However, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi claims that the concept is not one of unchallenged dominance of the Malays.
He denied the idea, often translated as ‘Malay supremacy’, denoted unchallenged dominance of the Malays but said that the concept meant a developed indigenous race capable of being masters of their own destiny.
The defence minister said this was a definition given by then premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in the face of allegations made by opposition leaders that Umno was promoting Malay supremacy.
“Malay supremacy meant that the Malays, as the indigenous people of Malaysia, needed to empower themselves to ensure they are successful and developed.
“If they are not successful and developed, then they are not ‘tuan’ (masters), therefore they will be coolies,” he said, quoting Abdullah, at the launch of a book on the subject here.
Far-right Malay leaders from Umno or their sympathisers often use the concept to define the special position of Malays under Article 153 of the constitution which they claimed is under threat by the opposition.
Opposition leaders denied the allegation, saying they too, recognise the special position of the Malays, but said the slogan was racist and created intentionally to shore up support from the country’s majority race through stoking racial hatred.
Non-Malays threat real
Some leaders from Umno, like supreme council member Nazri Aziz and youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin had also criticised hardliners for translating the idea as ‘Malay supremacy’ when it was originally meant as a description of the Malay sultanate.
The opposition said the term contradicts Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s 1Malaysia clarion call, an idea that was meant to promote unity in the face of an increasingly polarised Malaysia.
But Zahid said today that the Malays’ special position is indeed under opposition threat who he claimed is using the Ketuanan Melayu debate to abolish Malay privileges and hinted at a possible non-Malay takeover of the country.
“To me they are intentionally blowing up the issue of Ketuanan Melayu so that some quarters would politically benefit from it. They are deliberately using this issue to destroy the special positions of the Malays with the hope that no one race will be above any and prioritised.
“And when that happens, as we all know it, the Malays and Bumiputeras have not achieved what was (economically) targeted. So who will profit from this?” he asked, adding that it was time for the Malays to unite “for the sake of the country”.
Zahid ended his speech saying the Chinese should read the book entitled, ‘Masih Adakah Ketuanan Melayu’ to better understand the term.
The book was written by controversial academic, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, a Chinese Muslim convert known for his hardline attack on the opposition through his column in Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia.