‘No loyalty oath’ claim raises questions

IN less than 105 days, more than 25 million Peninsular Malaysians – together with 6.65 million from Sabah and Sarawak – will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the day the country's first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj declared "Merdeka" from its namesake stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

For many Malaysians, this diamond anniversary will be tainted by allegations – to date unsubstantiated – by Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz, the secretariat head of a group of Malay-Muslim non-governmental organisations (NGOs) known as Barisan Bertindak Melayu Islam. Popularly known as Bertindak, this group comprises Perkasa, Pertubuhan Muafakat Malaysia, the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia and other NGOs.

Recently Khairul claimed 1.75 million non-Malays were granted citizenship between 1957 and 1970 without taking an oath of loyalty – a requirement under Schedule One of the Federal Constitution. Khairul's claim prompts several questions.

First, which institution is the source of Khairul's assertion that 1.75 million individuals obtained citizenship in this country without complying with the legal requirements? Did he obtain this figure from the Ministry of Home Affairs, the National Registration Department or some other equally authoritative source?

"Truthfully, legal violations were found, based on research done," Khairul said. If so, he should state the source of his figures.

Second, does Khairul's figure of 1.75 million exclude those who became citizens by operation of law and by registration during this 13-year period?

Malaysia's Federal Constitution spells out three ways an individual can become a citizen – by operation of law, by registration and by naturalisation.

Under the Second Schedule, citizens by operation of law include:

>> individuals born before Merdeka who were citizens of this country;

>> individuals born in this country on or after Merdeka and before October 1962;

>> individuals born in this country after September 1962 to one Malaysian parent or permanent resident; and

>> individuals born outside this country to a Malaysian father and the birth was registered at the Malaysian embassy within one year.

Under Article 15(1), citizenship by registration involves wives with a Malaysian spouse or children less than 21 years old with one Malaysian parent. Wives must have resided in this country for two years before the application, must show they intend to reside in Malaysia permanently and be of good character.

Only those who are 21 years old or older can become Malaysians by naturalisation provided these individuals have lived in this country for not less than 10 years of the preceding 12 years, are of good character and possess an adequate knowledge of Bahasa Malaysia.

Significantly, the Federal Constitution says only citizens by naturalisation are required to take an oath of loyalty. Article 19 (9) explicitly states no certificate of naturalisation shall be granted to any person until the individual has taken the oath of loyalty.

Third, by claiming that 1.75 million became citizens without taking an oath of loyalty, is Khairul suggesting officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs were at best negligent or at worst irresponsible in ensuring the proper procedure for granting citizenship was followed?

By any yardstick, alleging 1.75 million became Malaysians who didn't have the right to do so – even if spread over 13 years – is a large number.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is an important portfolio, usually helmed by the prime minister, deputy prime minister or a senior cabinet minister. Past home ministers include Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Dr Ismail who held this portfolio for a collective 10 years with a four-year break when the position was held by Tun Abdul Razak.

Is Khairul alleging these leaders administered the Home Affairs Ministry so sloppily that they failed to institute checks to ensure compliance with legal requirements?

Fourth, why is Khairul making this claim that 1.75 million allegedly gained citizenship illegally between 47 and 60 years later?

Some commentators speculate Khairul was retaliating against those who questioned the granting of permanent residence in Malaysia five years ago to Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik, now wanted by his home country India for terrorism investigations.

Fifth, what does Khairul hope to achieve by making this so far unjustified claim? Was he prompted to do so because of speculation the 14th general election could be held this year?

Only individuals who are 21 years or older can apply for citizenship by naturalisation.

If 1.75 million became Malaysians without taking the oath of loyalty during the 1957-1970 period, they will be between 68 and 80 years old today. Given their likely mortality rate, is this cohort likely to influence significantly the outcome of the next general election?

Sixth, did the findings by the Royal Commission of Inquiry – that 68,703 illegal immigrants in Sabah were given citizenship from 1963 until Aug 31, 2013 and some were also registered as voters although the number wasn't stated – also provoke Khairul's ire?

If not, why not? How do the two situations differ? Khairul should remember consistency is the hallmark of sincerity.

Opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any organisation she is connected with. She can be contacted at siokchoo@thesundaily.com