Thinking of Malaysia as an Islamic state ― Part 6

JULY 6 ― Part 5 identified (based on Charles Taylor’s conceptualising of the secular state) that the secular state differed fundamentally from an Islamic state on how it relates to its citizens.

Part 5 also asked your opinion if the Federation of Malaysia was a secular, or an Islamic state.

Let us look at this question by empirically identifying the individuals who occupy the commanding heights of governance in Malaysia and compare it to the population of Malaysia. 

According to the Department of Statistics, the Malaysian population in 2010 was 28.6 million people.

In 2010, 61.3 per cent of Malaysians were Muslims, 19.8 per cent were Buddhists, 9.2 per cent were Christians, 6.3 per cent were Hindus, 1.3 per cent were in the category of Confucianism, Taoism, and tribal/folk, other traditional Chinese religions, 1.0 per cent were unknown, 0.7 per cent had no religion, and 0.4 per cent were of other unnamed religions.

Stated differently, 61.3 per cent Malaysians were Muslim, and 38.7 per cent were non-Muslims or for every 10 Malaysians, six were Muslims, and four were non-Muslims.

In 2010, the Bumiputera community was 67.3 per cent, the Chinese community ― 24.5 per cent, the Indian community ― 7.3 per cent, and others ― 0.9 per cent.

This also meant that 6 per cent of the Bumiputera community were not Muslims. So for every 10 Malaysians, in 2010, six were Bumiputera and four were non-Bumiputera.

It appears that the Bumiputera to non-Bumiputera and Muslim to non-Muslim ratio corresponds to each other.  

Theoretically, Malaysia is a federation of 13 states and the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya.

In theory, it is also a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. How is the religious distribution of society represented at the commanding heights of Malaysia’s governance structure? 

Heads of states and heads of governments

There are 13 states, nine of which have heredity Muslim rulers. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the Supreme Head of State) is selected from the nine heredity Muslim rulers.

The head of the executive branch, the prime minister, is a Muslim. Hence, at the apex of governance in Malaysia, a Muslim had and is always in charge.

This is reproduced at the state level with minor exceptions. All heads of state and the chief ministers are and have been Muslims. 

Melaka is the only state that has had a non-Muslim Yang di-Pertua Negeri (Tun Leong Yew Koh, 1957-1959). All Yang DiPertua Negeri of Melaka have since been Muslims, including the current one, who is not a native of Melaka.

Penang, a state where non-Muslims are in the majority, has had non-Muslim chief ministers since independence. The Yang di-Pertua Negeri, however, have all been Muslims. 

Sarawak, another state where non-Muslims are in the majority, has experienced only Muslim leadership since joining the Federation in 1963.

Sabah, which used to be a non-Muslim majority state, had regular alternation between Muslim and non-Muslim leadership. However, since the increase in the Muslim population since the 1990s, it has had only Muslim leadership since 2003. Muslims now (in 2010) make up 65.4 per cent of Sabah’s population. 

Stated differently, 100 per cent heads of states are Muslims, and 92 per cent heads of government are Muslims (only one out of the 13 states has a non-Muslim head of government).

The present Cabinet is made up of 35 ministers, of which 24 are Muslims (69 per cent) and 11 are non-Muslims (31 per cent). 

The legislative branch

At the 2013 General Election, the Barisan Nasional won 133 parliamentary seats and the opposition coalition won 89 parliamentary seats. Since then, two parliamentary members of the ruling coalition have since left, bringing the tally for the disparate opposition to 91.

I estimate that of the 222 members of parliament, 63 per cent are Muslims. On the government side, 75 per cent are Muslims and in the opposition side, 46 per cent are Muslims.  

The judiciary

I estimate that from 1955-1962, the percentage of judicial appointments to the judicial system of the Federation, were 75 per cent non-Muslims and 25 per cent Muslims.

This reversed in 2013 as I estimate that the total percentage of Muslim judges were 75 per cent. This is naturally, not inclusive of those within the Syariah court system. 

At the pinnacle of the judiciary, the Chief Justice of the Federal Court is a Muslim, as are eight out of the 10 Federal Court judges (80 per cent). The President of the Court of Appeal is a Muslim, as is the Chief Judge of Malaya. Only the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak is a non-Muslim. 

The public sector

Kuan Heong Woo (2015a) [pdf] notes that in 2010 there were 1.22 million Malaysians in the civil service but only 6 per cent were Malaysians of Chinese heritage.

In another paper, Woo (2015b) [pdf], further notes that 76.2 per cent of the Malaysian civil service were Malays, and 10.1 per cent were non-Malays.

I estimate, that at the highest echelons of power in the civil service, the percentage of Muslims would be higher than 80 per cent (similar to percentages in the Malaysian judiciary).

It is reported that there were 1.4 million civil servants in 28 schemes under the Public Services Department in 2014. Woo (2015a) also highlights the fact that recruitment to the public sector is heavily skewed towards the Malays pointing towards an even greater representation of the Malay community in the public sector.

In 2040

The Department of Statics projects that the population of Malaysia would be 41.5 million in 2040.  In this 41.5 million, the Bumiputera community would make up 72.1 per cent (an increase of 4.8 per cent from 2010).

The Chinese community would decrease by 4.5 per cent to 20 per cent and the Indian community would also decrease by 0.9 per cent to 6.4 per cent. The “Other” communities would increase by 0.6 per cent to 1.5 per cent.

Stated differently, 70 per cent of Malaysians would be Bumiputera, and only 30 per cent of Malaysians would be non-Bumiputera or seven in every 10 Malaysians would be a Bumiputera.

The increase in Bumiputera would naturally see an increase in Muslims in Malaysia. How would this impact the commanding heights of governance in Malaysia?

Is the overwhelming percentage of Muslims (above 80 per cent) at the commanding heights of governance in Malaysia an indicator of a secular or an Islamic state?

If it is uncertain, would there be greater clarity in 2040?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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