July 31, 2013
Malaysian Citizenship: One Million met the Criteria
I REFER to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s article on the Chinese dilemma published in the New Straits Times on July 26 and 27.
Dr Mahathir said: “Buoyed by the success of the Alliance party in the 1955 elections, the Tunku looked more kindly at the proposal of Sir Cheng Lock that citizenship should be based on jus soli (citizenship by being born in the country). The Tunku did not quite agree but he nevertheless decided to give one million citizenships to unqualified Chinese and Indians.”
As a former Registrar of Citizens, I wish to comment on Dr Mahathir’s views.The legislation that conferred citizenship on Malayans are the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1948, State Nationality Enactment, 1952 of the various states and finally, the Federal Constitution that came into force on Feb 1, 1948, Sept 15, 1952 and Aug 31, 1957 respectively.
Persons born in Malaya before February 1948 were regarded as British Protected Persons under the British Nationality Act 1948. Long before 1955, thousands of Indians and Chinese (perhaps a million of them) had already become federal citizens by operation of law or by application under Clause 124 and 125 of the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1948.
Millions have also become subjects by registration or naturalisation under the provisions of the State Nationality Enactment, 1952 of the various states.
To acquire citizenship by application, registration or naturalisation under the provisions of the two legislation stated above, applicants had to comply with the basic requirements, that is good character, intention to remain permanently in the federation, required period of residence in the federation, elementary knowledge of Malay and a declaration of undivided loyalty to the federation.
Every application for citizenship was checked thoroughly, supporting documents like birth certificate, identity card and passport verified and the applicant tested by the Language Board before a certificate of citizenship was granted. The applications are kept to this day in the National Registration Department headquarters.
The Merdeka Constitution came into force on Aug 31, 1957. Under the provisions of Article 14(l) (a) all those who acquired citizenship under the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1948, by operation of law or otherwise and under the State Nationality Enactments, 1952, became citizens by operation of law of the newly independent federation.
Besides that, Article 14 (1)(b) conferred citizenship by birth on every person born within the federation on or after Merdeka Day, the principle of jus soli was at last adopted under the 1957 Constitution.
However, to prevent birds of passage from acquiring Malayan citizenship by birth, Article 14 (1)(b) was amended by the Constitution (Amendment) Act 1962 which came into force on Oct 1, 1962. The effect of this amendment is that only those born in the federation on or after the date became a citizen by birth, if at the time of birth at least one of the parents is a citizen or a permanent resident.
Those who did not become citizens by operation of law under the 1957 Constitution can apply for registration as citizen under Article 15 as wives or children of citizens. Those born in the federation can apply to be registered as citizens under Article 16 by complying with the requirements stipulated therein, that is, production of birth certificate, good character, residential qualification, elementary knowledge of the Malay language and a declaration of undivided loyalty to the king and the country.
Those who were residents in the federation on Merdeka Day can apply to be registered as a citizen under Article 17 by fulfilling the requirements stated therein, that is, residential qualification, elementary knowledge of Malay.
However, Article 17 was repealed on July 1, 1963.Thereafter, those who wanted to acquire Malaysian citizenship, had to apply for naturalisation under Article 19. In addition to the normal conditions, the applicant has to have an adequate knowledge of the Malay language (including reading and writing if he was absent from the federation on Merdeka Day). The granting of citizenship under Article 19, however, is at the discretion of the Federal Government.
Here again, every application was scrutinised, supporting documents verified and the applicant tested by the Language Board before a certificate of citizenship was granted. The applications become permanent record and are kept safely at the NRD headquarters.
From the above, it is clear that the basic constitutional requirements have been complied with and the established procedure rigidly followed by the authorities before the granting of citizenship. In the circumstances, it is inconceivable how Tunku could have given one million citizenships to unqualified Chinese and Indians.