"The Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah, said any move which questions the interests of the Malays and Bumiputeras in terms of scholarships and places of study not only violates the fundamental provisions in the federal and state constitutions but also questions the sovereignty of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Malay Rulers.
He said Clause 2 of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution provided the King with specific powers to safeguard the interests of the Malays as well as the Bumiputeras in Sabah and Sarawak in terms of scholarships and places of study."
The monarch represents an important institution in the country. Hence, his statement above is not going to help us to look beyond the question of race when addressing the issue of educational opportunity in the country.
Is it racist when a non-Malay student demands his right to a place in a local university or to be given a scholarship if he/she did exceptionally well in a public exam? Isn't it problematic if a remarkable student was not offered a course of choice in a local university or being denied a scholarship to pursue higher education but an opportunity was given to a less remarkable one?
Over the years, the issue of university placement and scholarship has continued to harm and frustrate many parents and students. Many good students had to look for study grants overseas which had resulted in a massive brain drain for the country.
It does not have to be a zero sum game. Giving more places of study and scholarships to more non-Malay Malaysians does not have to come at the expense of the Malays. Any government would have been proud to provide opportunities to its people especially youths to acquire the highest level of education possible so that they can return to contribute to the country's development.
It is no longer an issue about the Malay rights or supremacism. It is about retaining the best brains in the country. Most knowledge based economies are no longer merely competing for FDI but FHCI (Foreign Human Capital Investment).
Hence, the Sultan of Perak should have asked the government to try to accommodate as many bright Malaysian students as possible, regardless of race or creed, by offering them places in the local universities or giving them scholarships to study abroad.
He should have encouraged the government to correct the flaws in the scholarship and university admission processes so that the issue of deprivation and unfairness can be solved once and for all.
Instead, his warning to the complainants not to question these rights (access to scholarships and places of study) because their action is akin to challenging his sovereignty and authority is most unfortunate and unproductive.
A constitutional monarch is supposed to be a symbol of unity and sovereignty of all Malaysians, not just the Malays or Bumiputeras.
His statement will leave a deep impact on the society's direction and nation building. On race relations, this country has a long bumpy road ahead to travel.