Tommy Thomas: Putting the Record Straight on Citizenship Issue

January 23, 2012

Tommy Thomas: Putting the Record Straight on Citizenship Issue

TommyThomas-2COMMENT: The widespread publicity given to the recent statements made by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad that:

1. Immigrants from the Philippines were given citizenship in Sabah in the 1990s during his administration;

2. they were lawfully done; and

3. former Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman “had done worse” by giving citizenship to “one million unqualified people” in Peninsular Malaysia, lamenting that no one had made it an issue;

The above have to be rebutted and the record put straight. The “sincerity” of his admissions, coming in the wake of evidence at the Royal Commission currently inquiring on the origins and consequences of immigration into Sabah, must be questioned.

Dr MLike disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, Mahathir only came clean after years of denial when he had absolutely no choice because of the overwhelming evidence being publicly uncovered.

When the truth finally emerged, Mahathir made his admissions. And like Armstrong, it was selective, self-serving and without any contrition. But worse than Armstrong, he blamed others. To put it plainly, there is no parallel between these two episodes in the nation’s history.

Malaya in 1957

Under the Federation of Malaya Agreement of 1948, Malays automatically became federal citizens, while non-Malays acquired citizenship by fulfilling residential qualifications. In 1953, out of the total population of Malaya of 5.7 million, some 1.3 million (nearly all of whom were non-Malays) were not citizens. Thus, for the non-Malays, ‘citizenship’ based on the doctrine of jus soli was a critical matter.

Large scale immigration into Malaya first occurred in the Malacca Sultanate in the 15th century. Trade brought Arab, Chinese and Indian immigrants, and they formed distinct settlements in Malacca. Thus, immigration pre-dated the first European colonial conquest, by the Portuguese in 1511.

Major waves of immigration occurred after direct British intervention in Perak under the Pangkor Treaty of 1874. tunku abdul rahman 290809When the British very reluctantly accepted, by about 1955, that independence had to be granted to Malaya, lengthy negotiations began between the British government, the Malay rulers and the Alliance coalition led by Tunku Abdul Rahman (right).

The Reid Commission of eminent jurists was appointed to draft a constitution. Its report, published in February 1957, was the subject of intense debate. Working groups were set up to study the Reid Report. The London Conference of May 1957 followed. The British government issued a White Paper in June 1957.

The final steps were the presentation of the Constitutional Bill in the British Parliament and in the Federal Legislative Council in Kuala Lumpur. Merdeka was proclaimed on August 31, 1957, with Tunku reading the Proclamation of Independence.

The issue of citizenship to non-Malays in 1957 cannot therefore be seen in isolation or in a vacuum. Instead, it was the result of a ‘give-and-take’ bargain among the various communities reached through consensus. The bargain was certainly not through the effort of Tunku alone, although he was the dominant personality. The other founding fathers, Abdul Razak Hussein, Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tan Cheng Lock and VT Sambanthan, also played important roles.

tunku abdul rahman merdeka declaration 261004Subsequent commentators have described the Merdeka bargain as the ‘social contract’. Thus, the social contract reached by the three communities under the watchful eye of the British imperial power prior to Merdeka was, in essence, a bargain whereby in exchange for a place under the Malayan sun with full citizenship, a right to use their language and observe their religion, the non-Malays had to concede special privileges to the Malays to assist the latter to ascend the economic ladder.

It was a quid pro quo. In this equilibrium, the non-Malays were not to be relegated to second-class citizens: citizenship was not on a two-tier basis and there was going to be no apartheid, partition or repatriation.

What was required from the non-Malays at the time of Merdeka was undivided loyalty to the new nation.

Racial differences were recognised. Diversity was encouraged. There was no pressure to integrate into one Malayan race. Assimilation was out of the question. Thus, a united Malayan nation did not involve the sacrifice by any community of its culture or customs. Malaya was always to remain a plural society.

Sabah in the 1990s

What happened in Sabah when Mahathir was Prime Minister was entirely different. TheThe Politics of Make Belief decision to give Malaysian citizenship liberally and generously to nationals of Philippines and other countries was done secretly, with the sole purpose of securing and maintaining political power in Sabah.

It was naked, partisan politics to give electoral advantage to one party that underpinned the decision. When confronted, denials were made. Only when it became a major electoral issue in Sabah in the forthcoming general and state elections this year, did the present government, much to the unhappiness of Mahathir, appoint a Royal Commission.

And only when the truth emerged during its hearing, did Mahathir admit his role.To compare the Sabah episode with the gaining of nationhood in 1957 is not just historical revision. It is also not merely being economical with the truth. Rather, it is a blatant fabrication of facts.

Tun MNot only does it insult the roles played by our founding fathers in securing Merdeka from the British, it adds injury to millions of Malaysians whose parents or grandparents became citizens through this open, transparent and legal manner.

It must be remembered that no such citizenship issue arose when Sabah (North Borneo) joined Malaysia in 1963. Indeed, the Philippine government opposed the formation of Malaysia.

Their nationals only became Malaysian citizens in the mid-1990s, some 30 years after Sabah’s independence from the British. Finally, citizenship is a federal matter, and very much within the power and discretion of the Home Minister. Accordingly, the two exercises of granting citizenship cannot be treated in a similar fashion.

TOMMY THOMAS specialises in constitutional law. He conducted substantial research in the events leading up to Merdeka in the course of preparing two papers presented at the Malaysian Law Conferences in 2005 and 2007, subsequently published as ‘Is Malaysia an Islamic State?’ and ‘The Social Contract: Malaysia’s Constitutional Covenant’ in [2006] 4 MLJ xv and [2008] 1 MLJ cxxxii.

32 thoughts on “Tommy Thomas: Putting the Record Straight on Citizenship Issue

  1. This is a well written piece by lawyer and constitutional expert Tommy Thomas putting the record straight on the issue of citizenship. We can see the difference between what the Tunku did in 1957 and Mahathir had done in Sabah in the 1990s.Only Mahathir is blinded by his politics of power.

    It is time for Mahathir to be made accountable and for Anwar Ibrahim to explain his role in the politics of Sabah at that time. Azmin Ali’s comments are not good enough. I also surprised that Tun Musa Hitam, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Tengku Razaleigh and the MCA and MIC leadership have maintained elegant silence on this issue. They have failed to defend Tunku’s record.–Din Merican

  2. The granting of citizenships during the formative period in the history of Independence for about one million for non Malays and the granting of illegal aliens with citizenships in Sabah are two entirely different issues done in secrecy two weeks before the general election. The explanation is simple and straight forward answer to make Sabah as a political asset to stay in power during the Mahathir era.

  3. This Mamak’s father was granted citizenship by TAR govt and said that it was unqualified exercise. He should be charged and jailed for all the corrupted/illegally practices done during his regimme! Evidence to him is just a piece of shit as he has no sense of justice, humanity, fairness, legality and interigty. He is not a human!

  4. The arguments are good but I prefer to surmarize it this. Tommy Thomas bottom line really is that Tunku’s act was the best of political leadership – for everyone i.e., it does not get better than what Tunku – if anything else was done, the result would have been a lesser country and for Malays, a lesser people, whereas what Mahathir did was narrow malicious politics, that was detrimental to the point of fascistic to Sabahan that benefitted – not Malays as a whole but UMNO and disporportionately so a small group of UMNO politicians. If what Mahathir did can be justified, so can ethnic cleansing and genocide. Whereas what Tunku did, was inspiration to the world – that even the Western World and especially the Middle East can learn from.

    But political argument aside. The real difference between what Tunku did and what Mahathir did is simply what Mahathir did CANNOT BE LEGAL..The evidence already clear that they violated even basic electoral and citizenship statutes. BUT logically, the Federal Govt, under the Malaysia Agreement, has NO right to unilaterally establish residency for ANYONE – be it foreigners OR Malaysian of other states in Sabah – either someone in Sabah govt broke the law or the Federal Govt did. It cannot be anything else…

  5. Yaya, go ahead and debate about this. Meanwhile, Mahathir, BN and their goons are playing up the religion issue with Ibrahim Ali taking the helm. Trust me! There won’t be a GE13 in the near future. This is what will happen soon:

    1. Ibrahim Ali bring the religion issue to a boiling point.
    2. The Chinese thugs released when the restricted residence law was abolished will be asked by BN to create some trouble.
    3. Najib will call for emergency, suspend constitution and do a mass arrest of so-called perpetrators; most of these will be from Pakatan.
    4. Ibrahim Ali and his goons will also be ‘arrested’ but released through the back door within hours to take a long holiday in Thailand.
    5. GE13 will be suspended.

    This thing has the smell of Operation Lallang and other historical sinister plans all put together. Don’t you all smell it too?

    We all need to start a counter-action to reverse this … in a sane and peaceful manner.

  6. Mahathir wouldn’t let the Tunku rest in peace. In life this Old Goat (who was my former family physician who would make house calls before he turned politician) stabbed him in the back to further his own political career which was in the dump at the time. In death the Old Goat now wishes to defame his character and reputation and destroy his legacy. Tunku Sofiah who penned “The Return” may want to defend the good name of her uncle.

    Tunku did right by not agreeing to the prinicple of jus soli. Instead we have a hybrid between the two principles of jus soli and jus sanguinis.

  7. Mahathir pembohong, penipu, suka kelentong dan membodohkan manusia yang boleh di bodohkan. Malangnya ramai orang lagi yang boleh di bodohkan olehnya.

    Manusia yang tak kenang jasa dan sememangnya benci pada Tunku. Ini kerana dia anak keling dari Kerala sementara Tunku kerabat di raja Kedah. Perasaan iri hati dan hasad dengki pada orang yang lebih baik dari nya sudah tertanam dari dulu lagi. Baginya dialah manusia paling pandai di Negara ini.

    Sebenarnya Mahathir adalah pengkhianat negara no 1.

    Kalau ikut bahasa asal orang Kedah, mereka akan kata,

    “Pi mampuih la cepat cepat orang tua hoi. . Hang ni dok menyampah dunia saja.”

  8. Anwar should come out and openly decalre his involvement in the past when he was entrapped by the corrupt culture of UMNOMelyus when he was in it up to his neck. Since than he has seen the light and turned a new leaf and is still doing so. No two ways about it. By admitting his errors of past, as it was requiored of him in the cage of UMNOMelayus mentality, and apologising to the Rakyat for his missdeeds and his reformation since than, the Rakyats may well forgive him and continue to endorse him as an alternative PM. On the othere hand if he has been complicit in these ulawful act, he should come out and break his silence and not be evasive about it through thrird parties. Malaysians are now looking for honesty and integrity in politiicians. Anwar should grab this opportunity and do the right thing to build on his improving image. The public would welcome such a move.

  9. “The granting of citizenships during the formative period in the history of Independence for about one million for non Malays and the granting of illegal aliens with citizenships in Sabah are two entirely different issues ” — Leong

    The British Empire meant labor was ‘free’ to move between the territories under British jurisdiction. The floodgates were thrown wide open and labor was allowed to move freely. The demographic landscape of British Malaya was forever altered as a result and she was reduced to a country of substantial minorities. The threat of Malays becoming a minority in their own country was real. The decision to reject jus soli was to address the fear of the Malays. It was a political decision made after prolonged and protracted negotiations among community leaders, their associations, chambers of commerce and other interest groups. The Tunku would not have got independence for Malaya had he not agreed to a compromise.. The Brits felt responsible.

    Today the Old Goat seeks the usual spin to preserve whatever is left of his tattered legacy. And the media went for it hook, line and sinker just it did over the Islamic state issue.

    You can’t even begin to compare to what UMNO has done to the demographic landscape of East Malaysia in the ’80s and ’90s which is illegal and unlawful. And all that to serve the corrupt interests of its political leaders and their stooges.

  10. Both break down the door and window, because of fire.

    One try to save life and put off the fire,

    One started the fire, to steal and rob.

    Which is which???

  11. “I also surprised that Tun Musa Hitam, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Tengku Razaleigh and the MCA and MIC leadership have maintained elegant silence on this issue. They have failed to defend Tunku’s record.–Din Merican”

    Yes, where the hell is MCA and MIC?! They are not protecting the chinese and the indian interest. They are servant to UMNO. Even KJ came out to speak for the non-bumis. Sadly KJ is nobody in UMNO. Youth leader without a minister post.

    If MCA and MIC continue to remain silence, you have dig your own grave.

  12. At Julius Caesar’s funeral, Mark Anthony speaks:

    “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

    “He was my friend, faithful and just to me.
    But Brutus says he was ambitious.
    And Brutus is an honourable man.”

    “When that the poor cried, Caesar hath wept.”
    “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious.
    And Brutus is an honourable man.”

    “I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
    Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
    Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
    And sure he is an honourable man. “

    A rhetorical tour de force by Mark Anthony which turned the crowd. And Marcus Brutus put a sword into himself rather than surrender.

  13. “In 1953, out of the total population of Malaya of 5.7 million, some 1.3 million (nearly all of whom were non-Malays) were not citizens. Thus, for the non-Malays, ‘citizenship’ based on the doctrine of jus soli was a critical matter” — Tommy Thomas

    I would like to know the source of those statistics. I believe the figures were about even between Malays and non-Malays.

    Thomas failed to elaborate the principle of jus soli which gives the right of citizenship to whoever is born in that territory regardless of the status of their parents. Today in the United States, many Republicans are re-thinking the policy of allowing the children of illegals born in the U.S. the right to U.S. citizesnhip.. Illegals or undocumented aliens use ‘anchor babies’ (as they are often referred to) as a back door to gain U.S. citizenship.

  14. Leaders take ownership of the RESULTS and DO NOT try to accuse those or blame someone else for them…..We have too many skilled selfish, unscrupulous politicians, many con Member of Parliaments and Wakil Rakyat from UMNO, who specialize in twisting information and evidence to support their selfish interests and the vested interests of those who vote and pay them. Mahathir is ONE OF THEM…and WORST.

  15. Politics is about power…Mahathir wielded it ruthlessly . Project IC was a clear attempt to put those servient to federal dictates in control of Sabah. . It was also to nip in the bud, rumblings of secession by some Sabah leaders. Tun Mustapha was one such leader and eventually neutralised. Mahathir kept federal control over Sabah and ended any secessionist move at that point in Malaysia’s history. No federal leader including Anwar,MCA, MIC or even those from Sarawak openly opposed the shenanigans orchestrated by Mahathir. So, Mahathir a HERO or VILLAIN ? Be the judge !!

  16. Tun Abdullah, being an ex Prime Minister who is still alive and kicking must speak up for Tunku Abdul Rahman, the founding father of this country. He cannot pretend to snooze off in this case, he must stand up and be counted.

    Ex-DPM Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim too must volunteer information at the RCI and explain his role during the debacle of 1993/4… cannot have the cake and eat it at the same time.

  17. “I am also surprised that Tun Musa Hitam, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Tengku Razaleigh and the MCA and MIC leadership have maintained elegant silence on this issue. They have failed to defend Tunku’s record”–Din Merican

    Yes, they must speak up because Mahathir has maligned the good name of Tunku and his legacy so capriciously and mendaciously.

    My take on the Sabah issue:

    What exactly is “Project IC” and what was its objective?
    Simple: To increase the Muslim population by foul or fair means so that they can take control of Sabah from the hands of the Christians who were in power there then. Some of the Christian leaders were too charismatic and intelligent for federal leaders’ liking and were considered a real thorn in UMNO’s flesh – so much so the ISA had to be used to get rid of some of them.

    Whose idea was “Project IC” – was it Anwar’s or was it that of Mahathir who left it to Anwar to operationalise it and deliver the State? We can strike out Musa Hitam from the equation because he is too straight forward who lacks the Machiavellian streaks that Mahathir and Anwar possess so abundantly. It is strange that Anwar, who was quick to rebut allegations that he, as then Finance Minister, knew of Japanese war reparation payments to Malaysia, is keeping an eerie silence on this matter.

    RCI (I do not know what their brief is) will not serve any useful purpose unless and until Najib gives an undertaking now that he will act on the major recommendation of the Commission, in particular to prosecute all culprits involved in the project without fear or favour be it Mahathir, Anwar, Sabah leaders who were in complicit and the guilty federal and state administrators.

    Some commentators call upon Sabah voters to reject, Anwar, PKR and by extension, PR because Anwar (allegedly) played a key role in promoting “Project IC”. If that is the justification, UMNO all the more, should be rejected by the people there because it was UMNO which carried out the plan and Anwar acted only as its representative.

    The best way for Sabah and Sarawak to reclaim control of the states is for the people to cast their votes to – and only to – their native based parties and not to any Peninsular based parties and you will see federal leaders (whether BN or PR) come begging to you for support in exchange to meet your major demands.

  18. I think it’s quite ‘unfair’ to lump Octo with Anwar in the same sentence. The onus is solely on Octo, his dearly departed HM and the automata in NRD/EC – in that order. The Act some say were treasonous, besides being illegal. The Constitutional experts will have to sort it out, but my assumption is that – like Mubarak, Octo would have declined into irreversible senescence by then.

    Anwar may’ve be the bag-boy who tripped the state government at that time, but he did not initiate the clandestine operation that led to it. His motives were secondary to the Prime Cause that was purely political and tainted. He has to explain this in due course, but his statements will probably be as ‘privileged’ to the effect that he was not privy to the first cause.

    This duel is Not between Octo and Anwar. It’s between Jibs & Co versus Octo & Gang. Depending on the internecine battles within the hell that is today’s UMNO, this toothless RCI may even acquire dentures – if not implanted ‘Fangs’. The trump card is as usual the promise of NFA. Any questions?

  19. Well written piece. But all these will be forgotten if we look at the kind of History that are being taught in schools.

  20. Why the components parties are silent is because their PERSONAL interest is at stake. There was one MCA president who spoke out and his removal was engineered. This guy was Dr. Neo Yee Pan. He came very clean and said was was due to be said with facts. The hungry cows in MCA found their pasture in drought and had to remove him in place of Tan Koon Swan (if I remembered correctly) who was implicated in the Pan El case that was recently nullified in Spore after gotten him jailed etc etc. Ling came from no where but was a good tag-team to Atir along with the Alu chappie and the was no citizenship issue big issue like today because the Sabah issue of today was executed in silent as PBS became BN component. The strong personalities of Sabah were not good enough to out talk Atrir who had equally strong Sabahan muslims in his favor.

    Now all surface when the real Sabahans finally realized their predicaments and GE is about numbers which they are outnumbered.

    It is Sabahan’s calling now. Who is Sabah can garner support for Sabah to reclaim its wealth, rights and all that is Sabah in this game where votes count? Sabahans have to stand up for themselves. This is a very delicate era. We only can see what is to become when Sabah becomes decisive according to their constitution for what is theirs.

  21. Going by the comments, its quite obvious that Project IC was an open secret to keep ” Sabah ingrates” pliant to federal control. Sabah and Sarawak had to be supported by federal coffers in the initial years of the federation, but eventually became net assets with the discovery of oil and gas, and hence had to be kept on a tight leash to prevent any move for secession . So all peninsular voters are partners in crime for keeping Mahathir in power for 22 long years ?????

  22. Bean,
    Aaargh so you are supportive of Republican policy. In fact, malays (even then it’s not clearly defined) stood only 40% of malaya population. Ask LKY. Frankly, what defines melayu? You seriously believe that Mahathir or Syed Albar’s daddy are melayu jati. It’s time to read this article

    In fact, why USA is so strong……because it opens the border damn wide to accept anybody who believes in USA principle to enter. Plus, How does Hong Kong prosper if governor such as Machelose doesn’t practise strict enforcement. Just google & find out what was policy then

    Anyway Bean, Tunku may have forseen what might have transpired if he refused……Just google what happen in Rhodesia…..Hahahaha.

    Just as I agree with you that Tan Kwon Suan may not be that clean, but if Mahathir can’t get rid of Kwon Suan, MCA may not be in such sorry state. Yes, very delicate indeed.How to resolve the massive influx of pinoys & indons. Thanks to Mahathir…..the Philipines may finally claim Sabah……Isn’t that high treason for Mahathir, son from kerala?

    Hahahaha! my matey, ktemoc would say otherwise…..Anwar is guilty as charged. Go & read his list of anwar’s crime that would convict him……Hahahaha…..(Take note I disagree with ktemoc entirely on that)….That’s why I suggest….go debate with that joker in aussie land laaa.
    One thing I agree though…..It’s the fight between Ah jib gor, rosmah’s wife & Atir suk who wants Mukhriz to be PM at certain date

    K Das,
    Though Mustapha is one of the culprit. One thing for sure, Mustapha just like Taib Mahmud tried to stop UMNO entering Sabah. Mustapha gave in while Taib has succeeded sofar.
    No, Musa just like Razeeigh or TAR played by certain gentleman rules. As for casting votes to native parties, remember PBS……Guess what happen after that

    Really? Ended secessionist move? Guess how many pinoys & indons in Sabah now. Don’t you think the Philipines would come in & gobble up Sabah…..Thanks to Mahathir

    Agreed! But tactfully, we wouldn’t wanna to repeat the history what Razaleigh may might not have done when he decided to wear the kadazan heargear that causes Semangat46 to mampus in 1990 GE

    Guys & Gals,
    Time to rewatch this youtube link

  23. @ hasan 9.45am
    I would like to add: Caesar’s last words in his dying breath was “Et tu Brute?”
    With Caesar’s blood in his hands,Mark Anthony shook hands with Brutus and with all the other conspiring senators. It was symbolic. Mark Anthony marked Brutus and all the conspirators as guilty with Caesar’s blood.

  24. Bean,
    Aaargh so you are supportive of Republican policy — Louis 74


    No. The truth about illegal immigration here is both parties want labor cheap to help run plantations and factories and keep those pizzas and Chinese take-aways coming to homes and offices. There are other laws that provide opportunities for people with special skills and talent to apply for Green Cards and later U.S. citizenship if they so choose.

    Even in the U.S. it was not too long ago that Chinese and Japanese were allowed to become U.S. citizens. Native Americans were denied U.S. citizenship until recently – and to think that they are natives to North America..

  25. Can the Philippines reclaim Sabah? With so many in Sabah now make legal, all it takes is for a few strong head ones to form a party back by Philippines and the use the Sabah Constitution to get out of Malaysia en-route to Phlippines……all about money. ………….and Sabah is claim to SCSea oil fields……….which excites Philippines and its allies: US.

  26. ‘Can the Philippines reclaim Sabah?’ Matt G

    Of course not. They’ll have to contend with the Bajaus (including Suluks, Orang Laut), Bugis and etc from Indonesia. This is called Snake and Ladders. But Octo confused it with Monopoly. Go play with some games from Hasbro.

  27. The citizenship issue use to work to remind Malays to vote for UMNO . That was when there was no PKR………….and PAS / DAP could not work together.

    Now the same issue is resurrected hoping to remind Malays to vote for UMNO as it was not raised in 2008. So they think by fanning this issue it may work in desperate time but not knowing it tagged along the Sabah matters etc.

    So let’s see how hard are they fanning the citizenship issue. the harder the better.

  28. CLF,
    What if Indonesia & the Philipines decided to reignite the partition of poland just as the Germans & Russia & at one point of time, Austria…….Eat this la! When are you going to debate with kaytee in Aussie land

  29. Another history lesson for CLF……who say it’s not impossible that Sabah kenna makan by Indonesia & Philipines….No thanks to Mahathir……..

  30. Looes74…Philippines reclaiming Sabah? Not by a long shot ! Even Southern Philippines have been making attempts to break away from Manila’s loose control . Indonesia also suffers from secessionist problems and with the divisive politicking in peninsular Malaysia , it would not be long before secessionist moves regain new momentum in Sabah and eventually Sarawak. So the Muslim numbers in Sabah would be the counter weight against secession and all credit to Mahathir on this score !!!!

  31. If you all are very religious,you won’t be doing all the things that happened and all what being said above.Problems is that all of you are not religious enough.So,I have heard enough and all are very subjective(bullshit)

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