As the song Tanggal 31 Ogos goes, on 31 August 1957 our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman shouted “Merdeka!” seven times in the Merdeka Stadium, declaring independence for Malaya.
Quick history lesson:
Prior to Malaya’s independence, Tunku’s Alliance Party, comprising of UMNO, MCA and MIC, won a landslide victory, securing 51 out of the 52 seats contested in Malaya’s Federal Election on July 27, 1955.
Such a result gave the Alliance Party the mandate to form the Malayan government, with Tunku being selected as the Chief Minister of Malaya.
It also put Tunku in a position of strength to request and negotiate for independence from the British in 1956.
The road to Malaya’s independence was largely the result of multiple socio-political developments that occurred after World War II.
You can read all about the comprehensive timeline of events here.
But I’m here to talk about Malaysia’s first and only Chinese Prime Minister. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not illegal for our Prime Minister to not be Malay.
Malaysia inherited a parliamentary democracy from the British where the constitution stipulates that whoever has the majority support of the House is qualified to be prime minister.
Article 43(2)(a) states that the Agong shall appoint as PM a Member of Parliament who has the House’s majority support.
But we all know that isn’t necessarily true, or rather, certain people skewed it to be their own truth. The BN formula has been tweaked into upholding specific requirements for a prime minister, which include race and religion.
Over time, the fact that you’re a Malay-Malaysian automatically declares you as a Muslim. This, and the continuous cycle of Malay Prime Ministers made it seem like a given.
Focus Malaysia put together a great list of the many reasons why Article 43(2)(a) isn’t a reality in our racially harmonious country.
The reign of Malaysia was under a Chinese man for 13 days, and happened because UMNO was in the midst of their biggest internal conflict.
It all started in 1987, when Mahathir was declared UMNO’s President and had many candidates challenging his post for the position. Among the contenders was former Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, better known as Ku Li.
From this, the political party was split down the middle, with thankfully easy names to remember; Team A (Mahathir) and Team B (Ku Li).
During their internal elections of who would eventually take over UMNO, Team A won with 761 votes, leaving Team B in the dust with 718 votes – not far behind.
Team B was obviously unsatisfied with the results and filed a lawsuit against Team A for irregularities over uncertified UMNO branches. In simple terms, Team B was claiming that Team A was buying votes.
The lawsuit would drag out for the longest time, almost as long as this same story your parents would tell if you asked them about it. Eventually on 4 February 1988, Justice Harun Hashim ruled UMNO’s registration of the party to be ‘unlawful’ and therefore, voided the election results.
And it was all because of this that Mahathir had to appoint someone as acting Prime Minister – Ling Liong Sik, who was MCA President and Transport Minister at the time. And yes, he was Chinese.
But this barely had any impact on the events that spiralled later on. Ling had pledged his loyalty to Mahathir, and his men followed. As most of us know, Mahathir later went on to form UMNO Baru and the rest is history.
Ling went back to his Transport Minister duties until he retired in 2003, but his political career didn’t become a topic of conversation until 2010 when he was charged with being involved in the PKFZ scandal, which you can read all about here.
It’s no surprise that he was then cleared of all charges against him, with nobody other than Dr M siding with him, and was then named as one of the veteran BN politicians calling for Najib to resign back in 2015.
The last time he made headlines was in 2015 when he was spotted at a Bersih rally in Perth, Australia.
So to recap: You don’t have to be Malay to be Prime Minister of Malaysia, and that fun facts always come with a culmination of historical events you never knew.