
they become English-speaking Americans (American Blacks speak very
peculiar English sometimes).
So that is the situation in America, although the people may come from
different countries, they are identical in terms of language, culture and loyalty
to their country It is worthwhile pointing out that Eisenhower was a German
of German descent, yet he led the American forces against the Germans. He
fought hard against the Germans and he beat the Germans. Kennedy was Irish
and I don't know whether they went to war with the Irish or not, but a lot of
Irish people migrated because of the problem they had with their potato crops
some hundred fifty or two hundred years ago. So, this mixture of people has
been able to assimilate and adopt the original language and culture brought by
the English-speaking people who were the first settlers in the thirty colonies.
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They do not dispute why the language should be either English or Spanish.
There are many people of Spanish-origin who migrated to Mexico and
California, a territory that once belonged to Mexico. Generous 'Uncle Sam'
conquered California in order to develop it, but now it has been re-conquered
by the Mexicans. So many Mexicans crossed the Grande River and settled
down in California that they now decide the fate of California. So, they say we
have taken back California for Mexico.
Somehow, they chose Schwarzenegger who is an Austrian as their Governor
(you see how confused they are, maybe more confused than we are). That is
the situation in America. I can cite a few other examples. Even Australia is
becoming multi-racial People of Asian origin are now allowed to migrate to
Australia. You may not remember it, but I lived during a time when Australia
had a 'white-Australia' policy and non-whites could not migrate to Australia.
However, because they like Chinese cooking, they allowed a lot of Chinese to
cook their food in Australia during the gold rush.
Otherwise, it was only for the whites and of course, their national language
is English or some form of English (it is not really English but if I say that they
might get offended). So the Australians accept English as their national
language. If you're an Australian you speak English even if you are a Muslim. I
was recently in Melbourne and I met many Muslims there. One of them
founded a Muslim school in Brisbane. It accepts Muslims and people of other
faiths as students. The teaching is conducted in the Australian-version of
English. They do not teach in Urdu, Hindi or Tamil. This Muslim school
receives quite a lot of funds from Malaysia and is doing well.
So, no matter how we try to find a situation like Malaysia, we cannot, as
Malaysia is unique with a multi-racial population that is separated not just by
ethnicity but by language, culture, religion and also by economic well-being.
Therefore, we are very widely separated.
When Malaysia became independent in 1957, many people didn't think
much about Malaysia. People thought that this country would not survive
because of the vast differences between the races living in Malaysia. Even in
terms of the colour of their skins, we have Malays and other Bumiputeras who
are brown. We have Chinese who are of lighter skin (it's not quite right to say
Bangsa Malaysia
yellow) than the brown people, and we have people of Indian origin who are
dark. Therefore, people predicted that we would not have a good future. They
said that once the country becomes independent and democratic, the majority
would oppress the minority At the time when we became independent in
1957, the Malay majority was overwhelming. There were only about 250,000
Chinese citizens of Malaya in 1957 and over two million Malays. Obviously
the Malays could set up a Malay government and then oppress the Chinese
and the Indians.
There were lots more Chinese and Indians of course, but they were not
citizens and therefore were not eligible to vote. But then Tunku Abdul Rahman
decided that we could not have this disparity We should be fair even though
the British were very scared of the Chinese and thought they would change
this country into a communist state. Tunku Abdul Rahman decided that he
would give away one million citizenships without referring to the usual
qualifications on the principle of 'Jus soli'. It was not on the principle of being
bom to a Malaysian parent Just on the basis of being bom in Malaysia, you
could become a citizen and he (Tunku) gave away one million citizenships,
about 800,000 to Chinese and about 200,000 to Indians, maybe less. So the
disparity in terms of voting power between Malays and Chinese were very
much reduced.
In 1955, when the elections were held prior to our Independence,
there were only 250,000 voters who were Chinese; some two million voters
were Malays. Actually the Malays could have fielded maybe 90 percent of the
candidates from UMNO but instead, they formed an alliance and decided
that Malays should give up some of their seats to the Chinese and Indians.
UMNO also ensured that Malays would support Chinese and
Indian candidates who contested in Malay constituencies. It was a big
departure from the original purpose of setting up UMNO, which was to
preserve the position of the Malays. Nevertheless, Malays under the
leadership of Tunku Abdul Rahman had decided that they should give their
constituencies to Chinese and Indian candidates and made sure that they won
the election. They contested in 52 seats and die Alliance Party as we know
won 51 seats.
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Now the British were trying to be very eleven The total number of seats in
the legislative council was 98, and 52 seats barely pass the halfway point. In
other words, you can only form a majority government if you can win 49 seats.
Moreover, since there were many parties contesting. Alliance being one of
them, the others were IMP, Labour party and all that, the British assumed
none of these parties could get a sufficient majority to make up more than half
of the 98 seats that were available in the legislative council. As it turned out, the
Malays voted for Chinese and Indian candidates. They ensured that the
Chinese and Indian candidates won against Malay candidates from PAS or
IMP, and made up a majority 51 seats, more than half of the seats available in
the legislative council. So, as you can see, despite the fact that this is a
heterogeneous country with so many different races, divided in so many ways,
affected by historical events (like the communists' attempt to take over the
country immediately after the Japanese lost), all that was forgotten by U M N O
Malays for their desire to achieve Independence. Even if they had to vote for
Chinese and Indian candidates against Malay candidates, they were prepared
to do so and they did.
Bangsa Malaysia
Therefore, despite all the dire predictions by foreigners and other observers
that this country would end up with racial clashes, this country had a very
peaceful election in which the Malays willingly supported Chinese and Indian
candidates because they believed that they should work together to achieve
Independence for the country That was the first surprise that people noticed
about Malaysia. Despite the dire prediction that Malays would oppress
Chinese and Indians and take over all the seats, they actually supported them;
and following that, Tunku Abdul Rahman decided to give more than a million
citizenships to Chinese and Indians who were not eligible to vote. By the 1959
election, the proportion of Chinese and Indian voters as compared to Malay
voters was not as different as it was in 1955. There were about 60 percent
Malays and Bumiputeras and 40 percent non-Malays. So from two million
Malay voters against 250,000 Chinese voters, the number of Chinese
and Indian voters increased because of the citizenships that were granted by
Tunku Abdul Rahman.
So after that, Chinese and Indians had a much bigger say in the political
outlook of this country. They formed opposition parties, for example the PAP
(Peoples Action Party) of Singapore. When Singapore was in Malaysia, they
thought they could make use of Malaysian Chinese plus the majority of
Singaporeans who were Chinese to displace MCA. It was their belief that
when they joined Malaysia, Kuan Yew (Lee Kuan Yew) would have the chance
to displace MCA and PAP would be UMNO's partner in the Alliance. But as
it turned out the PAP did not get the Chinese support Only one PAP
candidate won and he was not a Chinese. He was selected out of so many
candidates who were put up by PAP and won. So the Alliance came in despite
the fact that the Chinese in Malaysia could very well have voted for PAP but
did not Of course, PAP was talking about 'Malaysian Malaysia and even that
could not convince the Chinese in Malaysia to support Lee Kuan Yew's
So, the Alliance continued to win and in 1964, they did quite well although
they lost Kelantan. This was the situation; you can see the evolution or the way
things changed despite the fact that Malays make up the majority of voters in
this country. Initially, Malays under the leadership of Tunku Abdul Rahman
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decided that they should not have that big a majority. They therefore reduced
the majority by giving more citizenship to Chinese and Indians. It should be
remembered that this happened after 1955, and at the time of Independence
the citizenship of the Chinese had still not increased that much. So we find
that Malays, Chinese and Indians in Malaysia believe in living and working
together as well as keeping the country stable. There was no racial conflict
What happened in 1969 was unusual, but we have to accept that it
happened because some people including this speaker felt that Malays were
not getting their fair share in the economy of the country. Eventually, Tunku
Abdul Rahman made his exit and we had the New Economic Policy (NEP)
in an attempt to reduce our differences. We cannot change Chinese into
Malays. We cannot change their colours. We cannot change Indians (and
Chinese) into Malays, although some of them marry a lot of Malays. We
cannot change them from who they are and we cannot change their ethnicity
culture, language, etc We can at least change the economic disparities between
the races. This was what the NEP was about It is because we believe that if we
remove economic disparity there will be less fear on the part of the Malays
towards Chinese dominance. The Chinese will not feel threatened if the
Malays achieved economic parity with them. So that was our attempt to create
greater unity among the different people of Malaysia. However, NEP did not
work as we had expected. The Malays did not really work very hard towards
achieving the target and instead of getting the 30 percent share, the disparity
remained. Because of this disparity we had to extend the NEP beyond 1990.
However, we have to admit that the disparity at least has been reduced, and
as a consequence, the tension between the races was much lessened During
the 1997-1998 financial crisis, for example, the indigenous people in Indonesia
had blamed the Chinese for the recession, had attacked and killed Chinese
and burned their shops. In Malaysia, it was very quiet No accusation were
made by Malays against the Chinese who also cooperated very well with the
government Because of the stability we were able to devise a solution to
combat the recession in the country. Had the country been in turmoil, we
would have faced difficulties. So we can see that the NEP has achieved some
measure of success in its objectives. It was not fully achieved, but at least it
Bangsa Malaysia
reduced disparities between different races and accordingly reduced tension,
hatred and envy towards each other. What we need to do is to increase or to
reduce the disparity even further. I believe that if we can remove economic
disparity and that if the Malays do not feel threatened by Chinese economic
aggressiveness and success, then, I think we would be well on our way to
creating a Bangsa Malaysia.
N o w what would be a Bangsa Malaysia? I believe that we will not be like
Switzerland or America. I don't think we would be successful in getting
everybody to use Bahasa Malaysia as their home language. At home, they will
still speak their own dialect or language, but at least diey should all be able to
speak the national language fluently. That is what they should do. They should
feel that they are of the same race and people living in the same country,
Malaysia, therefore they should be Bangsa Malaysia. To a certain extent, they
do feel that Whenever I go abroad, I meet many Malaysians and they come to
me and say, "We are Malaysians". They don't tell me they are Chinese or Indian
Malaysians; although it is obvious they are, and most certainly Malays do not
say we are Malay Malaysians. They are all Malaysians when they are abroad.
However, when they come home they are not quite Malaysian. They are
Chinese Malaysian and Indian Malaysian, and they go to different schools, etc
We have agreed that people can use their own language at home and in
schools, although not in official correspondence. So we have a Malaysian
government that supports non-national language groups. This is not found in
any other country in the world - America, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand or
anywhere else. It is only in Malaysia that the government (as part of the social
contract) agrees that Chinese and Indians can use their languages in schools at
a certain level, in the primary school. Beyond that, they should use Bahasa
Malaysia, and if they still want to use their language, then they will not get
government aid for their schools. '
In Malaysia, we have three different streams of schools. Tamils might think
their language is not prominent, because according to Hindraf (Hindu Rights
Action Force Movement), Tamils are very poor people, they cannot build
their own schools, and when we decided to build schools for them, they gladly
accepted. We find that Chinese educationists, not the Chinese population,
Perdana Discourse Series
seem to feel that they should not get anywhere near Malay students because it
will have a bad influence on them To a certain extent, I would agree with them
because if they get mixed up with Malay students, they might become Chinese
mat rempit'. That is why we fail to get all the different races into one school
that uses the National Language as the teaching medium. Since we could not
do that, they want to go back to their own schools and to have teaching carried
out in their own languages.
We thought that at least the students should get to know each other very
early on in life. That was when we decided on Sekolah Wawasan (Vision
School). What is Sekolah Wawasan? Since the schools are all scattered around,
separated and there was no opportunity for Chinese, Indian and Malay
students to mix, we thought that if we put the schools in one campus (which
the government will build), then they would get the opportunity to meet each
other. We are not asking the private sector to build these campuses. The
government will build schools in one campus to house Chinese, Tamil and
Malay medium schools or National Language schools.
When they are in one campus, I think, it would be difficult for them to just
walk away the moment they see people of other races. So we thought that they
will meet each other and in order to amplify this, to make sure that they do
meet each other, we suggested that the morning assembly should be held
together. Pupils of the Chinese, Tamil and National schools should be
addressed in the same hall so they would have a chance to meet each other. If
they play games, the games should not be played between the Chinese, Tamil
and National schools. Instead students should be divided into different
groupings (in my school days, we called these groupings 'houses'. I belonged
to the 'King' house). In sports meets, the different houses compete with each
other. We do not want to see one team which is purely Chinese, another
Indian and one team from the National school. We would like to see them
mixed together so that we can have team A, B and C each represented by
students from different schools. So team A would have Chinese, Indian and
Malay students, and it would be the same for team B, C or whatever. That way,
there will not be too much identification with race. They will cheer and
support their own teams, which would be made up of students from the three
Bangsa Malaysia
races. This was the idea of Sekolah Wawasan. There are many other activities
in which all could participate irrespective of which school they come from. For
example, the scout movement could have students from Chinese, Tamil and
the National schools grouped together.
At least, that way we think we can bring people of different races together.
In addition, by bringing them together, they would very likely use a common
language to communicate. The language, I think, would be Malay or Bahasa
Kebangsaan because it is also taught in Tamil as well as Chinese schools. It will
provide more opportunity for them to speak Bahasa Kebangsaan. They would
remain Chinese, Indian and Malay children but they would have more things
in common if we place the schools in one campus. They will still have their
own headmasters, teachers and facilities in schools, and more importantly,
they will have opportunities to meet each other. This is important because
when they leave schools these children will enter a society where there will be
no distinction (between the races).
The reality is, there is not that much of a distinction when compared with
schools where Chinese boys mingle with other Chinese boys and Malay boys
are with their Malay groups, and it is the same with Indian boys. However,
when these people go out to work, they will find that in all the institutions they
work, there will be Chinese, Malay and Indian workers. They would have
problems on how to behave and communicate with their co-workers. So, if
they begin early by going to Sekolah Wawasan, then it will be an opportunity
to bring them together and hopefully they will become much closer to each
other, and through that they can be identified as Bangsa Malaysia. We are not
going to abolish their races. They can retain their Chinese, Indian and Malay
cultures. But they will get to know each other well enough to feel that they are
the people of this country. People who have gone to these campus schools can
be identified as Malaysians and not 'as Chinese or Indians.
Of course, there are other things that we need to do, for example, we
thought that we could remove references of race and religion from IC cards.
However, I don't know why people are so very panicky about this. They want
to be noted not only as Malaysian, but also as Malay Chinese or Indian, which,
I think, is unnecessary Although we often mistake Chinese for Malays because
Perdana Discourse Series
of their features or Indians for Malays and likewise (normally we would know
whether they are Malays or Chinese or Indian), there's actually no need to put
this information into their IC (identity card). If you remove that, I think ethnic
separation can be reduced. There are a few other things that we need to do in
order to reduce the identification of race with economic functions.
Schooling and acquisition of knowledge can contribute towards creating a
Bangsa Malaysia. I must admit that the concept of Sekolah Wawasan did not
receive good support especially from Chinese educationists (these people do
not want to have anything to do with the Malays). I feel very sad. We live in the
same country, work and play together. So what is wrong with our children
meeting in schools? I went to an English school during my time and my
classmates were Malays, Chinese and Indians, and I got along fine with them
I sometimes quarrelled with them but not because of race. So we got used to
living together.
I went to a university in Singapore in 1947 where I was a minority. Among
the seventy seven medical students, only seven were Malays and that included
me and my wife (it was fortunate for us because in those days you do not know
too many girls around). Therefore, I know how it feels being in a minority (as
the Chinese and Indians do in Malaysia). I felt very uncomfortable but I have
to live with the environment and I got along well with my classmates and
university colleagues. The class of1947a unique group and to this day, we
hold our reunion almost every yean The first reunion was held 25 years after
our university days. That was in 1962. There were many of us and we were so
glad to meet each other again and to be back together. There was a sense of
camaraderie or of belonging to this group. To this day, this group still meets
every year. We first thought that we should meet every 5 years. We decided on
meeting every 3 years when we discovered that our number keeps reducing.
Although every year there continues to be absentees, we still keep up this
Not only do we as alumni members get together, so too do our children
and grandchildren. We could get along fine despite our races. I may have been
a minority in the university but I didn't feel that they were my enemies or
anything like that I also get along fine with them despite their religion
Bangsa Malaysia
Buddhist, Hindus, Christians. This did not come between us. We can live and
stay together. Although many are Malaysians, most have migrated to Singapore.
Well, its a loss to Malaysia.
I think we should make an effort to have students come together.
I hope parents will not listen to extremist groups who do not want us to be
together at all. As Malays, we also have our problems. We always want to make
sure that we are different. It's alright to dress differently and all that, but we
should get together and mix with each other and have common activities
together. We can build a united nation. I don't think it's going to happen
tomorrow. It's going to take place gradually over a long period of time.
However, they can, if they want to be identified with their own race, remain
Chinese or Indians.
There would be more Malaysians than Chinese and Indians as Malays too
would be more Malaysian than just being themselves. So, once we are able to
reduce disparities of economic well-being and bring people together, then we
may be able to have a Bangsa Malaysia. We cannot hurry and force this thing.
It's not going to happen by some political party merely saying that this must be
done. That is not going to happen because this is about people and not about
politics alone. This is about people's desire to mix with other people.
Having said all that, we can still be proud that in Malaysia there are three
races who are actually managing to live together in peace. This is a great
success story which we do not publicise. If you look at other countries with a
multi-racial population, they can never get along together. They fight and kill
each other and can never get together in any kind of situation. Here in Malaysia,
we feel safe. We can go anywhere. Even during the 1969 racial riots, Chinese
workers who were working in the villages in the rural areas did not harbour any
fear of being attacked by the Malays. By the same token, the Malays could also
go to towns, where the people were mostly Chinese, and not fear attacks.
What had actually happened was confined only in Kuala Lumpur and not to
other parts of the country. In other countries, when they have the same
situation it tends to flare up and affect the whole country. But it didn't happen
in Malaysia. So to that extent, we have already succeeded in creating a Bangsa
Malaysia. But of course politicians were not happy They would like to raise
Perdana Discourse Series
this issue every now and again because they would get a lot of support from
people over these issues.
In the 2008 election that was held recently the BN (Barisan Nasional), a
race-based party did not do well and they did not get the two-thirds majority
they required and lost 5 different states and a federal territory to opposition
parties. Why didn't BN do well? Some, particularly foreign observers, said
that the people of Malaysia are sick of race politics. They want to have a
more liberal society and do not want to be identified by race. Proponents of
this argument were lauded by these foreign observers. They say Malaysia
has now changed. The people have rejected racial politics. They have
accepted that they should not be identified by race. Therefore, they should
belong to parties that are not race-based like KEADILAN (Party Keadilan
Rakyat).However, I find it difficult to say that DAP (a component of Pakatan
Rakyat) is not race-based. I cannot say the same for PAS (Parti Islam Se
Malaysia). If you say PAS is not race-based then I am not Mahathir bin
If observers say that the rejection of BN was because of people's rejection
of race-based parties, how then do they explain that the people and the party
they support were also race-based? PAS is race-based. And DAP, as we know,
is race-based and not really a multi-racial party Although they have some
window dressing, decorations and things like that to make it look nice, the
parties are basically race-based. KEADILAN of course, is all things to all
people. KEADILAN can be Islamic; it is also a supporter of Hindraf and of
Chinese educationists. It is everything because some people say that they
are people with many faces', each face for the people who like that
So we have this man (Anwar Ibrahim) who is popular worldwide. My
opinion on Obama was not printed but his opinion is, because he is the
future Prime Minister, so we should heed his opinion. Even then, who is
going to replace him because he's not going to last forever. After him, who is
going to take his position? If he says it's a Malay man, then you are being
racial. If you say that it could be anybody else, then, you will not get the
support of the Malays. So, to say that the results of the 2008 election show
Bangsa Malaysia
that people have rejected race-based parties and politics is quite wrong. This
is shown very clearly because since that election, people talk about race
much more than they ever talked about it before.
The conflict is always about race. What don't they like about the social
contract? It is because of race. Why do they want a Deputy Prime Minister
who is Chinese? It is because of race. Now, since Obama has become President
of America, we need to have a Prime Minister who is a non-Malay Why nonMalay? Saying non-Malay means you are being racist because you are thinking
about race. Does it matter whether he is Malay or not? That is what you should
be saying. So race has become a central issue after the election Far from
showing a rejection of racial issues, the election has stimulated racial debates
and this is what is happening in the country.
Unless we are prepared to make sacrifices, I don't think we can ever achieve
this (Bangsa Malaysia). Well, that is not quite right actually, because I just
now said that over time we might become more Malaysian than our own
ethnicities. We should hasten the process by restoring the stability of this
country and that can be done but not through voting for the posturing
opposition parties. Unfortunately, we still have to go back to the race-based
parties because they have lasted for the past 50 years, and have hopefully
reduced the debates on race.
We have stabilised and developed this country to the level that we are
today By comparison, most other race-based developing countries have not
been able to do so. There have always been serious conflicts and violence
among them. Malaysia is a haven of peace and stability despite the fact that the
people are so very different from each other. We are divided, yet we have found
a formula where all races can work together politically and in other fields as
well. So, if we want to dismantle this, let's do it slowly and not try to do all in
one go by saying that we now reject race-based politics.
I think race-based parties are still relevant whether we like it or not.
The subject for today I think is topical and very interesting. We are seeing
things happening that are based on the subject that we are going to talk
about today. I think it would be good for us, for me at least, to go back into the
past, because only then can we see the changes that have taken place and to see
how we have been able or not, to adapt to these changes.
The Malay states of the peninsular are like all the other states in the Malay
Archipelago that were feudal states. They were all ruled by the Rajas of the
different states with the Rajas themselves being accorded total loyalty by their
subjects, people who considered politics as something that only the rulers
should be involved in. They felt that ordinary people should stay off politics.
We used to leave everything to the rulers and it was up to them to decide
what the political changes in our country should be. As a result of this the Rajas'
position became weakened. Despite this loyalty accorded to them, they felt
their position was very weak. This was because they could not be sure whether
their decisions would actually receive the support of the people. And feeling
weak, they tended to succumb to every little pressure that they faced. That is
why for a long time the Malay states of the peninsular were subservient to their
more powerful neighbours.
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We positioned ourselves as a minor player in the power structure of the
nations in South East Asia. We were subservient to Siam, to China, to Majapahit,
and for a time to Malacca, which became the most powerful of the Malay
kingdoms. So it was a feudal setup in which the people had no say at all. The
rulers were free to decide what to do with the nation and if they
felt that they must submit to another country, that's their choice to make. No
question was asked by the people as the Malays do not revolt against
their rulers because of the belief that they must always be loyal to
their rulers: "Melayu takkan menderhaka kepada Raja'. That is the code that they
lived by
So whatever the rulers did, the people gave their support or at least they
didn't protest There is no history of rebellion or revolution in the Malay states
(the only ruler assassinated was a ruler of Johor, Sultan Mahmud, and that was
the one and only occasion when a Sultan was assassinated). Otherwise, once
someone becomes Sultan or Raja, he will continue to be so until he dies. Of
course, after his death there may be a power struggle but once a ruler is chosen,
elected or has forced himself to be recognised as the ruler, no more questions
are asked. So we see them sometimes giving away chunks of their kingdom. We
know, of course, that in the case of Malacca it was not given away, but was
actually lost (in a war). Singapore was given away for free. The Penang province
of Wellesley and Dinding were also given away. On top of that, the rulers did not
really know the extent of their own state boundaries. They did not know the
geographical extent of their states and sometimes, because of this reason,
territories were lost Large portions of their original states are now occupied by
neighbouring countries because of the failure to survey and mark out the
borders between their land and neighbouring lands.
This was the state of affairs which existed before we became independent
We know that the rulers chose to place their states under British rule, not
because of war as the British did not invade Malaysia or fight against Malaysians.
Except for Malacca, all the other states very willingly signed treaties to place
themselves under British protection.
As you know, when you ask the British to protect you, they believe that this
means taking over the states. So they ruled this country literally as colonies. Still
The Role of the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and
Constitutional Monarchy in the Governing of Malaysia
the people never said anything because they had no say in the matter. I still
remember hearing, when I was young, people saying that politics was none
of our business; that politics was for the rulers and the elites; that people
have no say
So for centuries the people knew no politics. Then at a very crucial stage, the
rulers finally realised that they were in a very weak position as they did not have
the backing of the people. This was the period after the Japanese occupation
The British had come back and persuaded, or rather arm-twisted, the rulers to
surrender their states, in order for the British to create what they called the
Malayan Union, over whose domain they could exert their authority and
prevent the rulers from ruling. This was the British way of making people feel
secure, but actually the people were placed in acute danger (of losing their
independence). Because when the British give advice, you are expected to
follow. It's like in the army; the soldiers are not advised to march forward or to
attack, but they are commanded to do so (when you advise and people are
expected to follow, it is a command). The rulers, of course, cannot be allowed
to rule so the British came back after the war threatening not to recognise the
Malay rulers unless they surrendered their states to the British and signed a
treaty They would continue to be called Raja, they would be called Sultan, they
would be given Roll Royce cars, yellow umbrellas, Istanas and all that, but they
would have no say in the governance of this country.
Because the rulers were weak and had no support from the people, they
signed this treaty However, for the very first time, the people had decided that
even though politics was not their business, they decided to make it theirs. And
so, when the British forced the rulers to sign this treaty, the people, the Malays,
the subjects, formed a political party and behaved like politicians, making
demands so that the treaty could be thrown out and the country reformed from
a Malayan Union into a federation" of Malaya. Subsequently they demanded
elections and the people won a big majority more than half the number of seats
in the legislative council, and effectively they became the government of the
country although still under British rule.
As we all know, in 1957, the demand for Independence was met and the
country became independent To be independent, we had to change things a
Perdana Discourse Series
bit We could not very well go back to the feudal system like before, and we
could not have a situation where the rulers would rule and the people would
continue to have no say in politics. The people have realised that if you have a
feudal system where the people are not involved, then it is likely that the rulers
will surrender their lands to other people again. So this time the people wanted
to have a say in the politics of this country. In feet, they insisted on having a say,
irrespective of what the rulers feel about it But having decided that they should
be involved in politics, gain independence and not go back to the feudal system,
the question is, what system should be adopted?
The choice was for democracy but then democracy is a system of rule by
the majority of the people. How to effect that becomes a problem. Therefore,
we decided to have a Constitution and since we have no history of a constitutional
government, we decided to look toward the most familiar country for inspiration
as to how the Constitution should be shaped. And so, the Constitution of
Malaysia was based on the British model of a constitutional monarchy assisted
by a parliament It would have an administration, a judiciary system, etc The
British Constitution, which we decided to adopt, unfortunately, is not a written
constitution. The British rely on their traditions for their Constitution and
somehow they managed to make it work. In our case, we didn't have a tradition
to fall back on, something to refer to.
So we needed to have a written Constitution and an element of this
Constitution, which is most important for politics, is the division of labour;
the separation of power between 3 recognised institutions in the system of
government: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary On top of that
we have a monarch, which although not constitutionally bestowed with
executive power, yet is a signatory for all documents before these become
law. In the case of the British, this requirement is not written down but there
has been no instance when a ruler has refused to sign any piece of legislation
passed by parliament In Malaysia we have no such tradition, so it's therefore
written in the Constitution that for any piece of legislation to be official then
it must be signed by the Constitutional Monarch. This later raises some
problems but if we were to follow the practice in England, there should be
no problem; the people will elect the legislative body and the party forming
The Role of the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and
Constitutional Monarchy in the Governing of Malaysia
the majority will then be recognised by the monarch officially as the government
of the day
On the legislative part, the government of the country is concerned with
formulating and passing laws, but for the legislation to be effective we need a
body to carry out the instructions of the legislators. That is the job of
administrators who are supposed to take orders from the legislative body and
carry out whatever instructions they receive. If anybody breaches the law or
does something that is unconstitutional, then the judiciary will be given the task
of making judgement of what is right or wrong based on the laws passed by the
legislators, indicating the kind of punishment to be meted out against the
people who broke the law. The roles seem very clear-cut: one is the legislative,
the other one is the executive, then we have the judiciary and on top of it all, in
order to make everything official, the monarchy signs and acts on the advice of
the head of the legislator.
It's all very clear but then there are overlaps in their functions. That's where
the problem is. The people who are elected as legislators have to form a body
called the government There is some vagueness as to whether the government
is a legislative or an executive group. Obviously, it is going to carry out certain
activities and when certain things are decided and carried out by the government
it becomes very nearly an executive body In fact, it gives orders to the executive
to do things and, of course, it interferes with the executive to a certain extent
Sometimes they overstep their bounds and they abuse the power that they
have. For example, there was this case where a police officer was instructed by a
member of the government to frighten off some people (the Malay word for
this is gempak). Of course, later on this case was brought to court But it does not
mean that this happens very often. Occasionally there is a tendency to abuse
power by instructing the executive to do things which are not provided for by
the Constitution, which therefore is wrong.
So this part is not very clearly stated and people find that they cannot just
quote the Constitution. An officer from the executive branch cannot just tell
the Prime Minister, "Sorry Sir, what you are asking me, I cannot do because it's
not in the Constitution" The Prime Minister may say "Well, I don't care what
you say. If you don't carry out this thing, I will have you transferred." That is also
Perdana Discourse Series
not within the power of the Prime Minister; it's within the power of the chief of
the executive branch and the Prime Minister has a strong influence over the
executive branch. So people can be put into cold storage if they don't obey the
Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, and maybe other ministers as well, may
assume the powers of the executive. So this is something that is actually against
the Constitution.
However, our character is such that we don't like to say no to someone, even
when you know the person is asking you to do something wrong. We carry it
out regardless. We know of an instance where a Deputy Prime Minister had
instructed a police officer to frighten off some ladies. This case appeared before
the court and the person, having ceased to be the Deputy Prime Minister, was
found guilty. But that was just one instance. There must be a lot of other
instances where the Prime Minister would appear to operate like an executive.
So the division is not as dear-cut as it's made out to be.
The legislative branch actually has some executive powers over the executive
and the executive too can go against die decisions and policies of the legislative.
They can do other things on their own, in very subtle ways, to circumvent the
decisions made by the legislative. So again, there is this overlapping in function
which allows the executive to actually disregard the legislative This is where
problems arise.
Sometimes, if the government is very strong, the tendency is to take action
against the executive. The executive also has its own little quarrels within itself
so that the government body (or the part of the legislative body which forms
the government) can actually make use of these rivalries to get the wrong things
done. So these overlaps do cause a lot of confusion and it does not make
governing the country as smooth, although the Constitution makes it appear
that everything is fine and the divisions are clear-cut
Then, there is the judiciary which makes judgments on whether the actions
taken by individuals or even by the government, is in accordance with the law.
Those who break the law can be arrested and brought to court to be judged as
to whether the person is guilty or not There are times when people can take
action against the government including the legislator, the governing body and
the executive, if they feel that these people have not abided by the law. So in such
The Role of the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and
Constitutional Monarchy in the Governing of Malaysia
cases, it is for the judiciary to decide. The judiciary is a special body in our society
which may not be criticised. In other countries, they do criticise the judiciary
even the judgements made by the court In fact they write books against certain
judgements and this is not considered as disrespecting the judiciary But in
Malaysia we find that if a judge says something, you are not supposed to criticise
what he says. He's sort of a superior being whose pronouncement must be
accepted without question. In a way this is good because at some stage somebody
must pass judgement. If you keep on questioning the judgements there'll be no
end to it. So the judiciary tries to cater for this by having 2 or 3 tiers of appeal to
the next higher body and even then you can appeal again to the highest body of
the judiciary and up to the pardons board. So the people should find that the
judiciary functions very well.
As I have said just now, the task of the judiciary is actually to pass judgement
on the laws that have been passed in Parliament Parliament makes the law; the
judiciary then interprets it and passes judgment on cases involving breaches of
the law. If there is a problem in the system, the problem is one of interpretation of
the laws. When a legislator passes a law, it does so because it has a certain
intention, a certain objective. The law is meant to do certain things, to solve some
problems within society. For example, there is a lot of drug-addiction and drugselling in the society and this is causing a lot of problems. So the legislator passes
a law against drug abuse or sales of drugs, and then when a person breaches this
law, the judiciary can then decide whether he has in fact breached this law The
punishment for the crime initially was either a life sentence or death sentence.
Such is the severity of the crime that the punishment is made very severe.
However judges feel very unhappy about hanging people. They do not like
passing death sentences. So invariably when there is a choice between hanging
and a life sentence, they will give the latter. The duration of a life sentence is
actually about 20 years, not a whole lifetime. There is another punishment which
requires serving the entire lifetime in jail, but when you do give a life sentence,
you are actually giving a sentence of 20 years and if you behave yourself you can
reduce that to about 13 years. So it's not really the same as a death sentence. It's
very much lighter but since many judges do not like the death sentence, they
decided that the appropriate punishment should be for a life sentence.
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The legislators, however, find that this is not a good deterrent. When
people peddle drugs, they cause a lot of problems. The people who are drug
addicts are actually the 'living dead'; they are useless, cause problems to society
and they commit crimes, even murder. They are themselves very unhealthy So
the legislator feels that there must be a very strong punishment for this crime.
If you peddle a certain amount of drugs, then you should be given the death
sentence. To ensure that this is actually carried out, the legislators took the
decision out of the hands of the judiciary by making it mandatory Once it is
determined that a particular drug law has been breached, a judge cannot pass
any other than a death sentence. It's actually the law which sentences a person
to death, but the judges are still unhappy with this.
I hope that the Bar Council doesn't hear me say this. Are there any
members of the Bar Council here? They don't like me but that's alright, they
don't like the death sentence either. Their conscience is not clear, It's a very
nasty thing to sentence a person to death. However, the final say is not really
with the judge or with the legislator, but with the pardons board. All death
sentences must go before a pardons board, and it is this board that confirms
whether the death sentence should actually be carried out or not
We find that the judiciary sometimes causes the charges to be amended in
such a way that they don't have to pass the death sentence This frustrates the
legislator and is one way that the judiciary actually negates the intention
of the legislator. There are other ways, of course, in which judges interpret
the laws differently from the legislator, without taking into consideration
the objective of the law. They read the words of the law according to
how they interpret the law, in a way that sometimes negates the objective of
having the law. What is worse is when a judge passes sentence in a
case that becomes a precedent and is then quoted in future cases. So and so,
this judge says, interpreted the words of the law this way, and effectively that
judgement becomes law. As you know, laws are supposed to be
the prerogative of the legislator and not of the judiciary but by doing this they
have effectively created a law and they have perverted the role of the legislators.
The legislators are, of course, unhappy with this. However, we are not supposed
to say anything about this, except in the case of a notable Prime Minister who
The Role of the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and
Constitutional Monarchy in the Governing of Malaysia
opened his mouth too often and got into trouble for interfering with the
As you can see, there is still a lot of overlap in which the judiciary can actually
make laws. They then abide by such laws that they make, which is actually not
the laws enacted by legislators. To reiterate, it is the legislative branch which is
supposed to make the law. It is up to the judiciary to take the law and determine
whether it has been breached or not. But you can see now that the judiciary has
more power in some cases, and you cannot criticise the judiciary for fear of
being in contempt of court. Sometimes they do exceed their authority and we
cannot say anything about this.
There have been cases where people have been sentenced to death who
were not guilty but you cannot say anything and sometimes, of course, some of
the judgments made were seen by the public as not being correct. But you
cannot say anything about this. People say that if you choose your judge
correctly even if you murder people, you can get away with it. But you mustn't
say it publicly because if you do, you maybe annoying many judges and one day
you may appear before one and then you'll regret making such comments.
Perdana Discourse Series
Judges should never pass sentence or declare against a person who has not
been given a hearing. It is a principle of law that no one should be found guilty
of anything unless he is given a chance to appear before a court and give his
views of things. Of course, there have been cases where people are tried in
absentee, where the person has not been caught and made available for trial. Yet
a judge may pass judgment on him and say that he's guilty of this and that That
in principle is wrong. In a particular case that I know a judge passes judgment
on this person for doing something wrong although he was not given a hearing.
Eventually he appealed against this judgment and won. But in order to do that
he had to hire expensive lawyers (lawyers are more expensive than doctors) to
defend him. He had to spend about a million dollars in fees in order to prove to
the court that he was not in the wrong. But he cannot recoup his costs against
the court. So unfairness can be seen here but you are not supposed to say
anything about it.
So this is the problem of the Constitution, dividing the 3 different branches
of the government: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. Then we have
the monarch in our system of constitutional monarchy. The monarch has no
executive power. It cannot make a decision except in 3 areas: whenever the
legislator wants to pass something that concerns the rulers, then they have a
right to have their say. There are 2 other things that concern them which they
have the right to decide. But on other matters they have no right However, we
have decided that rulers should be privileged By privileged, we mean that for
some things they are above the law. "You cannot charge them in court for some
misdemeanour, which I think is fine because we have to show respect to the
rulers. We cannot look up to somebody that we have no respect for. So that is
good but the assumption is that when privileges are given, they are not abused
and so there should be no problem. But supposing they abuse their privileges?
What happens when a ruler, for example, steps beyond his authority or does
something that is obviously against the law? What do you do? Supposing a
ruler was to kill a person. You can say well he's a ruler; he has the right to kill
people. Would you accept that? I'm quite sure we won't Supposing you
inadvertently overtake a car and you discovered that the overtaken car belongs
to a ruler, you are taken to the police station and slapped. Would you like to live
The Role of the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and
Constitutional Monarchy in the Governing of Malaysia
in a country where that happens? I don't think you would. So we are faced with
a problem which we need to resolve. We need our rulers, we want them to play
the role of rulers, but we cannot have them abusing the privileges accorded to
them And so it was decided that a special court should be set up to try cases
involving abuse of privileges by royalty We hope that this court will not be
convened at all but there has been one instance where it was convened and the
court had decided against the ruler.
I think people would feel more comfortable if they know that they can seek
redress through the judicial system But if you find that you are not able to seek
redress at all even when harm is done to you, then I think you would be living
in a state of constant fear So while we want to have a constitutional monarch,
we must assume that the monarch will not break the law or abuse their
privileges. That is very important .So amendments were made to the Constitution
and a special court was set up to try cases involving breach of the law by the
monarch or if the monarch does something criminal.
The power of the monarchy is clearly stated with regard to the formation of
the government There is an interim period after a government decided to have
an election, during which time the current government is no longer in power.
Whether the previous government comes back or another group takes over
power depends on the election. The people will decide who should have the
majority to form the fixed government If there is a dear majority then the party
with the majority can submit the name of its leader to the ruler, to become the
chief minister, the menteri besar or the prime minister. That is quite clear to
most people. But there would be instances when the majority is not so clear.
Supposing there are 3 parties contesting the election and none of the
parties get more than 50% of the seats, then it's not clear as to who should
form the next government We will have a situation where we need to have a
minority party be made government, and the ruler has to consent to this
before the government is legitimised. That is okay as long as the others don't
raise any objection. But there are cases where the others have resorted to calling
for votes of no-confidence. If somebody is appointed who does not command
the support of the majority and if he goes to a meeting of the legislators where
a vote of no-confidence is moved against him, then he loses his position. So, if a
Perdana Discourse Series
ruler decides to appoint somebody that has not been recommended to him by
the majority party he can do so and the person can become the head of
government However his tenure would be very short because once the
legislator sits, and moves a vote of no-confidence against him, this would result
in his removal However, in Malaysia, if the ruler chooses somebody, out of
respect for the ruler, the people do not usually move votes of no-confidence
against the ruler's choice. Now, however, this matter is being tested. I don't know
whether there are different constitutional provisions in different states, but in
general, if a person who does not have majority support heads the government,
then he has a good chance of losing his place when a vote of no-confidence is
moved against him.
So, ultimately, it is the person, party or group representing the people as a
whole, and elected by the people who will determine who will form the
government This concept appears to be very clear but now it is being
questioned. We have to wait for the decision of the courts. In this country as
you know, it is the courts that decide and we have to abide by the decision. If we
find that it is not palatable then what we need to do is to urge our legislators to
change the laws. To change the laws involving the Constitution requires a twothird majority So a party that does not have a two-third majority cannot change
the Constitution They can change other laws but not laws relating to the
So that is the situation in this country. Although the Constitution tries to be
very clear-cut in dividing the authority of each of the different branches of the
government, in effect there are many overlaps in jurisdiction. The legislative
through the appointed government can interfere with the executive, and the
judiciary can interfere with the legislative and the executive. Moreover, a lot of
influence exerted which may not be constitutional may be felt by the country as
a whole. The King or the ruler must sign a bill before it becomes a law. He has
only to append his signature but it is a very significant act because if he does not,
there is no provision in the Constitution to compel him to do so. That is why it
is desirable that the Constitution be amended to require the ruler to explain the
reasons for not signing the bill and to ask for amendments to the bill (if he does
not sign the bill). The legislator can then review the law and maybe change it to
The Role of the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and
Constitutional Monarchy in the Governing of Malaysia
he in conformity with the views of the ruler. Subsequently, if the ruler still does
not sign the amended bill then it becomes law after a period of 60 days. So that
is the provision to be incorporated.
Again, you see that although the ruler or the monarch is not an executive, he
has a certain authority through the right to append his signature, which makes
him somewhat more than just a constitutional monarch. That is the situation
that we find in Malaysia.
All things considered, we have done very well really because the concepts of
democracy and constitutional monarchy with a parliament is not something
that we were used to. We were more familiar with the feudal system of
government But despite our lack of experience and traditions, we have made
this Constitution work well over many years. However, it involves a lot of
understanding of the past and of the things that are allowed under the
Constitution. So it is very important that all legislators attend this mornings
talk, otherwise they may be guilty of exceeding or abusing their authority (and
not know it). The present system is done in this way in order to balance the
power of the government. If any branch of the government is not checked by
the other branches then the tendency for abuse is very great Even with the
provisions of checks and balance we still see instances of abuse of power. But if
no division and no dear-cut power separation is exercised by the government
at all, the abuses perpetrated would be very frequent and much worse, and
eventually we may become an anarchy There would practically be no
government So it is very important that we adhere to the provisions of the
Constitution and also the division of power between the 3 branches of
government: the legislative, executive and the judiciary The rulers must also
understand their powers, which although limited, are still very powerful.
Of course, certain amendments to the Constitution have been made which
make things more clear-cut, but apparently there are still many people who may
not fully understand the meaning of the Constitution and continue to breach
its provisions.
am very conscious that I am in the minority as there will be more women
than men in this hall today So, I will address the women first, Puan-puan
and Tuan-tuan. I would like to thank Tan Sri Ibrahim Abu Shah for his
comment on the beginning of ITM (UiTM)* because the relationship is what
we may call the love-hate relationship. One of my experiences that I went
through before I became a Minister was when I was still a Chairman of the
Higher Education Council. There was a day that we had a meeting when I was
warned that there would be a demonstration and they wanted to shift the
meeting to some other place. I disagreed and continued the meeting and when
it ended, I was arrested by students and was put on a kangaroo court trial
where they asked many questions which I answered until they didn't know
what more to ask. Finally, they complained about the bad condition of the
canteen furniture in ITM (UiTM). So, I said, "Ok, lets go and see" and I
agreed with them that the furniture was really old and needed to be replaced.
The demonstration happened in the Universiti Kebangsaan [UKM]**
campus but the student leader came from ITM. He was unhappy because he
felt that he could not pass his English exam. What he wanted to do was to ask
ITM to exempt him from this English exam because he had been busy as a
student leader. That was a very good excuse.
I was very happy indeed that ITM did not exempt him and subsequently
he stood against me for the election in my constituency of Kubang Pasu.
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However, he lost and I won. So, that was my first relationship with ITM. Of
course, when I was Minister of Education, I had more problems. I had to close
ITM for a short while and I couldn't really go there when it was closed. When
it was opened, they held a demonstration and they performed (well) in their
student activities but not academically I must say that I've been very harsh
perhaps because some of the students including the son of my friend in my
own constituency were not allowed to come back. Of course, his father
appealed to me and I apologised to him and said I would stick to the decision
that I had made. You see how strict and unrelenting I was and now I am asked
to talk about women and youth. The two are always together. It is quite
difficult to discuss these two groups of people as if they are one because each
one them has different attributes. The women have certain attributes and the
youth, which also includes the girls, they have different attributes.
So, in the course of my discussion, there would be a time when I would
talk about women and other times I would talk only about youth, and where
they have things in common. So, I will begin with taking the two groups
together. As far as I am concerned, they provide the numbers in a country like
Malaysia, which is relatively a small country. In fact, when I became Prime
Minister, the population of Malaysia back then was only 13 million.
Now, with 27 million in the country which is more than twice the numbers
of 1991, we need to make use of everyone. I've found that men are invariably
lazy while women work hard.
In any human society you may have noticed that the numbers of men and
women are about 50-50. You may not have noticed that but I have studied
population figures and I found that invariably, there maybe slightly less men or
slightly less women but there is never a situation where you have 20 percent
women and 80 percent m e a It will never happen in any place even after wars.
Perhaps in those days, during the wars they kept the men. So, the women were
left without prospective husbands. So, the number of women increased which
is the reason why we men were allowed to marry more than one.
Strictly, when the numbers of men and women are unequal, if there are
lesser men and more women, therefore, you can marry more than one. If you
can't be fair to them, please marry only one as what the Quran says. I want to
The Role of Women and Youth in National Development
point up to you that if the numbers of men and women are about the same and
when one man takes more than one wife to marry; there would be another
man who would not be having a wife. It is a mathematical calculation.
Now, if a man takes four wives, for every man who does that, there will be
three men without wives. That will create social problems. See, the Quran
does not ask us to take four wives. It is only for certain circumstances and it is
very specific that the Quran says that you may marry two, three or four. But if
we cannot be fair to them, marry only one and it goes on to say that men
cannot be fair to women. So, it is quite obvious that the Quran tells us to marry
only one. I'm saying this because I have one wife. But the people who teach
religion, they are very keen to have more than one wife and they will tell you
that it is alright to do so. It is personal interest, really
I have diverged from the subject and I would like to go back to the question
of numbers. We cannot do without the women simply because it will reduce
our numbers. When we had 13 million people, if you exclude the women,
then the total workforce of men will be 6.5 million and of course, not all of
them are able bodied, therefore only about 40 to 50 percent would be able to
work. So, only 40 percent of 6.5 million would contribute to the workforce of
the country. We cannot afford that
Thus, we must bring the women in. We cannot bring the youth in because
some people have passed laws that says children cannot work, we cannot
employ children and aU that So, the women are very important because their
capacity to contribute is actually very great Even in male-dominant societies,
the women's contribution cannot be discounted. If we look anywhere in this
world, you'll find that the women work more than men. When you go to
Kelantan, only the women are working. If you go to pasar malam' (night
market) or to the market you will see only the women there. Do you see any
men there?
Of course, the men are also very busy They are busy in the coffee shop
discussing politics. So, without the women, the men could not have any
income at all. Of course, they think that if they marry four wives, then they can
have the income of four people to support them, but eventually they will find
life very difficult So, women really contribute a lot to human society and
Perdana Discourse Series
keeping them out means that we deny half of our strength and capacity to do
work. Before this, women's contribution was only in the kitchen and other
places in the house but, nowadays, we find that when chances are given to
women, they have the capacity to acquire skills much faster than men. This is
the impression that I get but I didn't do any studies. Of course, you can see
now, in the universities, the women outnumber the men. During my time,
there was only one girl to choose from but nowadays, men have so many
women to choose from And these women will support them
We see that women are really making efforts to be useful, not just in the
house but also elsewhere. The men, however, are not really making any effort
For example, in Malaysia, who are the mat rempit'? Why is the term 'Mat' and
not 'Rohana' or 'Fatimah'? We should have mat' and mah' rempit' But it is not
so. They are some misguided women who you know go and do all these funny
things but the majority of the people who do not take life seriously and who
are irresponsible are the men. In the case of drug usage, 80 percent are men but
only 20 percent are women.
I can cite other cases where women contribute far more than men. Now,
when they do this, the men may think that they are doing well by themselves
because now they have women to do their jobs. Women are now better
educated than men. Many of them outnumber men and this can cause marital
problems. You have to marry below you. Not of the same status or above you
but marry below you People used to complain that their wives were
uneducated. Today, the wives complain that their husbands are uneducated
and it creates social problems everywhere.
The men feel quite happy about it because they feel they are so much
wanted by the women. There are so few of them who are highly educated. So
they feel that way But there will be a shift in the authority or the power wielded
by the two sexes. When we allow other people to do our work, they do it so
well, you become dependent upon them and it means you are not independent
That is happening to the men who are no longer independent.
The independent people are the women because they earn the money,
have the skills and they support the family as well as the men. Well, even if he
wants to work he has no capacity to work because he is not trained and he has
The Role of Women and Youth in National Development
not been given a good education. Eventually, if we allow this trend to go on, the
dependence of the men will increase and the independence of the women
would increase.
Eventually; women will dominate society if they haven't already The men
will lose their position or authority. If we do, it would be the women who will
tell the men to please get out from this house. It is going to happen, believe me.
I am very concerned because some people think that if there are people who
can do work for them, they will not bother to work. They would let other
people do the work.
In the end, they will become so dependent on other people that they lose
their own independence. Now, in the country for example, if we don't work
and allow the foreigners to work, they will eventually take over this country. If
you take a look at the Turks, the Uthmaniah people, they built up a great
country The Turks built up a great country because of their bravery as well as
their level of education and intelligence.
So they built up the Turkish Empire which included most of the Eastern
European countries including Albania and Yugoslavia and others. They became
so very rich and lived in luxury that they became reluctant to lose their lives.
Their life was so good. They were rich, they were the rulers and they found life so
good that they thought, "Why should I fight and die? I have the money and I can
employ people and make them to do the fighting for us." So, there were a lot of
Christian children who were separated from their parents and were brought up
as Muslims and were given education and training and they became the
Janissaries or "Yeniceries', however you will pronounce it
Of course, eventually the whole armed forces were made up of these
people. People of other races and not the Turks, although they learned to
speak Turkish and they were brought up like the Turks but they became very
powerful because they were made up of men with guns and other weapons
and eventually, of course, they seized power. Albanians and other Eastern
European Muslims seized Egypt from the Uthmanian Caliph.
So you can see that when you become reliant and dependent on other
people eventually they would seize power from you. So, this process not only
happened in Turkey but also in many places in the Arab world today They
Perdana Discourse Series
don't want to work and because they don't work, they become dependent
upon others. And eventually they are going to find difficulty because those
people who provide the services would demand more authority for themselves
and they eventually will seize power.
So, when men think that this is a good thing that they don't work and leave
everything to women, they are gradually losing their independence, they are
going to be dependent It will not take place in my time, thank God. But it will
take place unless the men wake up and realise that they should share the
workload together with the women. It is proven that women are as good as
men. Certainly, in the universities, they are better than the men. In business
sectors also, they are better than the men. And we see so many companies now
headed by women because they have the capacity. Of course men try to show
that they are the masters but actually they are not, except with their wives.
We never thought about this before, but women who are placed in the
government service have become the heads of ministries. For example, there
are a number of women who are appointed as the secretaries to the ministries
and I suspect if the evaluation of civil servants is done fairly, I think all the
ministries will be headed by women.
It is not a farfetched idea because men do not want to exert themselves
anymore. They are much more keen on being more relaxed. They don't apply
as much energy towards their work as they should. So, this is what we are
seeing, that women, besides their numbers, are becoming much better
educated and have a lot more skills than men. This is going to go on and, of
course, we cannot possibly stop them In fact, we are too lazy to stop them
It is so nice to have other people doing our work for ourselves. Of course,
in the good old days, the women were just cooks in the kitchen. That's what
they specialised in. But if you go to the hotel, the chefs are all men, because
somehow or other they think that the women could not cook professionally as
well as men. But it is not true, of course. The women cook better than men and
this is from my own experience. But now, women are not only confined to the
kitchen. They have come out of the kitchen and they have done extremely
well. They have also provided intellectual input into the development of this
country much more than the numbers indicate.
The Role of Women and Youth in National Development
Women are found to be everywhere in every activity and even in the
armed forces. I was very proud to tell Arab women when they asked me about
the position of women in Malaysia that they can do anything the men do and
they have also become fighter pilots. I think that sort of shocked the Arab
women, that Malaysian women, can become fighter pilots and they can also
fight in other countries. You see, that is not something that I can prove but I
have seen that
Even in our armed forces, women have reached the level of Major General.
So, you can see that the contribution of women up to this stage towards the
development of this country and the management of this country is very great
indeed. Of course, management and administration play big roles in
development There are more and more women who are involved in the
administration up to high levels and they have proven that they can deliver.
So, the role of women in development must have increased over time. It is
not something that I really like because I think the men are just as capable as
the women. They have shown that they can cook as well as women. In hotels,
most cooks are men. Well, we need their energy and we need the energy of
everyone in this country as many people as possible because we are really
short of people. We are only 27 million.
You must remember that when I first became the first Prime Minister, I
said that this country should have a population of 70 million and people were
shocked. People were saying that we were being told to keep down the
numbers of children, family planning and all that And here was this new Prime
Minister advocating a 70 million population. What they failed to hear was that
I said 70 million by the year 2100. At the rate we were growing at that time, we
would achieve 70 million by the year 2050 because we were growing at 2.3
percent or 23 children per thousand people. Anyway we are growing at a very
fast rate. And, of course, we would achieve 70 million very very quickly
The idea is to slow down a bit so we can go steady reaching 70 million by
the year 2100. Why do we want to slow down a bit? We need the country's
wealth to grow along with this population and obviously if the population
grows too fast they are going to be very poor. So, you have to work out at what
rate they should grow not just because of the increase in the population but
Perdana Discourse Series
because we need their contribution as well as we need to be able to feed them
and to get jobs for them.
That was why we advocated the growth of population to 70 million and
some people took the opportunity by saying that now, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
asked them to marry four, which was stupid. It was not true at all. If you many
four people, it is the women who are going to give birth, not the men. You see,
if a woman marries four men, the rate of production is not going to be the
same, but if one man marries four women, one cannot be sure that the
production rate would be as good as four men. And, of course, you render
three men incapable (of marriage) by doing that, so we are not contributing.
But, any excuse is a good excuse to marry four. So, when I said a 70 million
population, they said that now I can marry four. Dr. Mahathir Mohamad asked
me to. I get blamed for everything, of course. But if we have a population of 70
million but they are incapable of working and do not want to work, it is not
good because we want the women and men also to work in this country. And
if we have a population of 70 million of men and women who are contributing
towards the development of this country obviously the growth of this country
would be much faster.
If we have only the women contributing, we would like to say thank you to
them but the growth cannot be much faster. So, everything must be taken into
consideration, the fact that we have men and women of the same number and
that the women work hard. We need a big population to have a big domestic
market, so that when we produce anything, then we can sell to the domestic
market as the base and then we can export the rest to the rest of the world. Of
course, if we had the men to work as hard as the women, the growth of this
country would be much faster.
If it is not as fast as we expected, it is because the contribution of men have
become less. What is the contribution of the people who are drug addicts who
subsequently get HIV AIDS? Nothing. They are a burden to society What is
the contribution of mat rempit'? Nothing. So, they are not contributing
anything. And yet, women are working hard and are supporting men at this
present time. We should not discourage women from working. They should
work and acquire even more skills. Physical work might not be too suitable for
them but intellectual work is very suitable lor women because they acquire
very good skills. For example, 1 was operated on by a male surgeon, but there
were female doctors also who were in charge of the anaesthetic and they
performed very well. Eventually if the men refuse to study work and learn, the
women would make up most of the specialists in the hospital. If you go to this
hospital where they specialise in eyes, almost all the doctors were women.
1 went with my wife one day and 1 was really uncomfortable because there
were so many women around me. When I was younger, I would appreciate it
more but now I'm old. I don't appreciate it much but I enjoy their company
because you can engage in intellectual discourse with them. Eventually at the
rate we are going, most of the specialists in hospitals are going to be women.
They are already taking up one whole hospital. I can't remember the name
of the place but it is near Kepong. So, anyway what I'm trying to say is that
women are as capable as men. Of course, if they go into wrestling, for example,
I don't think it is nice. I reject the physical part of it. But use women's intellect
Perdana Discourse Series
and skills. Women's hands are very soft and tiny and when doing work like
surgery these little fingers are able to do marvellous things. So, that's the
women as you can see contributing towards the development of this country
Now, what about the youth? Yes, when we talk about the youth, of course,
we include the girls as well, not just the boys. Youth demands that they be
heard and that they are given authority even. However, if the youth do not
include the women, most of them are good in demanding but not so good in
implementing. I have respect for modem youth because they are very
intelligent, they are certainly far better educated than the youth during my time
but still they need to be a little bit patient Because we can demand one thing
but doing is another matter. Although if they insist, the adult age would be
lower and lower. We have to admit that experience counts in life for a person
Experience counts (because) if you have a lot of experience then you are much
more capable. Because you are still young, your experience is not enough and
therefore, you should confine yourself to providing your self with qualifications.
Youth should try to acquire as much knowledge and skills as much as
possible. Now, if they do that, they will still not be qualified to wield power but
they can contribute ideas. There is no doubt that there are many youth who
are very intelligent but to say that they are better than older people, I find it
difficult to agree. I was a youth at one time, a bit difficult to remember now
because it has been such a long time ago. Well, while I had the ideas and all diat
to do things which older people did not do, I realised that I did not have
sufficient skills nor was I accepted as a credible leader which was why I decided
that I need to be credible in order to have people listen to me. I first had to
acquire an education at the university level I wanted to be a lawyer because I
like to argue with people. Unfortunately in those days, whatever scholarships
that you got you took it and I was given a scholarship to study medicine. It was
not what I wanted but still it serves the purpose of making me a much more
credible person in the eyes of the community.
So, youth must spend their time giving themselves the credentials. They
must acquire more knowledge and skills and, of course, at the sidelines, they
can give their opinions and things like that. But to presume that youth know
better than older people, I don't think there is a basis for it So, the role of youth
The Role of Women and Youth in National Development
whether they are men, boys or girls is to acquire as much knowledge and skills
as possible. The girls are doing that but the boys are not The male youth in
this country dominates leadership but their ability is not comparable with the
girls because they make no effort to acquire knowledge, to acquire skills. It is
obvious because if we go to any university in Malaysia, you will see the number
of boys is less than the girls. In other words, the boys are not preparing
themselves for their roles when they become older. They are very impatient
because they want to do everything but they have no experience and not
enough knowledge because they make no effort to acquire knowledge. I'm not
saying all of them are like that but the majority of them are not really
intellectuals who are capable of leading. They can lead the youth but not
So, that is fine. Leading the youth would be a kind of training period for
you when you get older. But you have also to spend more time to acquire
knowledge and skills. I was very impatient when I was the Minister of
Education Some people led by one person whom I shall not name got the
university students to demonstrate. It seemed that somebody in Baling died of
starvation. So, they demonstrated against the government for allowing a man
or boy to die of starvation. But that was an immature kind of thing; when you
demonstrate, you cannot do very much. On the other hand, when you are
demonstrating, I doubt that you are studying. I did not see them carrying out
their books and pens while they were demonstrating. Yes, they used their
hands a lot but nothing more beyond that So, they were wasting time, not
studying, and spent their time demonstrating. This is especially bad when you
find that these students had been given an opportunity to acquire university
education through other people's money from the government One must
remember that the government is handling the people's money.
It is not the government's money although sometimes the government
does print money But we were not doing that at that time. The government
collected money from the people through taxes and must spend the money
wisely realising that we needed skilful manpower. We raised the education
facilities in this country In my time, there was no university in Malaysia, and in
the whole of Malaysia and Singapore.
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When I went to Singapore to study medicine, I found that the number of
students there was very small, just seventy seven. Out of seventy seven, seven
were Malays, one girl and six boys, one tenth of the student' population.
Obviously we need to create more opportunities for other youths to get their
education. Malaysia is one of the countries that spends almost a quarter of the
allocation of funds for development on education. The first thing we did was
to set up a university and then set up the second and third universities, and
lastly we set up colleges.
We wanted our youth to be trained to have the skill and the knowledge that
would make them capable of contributing towards the development of the
country We were willing to spend money on them But think of the waste of
money when instead of studying and equipping themselves with better
knowledge, they spend their time demonstrating. Of course they didn't do
well. Like the leader of ITM students. His excuse for not being able to pass his
English test was because he was busy with the Student Union.
We didn't send students to university to do union work. If you want to do
that you can hire somebody else. We had spent a lot of money on students to
give them an education and qualification that would enable them to contribute
towards the development of this country Instead of doing that, they had
demonstrations and got involved in politics. That was wasting public money
which we couldn't afford because we can use the money for something else,
like building a road in the kampung (village), for example.
But we found that they wasted money by demonstrating against the
government Nobody died in Baling because of starvation. Our society did not
allow anybody in the village to starve. If we have anything at all to eat, we'll
share with someone who is starving. He won't die. To say that a young boy
would die of starvation in the kampung is an obscenity In the Malay kampung
we care about our neighbours. If you find your neighbour starving, whatever
little food that we have we will share with them.
When we investigated, (we found) the boy was living in a home which was
stocked with a lot of food. He was not dying of starvation. In fact, it was
doubtful whether he died or not but it was a nice issue to think up by our good
friend who is now trying to become the Prime Minister of Malaysia. He told
The Role of Women and Youth in National Development
the students, look, this government was bad and allowed people to starve to
death. He had a way of convincing fellow students that what he said was true.
They (the students) spent their time demonstrating and that showed a
lack of responsibility You were given money to do something to improve your
chances in the future but you wasted that by demonstrating; you don't require
intelligence to demonstrate. We want you to study So, lack of responsibility is
quite often found among youth. I can say this because I'm no longer in the
government But the government, of course, is careful not to say this; you
shouldn't antagonise the youth because they can campaign for the opposition,
for example.
But I would like to say this based on my observation: when you are
studying, you must study and study very hard. Even if you have a brilliant
brain, if it is not used, it doesn't give you knowledge. You have to learn to
acquire knowledge; you have to study to acquire knowledge. Knowledge
doesn't come to you just like that even if you are brilliant I believe most of
them (the youth) are quite brilliant if they spend their time studying. But I find
that they do not like to study. But the place (in university) must be reserved for
them No one can take their place. Now, it is not fair that in a multiracial
country that we should reserve places for these people, these young men who
are busy playing. So, you come back, study sometimes when you feel like it but
the place must be kept empty That is why we introduced that they must
qualify and have certain merits before they can be admitted into university. I
mean, I'm a Malay nationalist to the core but even I cannot keep defending the
empty places for Malay students and denying the non-Malays a place in
university while the Malay students are still playing.
That is not right. That is the impression that I get, that they are irresponsible
and they want the place to be kept and reserved for them. They are not going
to use the reserved places and yet they do not like to see other people use all
the places. So, we have wasted the place. This is wrong. So, this sense of
responsibility among the youth exists with the girls. The girls are much more
responsible. You cannot give that excuse, that "Sorry I'm busy tonight with
mat rempit' in this jalan' and that, but you cannot take my place while I'm busy
with my motorcycle."
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You are not paid to do stunts on motorcycles. If I had my way... I know
there is a woman who was bad and drank alcohol and is to be whipped, but I
would like to whip some of these mat rempit' honestly. I would like to whip
them good and proper. If I ask them, you have a job to develop the country and
what are you doing? You are riding motorcycles. Is that your contribution to
society for development? Have you forgotten that you have this opportunity
to own that motorcycle simply because other people developed this country
so that your father can earn enough income to buy you a motorcycle? You owe
the government and you owe the society. This sense of responsibility is still
not there among many of our youth. Of course, you can talk a lot about the
contribution that you make and intelligence that you have but in reality your
contribution is much less. So, between the men, the women and the youth,
I think the women, even when they are young, when they are girls, are quite
capable of contributing much more to development than the boys because
boys have no sense of responsibility
Of course we should blame the parents also. I saw a show on RTM called
'Kenali Anak Kita' where the parents did not really bring up their children
properly That is something we must blame the parents for also. But today for
most parents, both would be working and the children are left to themselves.
So, they don't get to grow up with the right values in order to become
responsible citizens who would like to make sacrifices in order to develop the
country We are giving you good money to have an education to acquire skills
so that you can work for yourself earn the money to support yourself. In doing
so, you would be contributing towards the development of this country. So,
between the youth and the women I would deal with the women separately
because they are mature and they contribute much more.
I think the men are not contributing enough and they should become
more responsible but the youth are still not yet at the stage where they know
how to be responsible. They are wasting public money by not making use of
facilities provided by the people for them to gain an education and to
contribute towards the development of the nation. That in brief is my view of
the two subjects,
Q: Sir, you mentioned that brilliant minds must be fully utilised towards
national development, but what is your view of UMNO's rejection of brilliant
young minds? If we focus on UMNO and its culture where the old guards are
reluctant to let go of their positions, at die grassroots level, there is talk of
experienced professionals with qualifications who have been labelled as, "Tak
pandai mengembek masuk kandang kambing, tak pandai menguak masuk kandang
lembu'* Whether this is an actual allegation or not, I believe that both parties
should stop wasting time and start working together towards the development
of the nation. By the way, I do not mean to suggest that UMNO is a kandang
kambing (sheep pen) or kandang lemhu (cow pen).
If you come with qualifications (for example, a PhD. or a Masters), to join
UMNO at the branch level, the incumbent leader will fear for his position. So,
it is in his interest to keep the new guy out and not let him in. That is the failure
and abuse of the system The system itself is not bad; people at the branch level
actually understand that in order to win, UMNO must have good and
educated leaders and more members, but branch leaders are anxious to keep
people with university qualifications out and limit the branch members to
about 20 or so, so that he will be able to dominate (more members mean more
mouths to feed). He can psy saguhati** to the few, to ensure continued support
for him as a branch leader. For obvious reasons, he is more intelligent than his
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deputy or supporters, and when he dies, retires or can no longer become a
branch chairman, the people who succeed him are typically not much more
intelligent or capable than he. Eventually you will have branches filled with
incapable members, from which you have to choose your leaders. It is not
because the system is wrong, it is because the system is abused. UMNO
should find a way to enable people who are qualified to join UMNO. I must
tell you that even my son could not join UMNO in my constituency because
he posed a threat to a lot of people. So UMNO will have less people, who
would be less intelligent
Q: My question is in 3 parts: One is about the workforce, the second is about
skills, education and training for youth and women, and the third is about the
upbringing of our future generation.
The first question is about the workforce. It seems that we have a flood of
immigrant workers, legal or illegal, into our country because employers are
looking at maximising their profits. They take these workers in their employment
and marginalise their own people. What is your view regarding this?
Secondly, there has been a mismatch in the country's education planning
with regard to the retraining of workers (education and knowledge in the
hands of people who do not know how to use them would not be useful). Not
only are education and knowledge important, but creativity critical thinking,
innovation and pragmatism are also important What are your views?
Thirdly, regarding the upbringing of our future generations, I find that
most parents are too busy with their work to spend quality time with their
children. The children are being left in the care of domestic workers or amahs,
who are Indonesians and Filipinos. Are the activities of these workers and how
they spend their time monitored?
Apart from Mat Rempits, we also have other social problems such as
congestion in urban areas such as in the towns. I think we should develop
rural areas as well and not just concentrate development in towns. Of
course, rural areas also have their share of social problems. So, national
development, nation-building should be looked at as a whole and in an
integrated manner.
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Why are the foreign workers here? Employers want to employ foreign
workers because they are cheaper, lets be frank about this. Is it always true that
our workers do not want to work? How many Malays do you see working as
construction workers? We taught them how to make bricks, fix plumbing, but
they do not want to work because it involves too much effort Most of them do
not even want to work as restaurant waiters. They are looking for something
easy and convenient I mean, if they are given an air-conditioned place to work,
that is where they would want to work. Because of that, we have no choice but
to bring in foreign workers.
Malays never learn, or they easily forget the reason why our country is
multiracial. I'm not rejecting other races, but look at our history. Look at the
history of the migration of foreigners into Malaysia. Why did they come? They
came to work. The Europeans and the British developed rubbers estates and
tin mines, but we (Malays) preferred not to work at those places. So, they
brought in the Indians and the Chinese, and these people worked much
harder than us; therefore, economically they kept on expanding while we kept
on losing ground. You may not know this, but there was a point in our history
when the population of the Malays was actually less than that of the immigrants.
If it were not for the great depression of the 1930's when the Chinese and
Indians returned to their country of origin, Malaysia today would be like
Singapore, where the majority would be non-Malays, who would have the
right to rule. We, the Malays, are ruling this county because we are in the
majority. But supposing we allow other people to come in and become
citizens, then we are going to lose our position of being in the majority
During my time, I have tied to make new towns like Puchong or Seri
Kembangan less dominated by Chinese; not because I am anti Chinese, but
because I feel that our towns should have a fair proportion of Malays, Chinese
and Indians. How do we bring in Malays to the city? I thought that if we start
some small businesses for them, they would work and own shop houses in the
city. The best business for them would be the franchise business where all the
problems are already worked out and resolved, and they would only need to
follow instructions, for example, how to fry the chicken or cook the hamburger;
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you do not have to do anything else. You can be ignorant of the business, yet
you can make money if you just follow the instructions given by the franchisor.
3,000 people responded to our invitation to take up franchise businesses in the
city 300 turned up for the interview, and after vetting the applicants, we had 3
people who showed real interests in going into this business. I am sorry to say
that they did not do very well.
As a result, what do we have?
If you go to Puchong, Seri Kembangan or any other new towns in Malaysia,
you would not see any Malay businesses there. Is it because the Chinese are
keeping them out and not allowing them in? The Malays choose not to take
up retail businesses because it takes a long time to become a millionaire. If you
get an AP [approval permit to import cars] for free and sell it for RM80,000,
you will become a millionaire much faster. So, the fault is with us (Malays), yet,
we do not want to admit our fault, instead we point to other people. Other
people are not going to correct their ways in order to serve us; we have to know
and correct our faults. Insya Allah, we will overcome this problem
If you ask the mamak (Indian Muslim) why they bring in Indians and not
employ Malays, the response will be that Malays do not want to work, except
for maybe "dua tiga orang" (two or three); you see, they might work in big
hotels, but not in the small shops. So, the foreign workers come in because we
do not want to work. Of course there are other factors like our emphasis on
labour-intensive industries. We have run short of labour, so they (the foreign
workers) have to come in. So, to say that the reason for the influx of migrant
workers is because the majikan (employer) wants to make more money is only
partly true; the most important reason is you cannot get local workers. You
also cannot get Chinese workers, but it is the Malay workers who do not want
to work.
About the mismatch, yes it is true. It occurs because we choose not to
study subjects that are useful to us. In particular, we refuse to learn English, and
when we are interviewed in English, we ask the interviewer, "Can you ask in
Malay?" and of course, we do not get employed. So, the mismatch is there, and
you can correct it if you like, but our people must be willing to move from
something that they consider to be "nice and cushy' to something that will
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require a little more effort on their part, to acquire the necessary knowledge
and skills.
With regard to upbringing, yes I admit that more middle-class Malays,
both fathers and mothers, have little time for their children, and they must
leam to find time. Otherwise, we are going to find all our children speaking
Filipino and Indonesian. Of course, this is not good at all but how we are going
to manage this, I really do not know. Parents must find time to be with their
children; some time during the day must be set aside for quality time with the
children. If you do not, you cannot influence their values, or they will acquire
the wrong values from their peers or their friends, and they will get involved in
unproductive activities.
Q: As we all are aware, the role of women has changed not only in the public
space but also in private life. However, we still have laws that discriminate
against women, that don't show relationships of partnership instead of
relationships of dominance in marriages. These laws should be amended to
reflect reality What is your opinion?
I agree with you, but first you have to study the law. For the Malaysian
community you know these are Islamic injunctions that we have to know, to
determine whether they are truly Islamic or not, these laws which discriminate
against women. Fortunately in this county this is not too bad; in Afghanistan,
you do not get to go to school at all, you do not wear fashionable things,
because everything is black from top to bottom. Here, we are free; if you like to,
you can wear the tudung (head scarf); if you do not, we do not accuse people
of not being good Muslims. The degree of freedom for women in this country
is far greater than in many Islamic countries. But I agree with you that we
should study the laws and make sure that women are not in any way
discriminated against
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Q: These four pillars of the country: the executive, the legislative, the judiciary
and the monarchy - do you think that the situation in the country has become
very complicated now that five of the State Governments are formed by
parties that are different from the Federal Government? In other words, five
State Governments including the more important states are being controlled
by Pakatan while the other State Governments are being controlled by Barisan
Nasional. That's my first question.
And my second question is, during your time, things were quite simple
because you ruled with quite a firm hand. But now, because of people's
expectations and exposure to what's happening in other countries, the people
want more say in the governance of the country. So there's a lot of politicking
now and there's now this weapon by certain groups of having a series of
by-elections to create problems for the Federal Government So don't you
think that maybe a county like Malaysia could do with less politics and that the
new Prime Minister should resort to your style of governing?
Governing a country, any country, even a dictatorship, is complicated.
There is no way you can avoid complications in the running of a country Of
course, the powers are different In a dictatorship, if you are opposed by
somebody you just line him up against a wall and shoot him. But we have
decided not to do that We have decided to have a Constitution, with rules and
regulations for everything. I think that if we abide by the rules and regulations,
it shouldn't be too complicated.
The relationship between the central and the state government is clearly
spelt out: there is a list for the Federal Government and another for the State
Government, a conjoined list All rules are spelt out and we should abide by
that. It is only when we try to leap-frog over the rules that we have complications.
But, of course, when you have to make a decision that is based on the
provisions of die law; you have to be fairly conversant with the laws so that you
can throw it in their faces, then they will have nothing to say for themselves,
When we achieved Independence and had this Constitution, the early leaders
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did not think that there would ever be an instance when five states would be
ruled by the opposition.
But having states ruled by the opposition is not something new. At one
time, Penang was ruled by die opposition party Kelantan of course had been
ruled by the opposition party for a long time, so has Terengganu. Then there
was the case of Sabah that was ruled by the opposition party for a time. But we
were able to manage even in such situations. Of course, having five states under
the opposition (well, not really the opposition; in those states, they are no
longer the opposition, instead we are the opposition), is another matter They
have a right to rule and if they abide by the law,they will be okay But if they
breach the law then we can revert to the law and charge them with breaking the
law. However; if they do things correctly, I don't think we can do anything. We
have accept it and wait for the next election, and if in the next election, we again
lose then that's our fault You can't blame other people. We have to work hard
to win elections. Ifyou show yourself to be indecisive or corrupt, people will
not vote you in.
So you can't blame the system It's you that's the problem, the system is
okay. I think changing the system is not going to help us. It is the people who
are working the system that fail because we don't know how to use the system.
Democracy is the best form of government ever devised by human beings
since ancient time, giving power to the people. The assumption, of course, is
that the majority of the people are intelligent, but in some cases we have the
majority of the people who are stupid, so we get a bad government. Then you
have people voting for people who are obviously incapable of ruling, and then
it's their fault That's why we always say that you deserve the government that
you get
Secondly with regard to having more say in government, yes I think the
people should have more say in governing. The idea of democracy is to give
the people a say in government But there are minority groups who are not
happy because they cannot align themselves with either this party or that party
They dislike all parties so they form small groups of their own. In those days,
these small groups were not too much of a problem; we called them voluntary
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groups but now they call themselves NGOs, and they want to have a much
bigger say than what they deserve. This is when the problem arises. Their
numbers are not very big but they're very vocal, and sometimes, of course, they
resort to democratic rights like demonstrating in the streets and bringing
down the economy. These are people that you have to face if you are in the
government. You have to learn to handle even the NGOs.
We used to have problems before with unions. Unions like to go on strike
and demand higher pay and less work. You may notice that in Malaysia now,
there are not too many strikes. Yet 20 to 30 years ago there were a lot of strikes.
The Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services
(CUEPACS)'s Md Nor and Narendran, created a lot of trouble for die
government, and the government regarded them as the enemy, but they were
civil servants working for the government I think it's a question of getting to
know them, talking to them and explaining to them that if they do this thing
(the strikes), they are going to bring down the country. Explain to them that it's
not something that is fruitful to us, striving for higher pay when people who are
paying you have got no money. In one case involving China Engineers (I don't
know whether you remember this as this happened a long time ago), the
workers went on strike The company just could not pay their entire pay
Eventually the company had to close down and they all lost their jobs. So you
have to tell them that if they ask for something that we cannot give, eventually
they're going to lose their jobs because we will break down. I think people are
quite reasonable. When you talk to them, they have their arguments, but if you
explain to them that this is as far as we can go, you will get their cooperation.
So it's a question of handling things.
Q: Recently, Sultan Azlan Shah spoke during his birthday celebration; he said
that the Sultan has powers beyond what is written in the Constitution. Among
the things that he said was, "(The Sultan has to) ensure that the spirit of the
Constitution and interests of the people in the nation are taken care of". It's a
very intriguing statement but what do you understand from that statement?
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Well; if the country is in absolute chaos, in which case perhaps people will
assume powers which are not provided for in the Constitution, then I think
there may be some grounds for him to say that. But in normal times, the
Constitution is still functioning and the different bodies are still there: the
legislative, executive, and judiciary As a last resort for most people, we have to
go to the courts to ask for an interpretation: Is this interpretation right or
wrong? The court can decide but if the court cannot and nobody else can,
maybe at that stage the Sultan may assume certain rights which are not
provided for in the Constitution. Basically of course, it is against the law; the
Sultan cannot do that We have chosen the system of parliamentary democracy
and a constitutional monarchy, and everyone should try to stick by the law
because once you disregard the law, this country will be chaotic and you may
become feudal again. I don't know whether you want that or not Of course,
some people thought that this is a good time to go back to feudalism but I
think they are making a big mistake. I think the system, by and large, has
worked quite well for us except for this present problem in Perak. I think we
should learn our lesson from them Whether you are powerful or not, never
breach the provision of the law, especially the Constitution.
Q: You stated earlier that our Constitution is based on the unwritten
Constitution of the British, which is a system based on the monarchy and
Parliament What is the status of our own Federal Constitution because Article
4 states that the Constitution itself is supreme, whereas in the British model,
the Parliament is supreme.
Well, the Parliament is not supreme, really It is the Constitution which is
supreme. If Parliament does something that is against die law. Parliament can
be charged. It cannot pass a law that is unjust and it cannot breach the
provisions of the Constitution. Of course since their constitution is not
written, it depends on the Lords to make interpretation as to whether the
Parliament is within its right to do anything. Even to declare an emergency or
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something like that, it must still abide by the Constitution. So Parliament is not
supreme in that sense, it is supreme only in the sense of making laws which are
in conformity with the Constitution.
Q: I would like to put forth two points. In my opinion, when talking about
national sovereignty military invasion is die old way of taking over the world,
even though some countries (for example, the USA) are still trying hard to do
it The more common or feasible way one that can also safeguard the good
name of the perpetrator, would be commercial invasion. We experienced the
impact of a commercial invasion in 1999. Nation states like Malaysia suffered
a reversal in our growth tantamount to stepping back ten years because of
events occurring over a period of a few days. That is how effective and
destructive commercial invasion could be.
Another issue of interest is public sovereignty. In most nation states,
Parliament actually represents public sovereignty. Do individuals or
corporations actually influence the independence of the government to make
decisions that can be at the expense of the public?
Well, this concept of commercial invasion is a very real thing. We have
heard about 'Banana Republics' in Central America The companies that grow
bananas in this republic are so powerful that they actually appoint the
president They can ask the president to do this and that So when you have
such powerful investors from outside, you expose yourselves to this threat of
losing your own sovereignty
In Malaysia, I think while we welcome foreign investments, we have not
given them that kind of freedom to control certain industries and certain
sources of income for the nation and the government Many people invest in
Malaysia and they are discreet They agreed not to conspire in order to rule this
country but if we have a weak government that is still possible. They might
conspire and say "Well, if you don't do what we tell you, we will leave the
country and you will become poor because of this." Of course, that is
something that all governments will have to think about
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But in the meantime, it is important for us to build our own commercial
strengths. There must be strength from within, by local people who have
acquired the capacity to grow, become big and become contributors to the
nations income. If you have such local people, then the fear of commercial
invasion by foreigners would not become a reality
With regard to the other question or whether the interest of the private
sector or business would be served at the expense of the public, that is the
benefit of having a parliamentary system. If you feel that this threat has become
real, than you should take actions to ensure that your government prevents
this from happening. But that can only be done if you have a government that
understands the problem and is strong enough to take action. If you have a
weak government and it does not even understand the problem, and relies on
support from people who also do not understand the problem, then the
parliamentary system will not become a safeguard for you in ensuring that
public interests are not subordinated to private interests.
So it is really a question of education and intelligence on the part of the
citizens, and their wisdom in choosing their leaders. In a parliamentary system
we say that if the leader is not delivering, you can bring him down. However,
that is easier said than done.
Q: When we talk about national sovereignty we cannot run away from the
issue of military power and the security of our country. My question is: some
Asian countries seem to be militarily stronger than us. So are we in a security
dilemma in terms of being an Asian state, and how far do we have to go to
strengthen our military forces?
Well, there are countries that 'appear to be more powerful than others.
However, it is not necessary that they be ruled by the military. They can have
a civilian government and the military could be subordinate to the civilian
In Malaysia, of course, we have this concept of a civilian government
elected by the people, with the civilian government having authority over all
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functions of the government including of course, defence and security. The
police and the military take their orders from the civilian government, and we
hope that we do not have the kind of rebellion against civilian rule and the
setting up of military dictatorships as in other countries. That would not be
very good for anybody.
But as to the power of the military itself it is meaningless today. I would like
to say that America is a very weak nation, with a very weak military, simply
because wars today are no longer waged like before. Before, a country would
send its army, invade another country, defeat the country sign a peace treaty
and that country will be annexed by the victorious country
Today, we find a different perception or attitude regarding war. If a country
is invaded, the government may surrender and sign peace treaties, but the
people will not surrender The people will continue with guerrilla warfare and
will fight continuously until they are rid of the occupying forces. That is what
is happening in many countries.
Let us take the present situation in Iraq as an example. Yes, they are in shock
and in awe of the powerful occupation forces, military forces with sophisticated
arms, airplanes, gunships and all kinds of weaponry. They may have invaded
and conquered Iraq but they cannot rule or own Iraq. The Iraqis fought back
and they will keep on fighting back until the victors leave the country When
the victors do finally leave the country they would leave in defeat
The same thing happened in Vietnam. The Vietnamese fought
against the invaders. The invaders were very powerful and were
equipped with helicopter gunships and all kinds of weapons at their disposal
They were able to bum up whole villages and the people in them. They were
very powerful In the end, because the people refused to give up, the powerful
invaders had to flee the country This was the fate of the most powerful nation
in the world.
When General MacArthur (General Douglas MacAuthor) decided to
invade North Korea and punish it, the Chinese intervened. The Chinese were
very poorly armed in those days. They did not have rockets or anything
powerful, but they were able to defeat the very powerful American army the
same army that defeated Japan during the Second World War.
Selected Questions And Answers From The Perdana Discourse Series
So, you can see that this so-called military power does not work today You
can spend huge sums of money but you cannot use military power to conquer
another country God forbid that they should invade Iran because if they do,
they will suffer a worse fate then what they had encountered in Iraq. This is my
assessment of the situation.
What should we do? We should keep sufficient military power to deal with
regional threats. One has to remember that a country cannot be conquered
from the air. You can have a very powerful air force that is able to bomb here
and there, but until you are on the ground you really cannot conquer the
country If the countries are big enough to have many troops in the form of
land forces, they can make good their conquest threats. However, with a small
country, it may not be too difficult to destroy and to occupy.
So, I don't think people should think in terms of military strength, rather
you have to understand the changes in the concept of war today. No longer can
you send an army to conquer another country You only get yourselves
dragged into a war that you cannot get out of and which will end up costing
you billions and trillions of dollars. According to Joseph Stiglitz (the 2011
Noble Laureate in Economics), in his latest book, the Iraq war has so far cost
the US three trillion dollars. Now it is difficult to imagine what three trillion
dollars is. How many zeros are there? But that is what it has cost the US and
that is why the US today is a bankrupt nation.
Q: My question is about ASEAN which is moving towards establishing the
ASEAN community Does this mean that the member countries would
eventually lose their national sovereignty? Does this go against the Bangkok
Declaration where the member countries agreed to respect each other's
independence and sovereignty and not to interfere in the internal affairs of
member countries?
Well, I should say that over time, ASEAN countries would come closer
together. There are certain common things that we can share. For example, we
may be able to share a common currency. It is difficult but Europe has done it.
Perdana Discourse Series
We can study the experience of Europe and gradually introduce a common
currency but not for use within member countries. In Europe, the Euro is used
in every country But in ASEAN, for example, we could retain the Ringgit for
use in domestic commerce and transactions. We can however have a common
currency that will be used for trading purposes between member countries. So
then we can start bringing the ASEAN countries closer together.
Does this mean a loss of sovereignty? I do not think so, because we
continue to maintain our identity and our sovereignty; we are only prepared to
share currency Maybe we also share airspace, the right to fly to different parts
of ASEAN without hindrance Maybe we also need to have a modified form
of passport Just a simple IC (identity card), for example, would be sufficient
for ASEAN people (to travel within ASEAN). That is, I think, being worked
out and I think that is feasible.
Many things that we can do together would be of benefit to all the member
countries of ASEAN. But we should not be working too fast on this. For
example, we signed an agreement on the import of motor vehicles.
Unfortunately as usual when we sign agreements, we do not examine the
implications and consequences thoroughly We have decided that within the
ASEAN countries, 40 percent local content would qualify a product to be
designated local product' from that country. As a designated 'local product' it
can then gain access to other ASEAN countries either free of tax or with
minimal tax. That is fine.
However, the problem is that in Malaysia, our national car already has 90
percent local content Obviously because of the high local content this has cost
implications for us. Our car will not be competitive compared with the
assembled cars in other ASEAN countries that do not produce their own cars.
What they have done is to take cars from the developed countries, assemble
them in their country making sure that forty percent of the components of the
car are produced in their country These locally assembled foreign cars would
thus qualify as national cars and could gain access to other ASEAN countries
with minimal taxes. In this, Malaysia, of course, is the loser.
So while we can share, while the Bangkok agreement would be something
to use for greater cooperation in the field of commerce and industry we have
Selected Questions And Answers From The Perdana Discourse Series
to be very careful about what we agree to, always remembering our own
background. Our own background is quite vulnerable in many ways, and if we
are not careful, we may not be able to use our domestic strength to support our
advance into industry and national industrialisation.
Q: Sir, it is refreshing to hear you speak again on the subject of the press
because no one has an absolute right to anything and they can be proven
wrong also sometimes, including the press. As you mentioned, about currency
controls, the press really fought against you in those years. And today a few
professors are writing that what you did was correct. And it is something that
other people have to learn in terms of new economics about currency controls.
Anyway I had served you in MAMPU as Director-General for many years,
and we were trying to modernise the civil service. A lot of programmes were
conducted during those times; you introduced die ISO 9000, you introduced
electronic government, electronic procurement, e-syariah, electronic labour
exchange and so many other programmes which at that time the press didn't
pick up on very much. But today we have experts from the United Nations
and Commonwealth countries praising Malaysia for what you did for the civil
service. And today it is gratifying that wherever we go in the world, they always
want people from Malaysia to speak about modernising the civil service.
Sometimes we are embarrassed because our own press does not recognise
enough what we did.
You also mentioned that in terms of racial integration, the press has been
doing more damage than contributing. You said that the Tamil and Chinese
newspapers have got more freedom I do not know, because I don't read Tamil
and Chinese newspapers. And if that is true, I think I am very unhappy I would
like to know why the Tamil Press and the Chinese Press are given more
freedom than the others. That is not fair.
But looking at what is written, sometimes there is more than meets the eye,
like recently when somebody in Parliament reported that universities are
buying gold medals in (the International Exhibition of Inventions) Geneva
every year, and saying that all the research that we have exhibited in Geneva do
not really get patented and do not get commercialised. That was said in
Perdana Discourse Series
Parliament, but that parliamentarian was wrong. And one newspaper reported
on the first page all the negative things about public universities. I am not
protecting the public universities but the press has to report what actually
happened because there is research done by IPTAs (public universities) that
have been patented and commercialised.
Going to Geneva also gives exposure to our researchers, after two or three
years of hard work. And then, they also can go there and look at other
inventions. I think there are some researches that have been patented and
commercialised, so not everything is bad about going to Geneva. But the
question is, do you see that the development of the newspaper today in terms
of reporting, when they are reporting things like racial integration, whether
they are doing more damage than good?
Well, not being appreciated at home, of course, is something very common
They say professors are only appreciated in other countries. So your e-system
and all that you introduced in the government through MAMPU was not
reported because that is not what people want to read. They want to read
about somebody being killed, somebody being murdered, or whether
Aishwarya Rai is going to get married or not You see, that is news. So, they will
always be biased. But, we expect a modicum of responsibility from them so
that they will report something that can contribute to the development of the
With regard to this report about buying gold medals for our inventions in
Geneva, the press has developed a certain product - they have developed news
which is based on fact and fiction, which makes the writer very popular. And
one of the things that they invented was debunking. Anything that is being
praised and looked up to can be debunked. And they will go and look into all
the nooks and comers to find dirt, and to reveal dirt So, if you look into the
background of everyone of us, I think they will find that we are all grave sinners.
And they will publish that especially if you become a public figure. That is
something that sells.
Selected Questions And Answers From The Perdana Discourse Series
So, the press is always torn between desire to sell the paper and the
desire to be responsible. And very frequently the desire to sell the
newspaper wins over responsibility So you cannot expect them to be
able to perform their function exclusively for development. But,
you're quite right that in Malaysia the information that we get through the
press is limited.
I find it difficult to say all these things because people keep on saying, yes,
but in your time, you were worse. I have to point out that I wasn't as bad, but
they don't print what I say Nowadays, I find myself in a very difficult position
because anything that I say about the present situation will be repeated by
saying, "But you were worse before. You jailed so many people under the ISA,
for example." What they never repeat or report is that the moment I became
Prime Minister, I released 21 people who were detained under ISA because
they were political detainees. Only those who were involved with drags were
not released.
But that has never been mentioned. Of course they have forgotten it, but
they remember Ops Lalang. You know, the police detained so many people. I
was very embarrassed. I can tell you that I spoke to Kit Siang (Lim Kit Siang)
and assured him that he's not going to be detained. Two days later, he was
detained. And I can't go and tell the police, "Look, I have told these people they
are not going to be detained, you have to release them". Because the police have
got their reasons why they want to detain these people.
So, they never mention the IGP for detaining Lim Kit Siang, they only
mention me. It was done during my time. In other words, I went to Parliament,
caught Kit Siang by the cuff of his neck and threw him into the ISA, that is the
impression that you get The fact that I didn't want him or his colleagues to be
detained, including Dr. Seng Giaw [Tan Seng Giaw]*, has never been reported.
And I can't go around telling that this was done by the police not by me.
Because I am responsible
You know, I assumed responsibility for everything that was done during
my time Unfortunately some of the things that was done during my time were
not things which I approved of. But that does not mean that I can say that I am
* Dr. Tan Seng Giaw is the Deputy Chairman of DAP Malaysia.
Perdana Discourse Series
not responsible. Fortunately in this country we are not like the Japanese where
you have to commit Harakiri, or jump out the window. Here, I am still alive
despite the wrong things that happened during my time.
Q: Can you explain as to whether the existing government is practising your
definition of openness and objectivity within the mainstream media, as
compared to the years when you were Prime Minister?
Well, what happens to an individual will not be known to other people,
especially when what happens is not reported in the press. Everybody knows
about the disappearance of Ying [Ooi Ying Ying]*. But, can I say here that 14
invitations to me to give talks in Malaysia were withdrawn because the
organisers said they were told by the police to withdraw the invitations, or they
were called up by the Menteri Besar and told to withdraw. Which of course
means that I have lost my freedom of speech. And, that to me is uncalled for
because I am of the government party I am still a supporter of the government,
but I do not enjoy freedom of speech.
But, since my lack of freedom is not reported in the press, nobody knows.
Nobody knows that these invitations were withdrawn and they have explained
to me, "Sorry we cannot have you come here because we have been called up
by the police three times, and they told us to withdraw". There was one very
brave man, an ex-serviceman, who insisted on my attending and speaking
despite the fact that he was called up by the police three times to withdraw his
invitation. So there are some people who are still brave enough, but by and
large, we are easily frightened in this country.
I don't like to talk about myself but I have always been sticking my neck
out and getting it chopped. During the time of the Tunku [Tunku Abdul
Rahman], I stuck my neck out and I was kicked out of the party And in
international affairs, as you know, when people do not want to say nasty things
about the big powers, I would stick my neck out again. But, if we want a good
Selected Questions And Answers From The Perdana Discourse Series
society that is free, we must be a little bit braver. Not too brave, not foolhardy
but brave enough to do what we think is right Today it is not so much that the
government restricts freedom of speech, it is the people who restrict their
own freedom If I do this, I may not get a contract. If I do this, I will not be
nominated as a candidate for the next election. If I do this, I cannot be a
Ketua Bahagian (Division Chief).
Actually nothing will happen. I tried to assure them nothing will happen
because they will need a Ketua Bahagian anyway And you can't on taking
action against all your Ketua Bahagian. Imagine, if you take action against all
your Ketua Bahagian there will be no Ketua Bahagian. So somebody should be
able to speak out, but they don't speak up.
There was a statement made that 85% of the contracts given out to Malay
contractors were sold to non-Malays, Alibaba (style)*. Why not publish the
names of all those people who got the contracts, and then we can investigate
whether they sold to somebody else or not? I was once accused of giving
contracts to many cronies by a person in the government, and I asked the
Ministry of Finance to release and publish the names of all contractors. And it
turns out that the person who accused me had the names of his relatives
appear more often among the people who got the contracts.
So, why not do the same now? This is an open society We pledge that it is
going to be a transparent society and therefore, let us know who are the
naughty people who sold their contracts to the non-Bumis. These are big
contracts and we would like to know. Then we can go and see whether it is true
or not true.
So, these are die kinds of things that don't get published even among the
bloggers. So, we need some information about who gets contracts.
A huge amount of money is now being disbursed under the Ninth Malaysia
Plan, but we don't see anything happening on the ground. So, we want to
know. Information is good, and then we can make the decision(about who
to vote for). But, believe me, no matter how bad it is, we are going to vote for
* Alibaba is a term used to describe the practice of selling contract awards or government
allocations to a third party, usually non Malay, at a significant profit
Perdana Discourse Series
Q: I am from Burma, or Myanmar if you wish. I started my teaching career in
law in Malaysia.
You mentioned something about the English language press being possibly
less free or less vigorous that the Malay, Chinese and Tamil language press.
Since I can't read Malay except sikit-sikit sahaja (a little bit), and neither (can I
read) Chinese nor Tamil at all, I can't judge on that But I have read and I've
contributed to both The Jakarta Post in Indonesia and The New Straits Times
and The Star. So, my view from what I have read is that even during Suharto's
time, the Jakarta Post is more vigorous and more critical of the government
than the NST and The Star. Would you agree that as far as the English language
press is concerned, there was or there is more freedom of expression in
Indonesia than in Malaysia?
My second question: You mentioned the ISA; one of the principal drafters
of the ISA was the late Professor Hugh Hickling from England who was my
senior colleague at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. He did later express his
regret about this later on in his book. And he wrote an article about your views
on law in the Law Asia Journal after the 1988 crisis in Malaysian judiciary I was
wondering whether you have read that article, Sir, and what are your views
of it?
Well, the impression I get is that today, not during my time, but today, the
English press is less prone to be critical than the Malay, Chinese and Tamil
Press. This is because the people who read, the people who are concerned
like to read the English press. So they know what is said there; what is said in
the Chinese and Tamil papers are not important because they don't read
them. What you don't know, they believe, won't hurt you, but what you
know is what you have to stop. So, if you say that the English press in Jakarta
is more free during Suharto's time than it was during my time, well that will
be your impression.
As far as I am concerned, I was criticised on many issues. In fact, I came
to a stage where I was challenged, and a lot of things were being said, during
the time when I was Prime Minister. But, I don't remember banning
Selected Questions And Answers From The Perdana Discourse Series
newspapers but if they try to play up racial issues, yes, we have done so. We
have withdrawn licenses, I think, for papers but not English papers. I think it
was a Chinese paper that published something that could have incited racial
hatred. So, the law is not wrong. I try to emphasise that it is not the weapon
that is wrong. It is the way it is used, the abuse of the law that is causing the
entire problem. So if you don't abuse it, the ISA or the licensing of the press,
are not bad laws. They are good laws, but they are, of course, open to abuses.
Well, I suppose the impression would be that the press is freer in
Indonesia. But, if you look at Indonesia, you will find that the number of
Indonesians who read the English press is very small. It is about the same as
the number of people who read the Chinese press here. They are Chinese
mainly So, that is why they appear to be free. It is the same in Thailand. The
Nation, for example, is very free to criticise. So, they can do this because very
few Thais would be reading in English. So whether you are free or not seems
to depend on whether you have a big circle of readers or not If you have a
very big circle of readers and you may influence them, then I am afraid you
will be less free.
With regard to my view on the law, I did say in an interview with an
American magazine that it is very frustrating when we make the law for a
certain purpose, but when it goes to the court, the legal people, the jurists,
are not interested in the purpose of the law. They are interested in the
wordings of the law. And they find that the wordings were wrong, and
therefore they negate the purpose. So, then we are left with the option of
withdrawing and amending the law. But I had always believed that the
purpose of the law should be taken into consideration in the interpretation
of the law.
When I said this, there were certain people who wanted to charge me
with contempt of court. Fortunately of course, the court then decided that
there was no contempt So, the court was very fair to me. But otherwise,
I have problems with lawyers. I wanted to be a lawyer myself, but I
had a scholarship to study medicine. But you know, it was Shakespeare who
wrote that, "The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers." And that was a long
time ago.
Perdana Discourse Series
About the ISA, Hickling was responsible for drafting this law and, of
course, he drafted this law for a specific purpose. But later on, other people
abused the law. But the law itself is not bad.
I try to point out that a knife is not a bad thing, what is bad is the user. If the
user uses it to kill people, then the knife is good. So don't blame the knife,
blame the user. Don't blame the law, blame the people who apply the law.

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