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Sovereignty Since Merdeka in Malaysia

In: Historical Events

Submitted By radhiahyazid
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Pages 2
OCT 6 — The deputy prime minister maintains (“Putrajaya says Malaysia was colonised, disputes MPN’s version of history”, The Malaysian Insider, October 5) that the Malay Rulers “retained their sovereignty while under British rule, [even though] they were compelled to accept advice from their colonisers.”

This may make practical sense to a political “spinmaster”, sloganeer or “message manager” and certainly to a political party leader and spokesman.

But to an informed student of political philosophy it makes no good or clear sense.

If by “daulat” one means a traditional aura of royal sanctity, grounded broadly in Southeast Asian (and originally Hindu-Buddhist) cosmology, then the largely powerless Malay Rulers may have enjoyed that kind of metaphysical prestige. The British not only permitted but actively encouraged them, in their mutual interest, to enjoy that kind of sublime elevation and closely managed dignity.

But if one here means sovereignty in the jurisprudential and political-philosophical sense of absolute, or at least ultimate, reality-defining authority, then under the British the Malay Rulers were regrettably bystanders, or largely sidelined outsiders, to that kind of rule-grounding and law-founding political standing.

That may be an unpalatable conclusion to draw. But unpleasant truths too must be faced.

The Malay Rulers, sad though the point may be for many to accept, were not, during the years of British rule, the ultimate basis of effective, operative, everyday political reality.

In that sense effective sovereignty had moved elsewhere. It had been seized and appropriated by others.

That, after all, is what “colonialism” means and entails.

The “Merdeka Process” was a movement to recapture political sovereignty from the British colonial rulers and restore it legitimately to local society.

When that movement succeeded in displacing the British, political sovereignty was duly recaptured.

But whether, when it was legitimately reaffirmed, sovereignty in the technical sense (as distinct from quasi-sacred royal prestige and metaphysical sanctity) was then restored to the Malay Rulers, or to the people as a whole (as is generally the case in modern democratic nations based upon the notion of “popular sovereignty”), or to the people as embodied in Parliament, or was “invested” within the Federal Constitution — or whether it was dispersed and shared, to be held in “joint trust”, so to speak, among some or even all of those institutional “locations” — remains a matter of necessary, patient, and serious discussion.

That is the issue that needs to be considered and pursued, and not the very inadequate and partisan view of the national professoriat spokemen to whom the deputy prime minister is compelled to respond.

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