The Making of the Malayan Constitution

Monograph 31
The Making of the Malayan Constitution
By Joseph M. Fernando
250pp. Size:140x220mm. Hardcover

This book is a revised version of the author's doctoral thesis submitted to the University of London in 1995, under the supervision of an eminent authority on the history of post-war Malaya Professor A.J. Stockwell. In The Making of the Malayan Constitution, Joseph M. Fernando describes the events in the 1950s which led to the creation of the Alliance Party, and moves towards Merdeka. He relates the somewhat ad-hoc way in which the Reid Commission was formed, and gives full details of their deliberations, together with the negotiations between the different parties in the Alliance. The outcome of these largely forgotten but pivotal episodes was the Malayan Constitution as adopted on the eve of Merdeka in 1957.

Readers would particularly welcome the thoroughness with which the author examines the horse-trading that took place behind the scenes, a particularly succinct example of which would be seen in an interesting section devoted to the minority report submitted by one of the Reid Commission members, Justice Abdul Hamid from Pakistan, who was seen as a staunch defender for the preservation of Malay privileges. That the rights and privileges of one particular community, which has remained in the present-day Malaysian Constitution, was being championed by foreigners based on their own experiences of communal politics, is a particularly sobering thought. It was particularly significant that two members of the Commission - Justice B. Malik and Abdul Hamid himself - had probably witnessed the horrors brought upon by the Partition of India in 1947, a grim political episode which might help readers to understand the reasons behind the latter's insistence on a minority report which must have contained some highly persuasive arguments.

The book is essential reading for anybody wishing to have a better understanding of the origins of the Malayan constitution and how it has influenced the direction of Malayan politics on the eve of Independence. Though many of the issues covered by the book are now largely of academic interest, there is much room here for thought to the intrepid historian or legislator seeking to negotiate the treacherous contours of present-day Malaysian communal politics. Fernando's book provides a suitable context for those interested to understand the background to the country's post-Independence communal politics and the extent to which the commission's work has moulded the racially-polarised politics of contemporary Malaysia.

About the Author:

Joseph Milton Fernando is an Associate Professor at the Department of History in the University of Malaya and MBRAS council member. Dr. Fernando has also co-authored a recent biography of Ceylonese planter and pre-independence Malaya politician Sir E.E.C. Thuraisingham that was published by the University of Malaya Press. Dr. Fernando is an expert on the Malaysian Constitution, having produced several articles on its early origins and latter-day comparison with its American counterpart.


  1. The Origins of the Alliance (1948-1952)
  2. The Transformation of the Alliance (1952-1955)
  3. The Alliance Memorandum and the Inter-communal Bargain (1955-1956)
  4. The Reid Commission: A Question of Balance (1956-1957)
  5. The Tripartite Negotiations (22 February-22 May 1957)
  6. The Alliance, Nationalism and National Identity: Some Theoretical Perspecitves
  7. The Conscience of a National
Appendix I: Citizenship Qualification Proposals by Alliance and Reid Commission
Appendix II: Biodata of Prominent Personalities

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