“Can a non-Malay become PM of M’sia? Not in my lifetime” (Part 2)

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part letter by the author. 

Read Part 1 here.


ON FRIDAY (29 July), I said among Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s failures as a political leader was his failure to Malaysianise his political thinking to graduate from a “Malay first” to a “Malaysian first” political leader. 

This was so he could be prime minister for all Malaysians. 

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad started as a “Malay first” leader but he has traversed some distance to be “Malaysian first”, more so than Muhyiddin. 

However, Mahathir has not reached the stage of 100% “Malaysian first” as Mahathir is still the head of a political party that is only open to Malays and not all Malaysians. 

Malaysia’s social contract 

The social contract that the nation’s founding fathers agreed upon, and which is entrenched in the Federal Constitution and Rukun Negara, is to create Malaysian unity based on Malaysia’s plural characteristics (multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious). 

This unity should also see all being first-class citizens, without any division into first, second or third class.  

The nation’s founding fathers also agreed on fundamental nation-building principles and policies of a plural Malaysia, which includes constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy, separation of powers, rule of law, good governance, public integrity, meritocracy, Islam as the religion of the country, freedom of religion and respect for human rights. 

The nation’s founding fathers were, therefore, the first to advocate a “Malaysian first” policy instead of a “Malay first”, “Chinese first”, “Indian first”, “Kazadan first” or “Iban first” policy. 

Is the “overlooked reformer” Muhyiddin prepared to commit himself to this “Malaysian first” policy? 

Political reality 

That Malaysia is based on a Malaysia-first basis rather than one based on race is the reason for the provision under the constitution that a Malaysian, regardless of race, religion or region, could become prime minister of Malaysia. 

However, we accept the political reality in Malaysia and I do not see any non-Malays becoming prime minister of Malaysia during my lifetime or that of my children. 

In the US, a black man named Barack Obama became the president of the US but it took place some 230 years after the establishment of the US in 1776. 

While I hope Malaysia would not need 230 years before a non-Malay can become prime minister, I do not expect a non-Malay to become a Malaysian prime minister in the 21st century. 

Whether there will be a non-Malay prime minister in the 22nd or 23rd century will depend on whether the politics of identity will continue to be so primordial and elemental in the Malaysian political landscape, as it is today. 

If the question of whether a non-Malay can become prime minister of Malaysia was asked 60 years ago, the nation’s founders like Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Dr Ismail, Tun Hussein Onn, Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun V. T. Sambanthan would have unhesitatingly answered in the affirmative as there is no constitutional bar (which is separate from the question of whether it was likely to happen). 

But today, there are political leaders who openly say that a non-Malay cannot be a prime minister of Malaysia. 

However, these same leaders were in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet because of the concept of Ketuanan Melayu, which was popularised in 1986 and after.

Fake news 

There is now a surfeit of fake news in the country.  

There is an insidious and dangerous attempt to make the Malays hate and fear the non-Malays on the grounds that they want to eliminate the Malay race.  

Nobody in Malaysia wants to do this. 

As Prof Ahmad Murad Mohd Noor Merican of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation said at the recent Rebranding of Malay Politics forum, to be a Malay is to be seen as “negative, lazy, corrupt, hypocritical”. 

We do not want any Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans or Ibans to be associated with such negative traits, but to be associated with “positive, hard-working, incorruptible, just, sincere, honest and the ability to distinguish right from wrong” characteristics. – Aug 1, 2022 


Lim Kit Siang is the Iskandar Puteri MP, DAP supremo and a veteran lawmaker. 

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia. 

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