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New urgency needed in the defence of our Constitution – Faidhur Rahman Abdul Hadi

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It has finally happened. Amidst all the corruption and scandals plaguing the previous Barisan Nasional-led government, Malaysia voted for change at the ballot box during the recently concluded 14th General Election.

One must acknowledge that the result, though unexpected, had its basis in legitimate grievances against the outgoing government and that it is premised upon the fundamental right of a national populace to a government of their own choosing, consistent with the notion of democracy.

Nonetheless, while exercising the vote in a free and fair election is a constitutional right per Article119(1) of our Constitution and even a human right per Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we Malaysians must be cognisant that per Article 4(1) thereof, the Constitution is our supreme law.

Thus by necessary implication, we ought to be mindful of this before casting our collective vote, especially in favour of questionable political coalitions who have at best a less than stellar record of abiding by our basic constitutional provisions.

As we in the Young Professionals (YP) have stressed time and again, five of those form the fundamental basis underlying this nation. They are Islam’s exalted position as the religion of our great nation per Article 3, citizenship based on the social contract per Part III, Malay as the national language per Article 152, the special position of Malays and legitimate interests of other communities per Article 153 and the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the Malay Rulers per Article 181.

Sacred and inviolable

These constitutional provisions are, in no uncertain terms, sacred and inviolable. Make no mistake, this is not a view premised upon notions of racial or religious superiority, but a simple affirmation of the social contract agreed upon by our founding fathers during our attainment of independence in 1957.

The threat posed to these provisions following the race riots of 1969 are why four out of five of them are today protected by section 3(1)(f) of the Sedition Act 1948 by virtue of a 1970 amendment to this Act as well as our Constitution.

Unfortunately, the new Pakatan Harapan-led government has promised to repeal the law in its manifesto for the recent election following alleged past abuse. This is a development opposed by us in YP for without the Sedition Act 1948, these codified sacred constitutional ideals will be subject to open questioning and debate. They might also be treated with contempt and ridicule.

The failure by this new political coalition that has just taken federal office to consider possible wide ranging ramifications upon the integrity of our constitutional order is one reason in particular, among others, why I and my colleagues in YP bemoan the results of this watershed general election. Clearly, the implications of voting in this coalition with a track record for disregarding basic constitutional provisions during their past spells in power at state level has not been carefully considered by Malaysian voters.

Alternative rejected

It boggles the mind that Malaysians voting in 158 constituencies not wanting the previous incumbent government had and rejected the alternative of voting for the diverse and multi-ethnic Gagasan Sejahtera led by PAS, whose policies are not only more in line with our Constitution but also strengthen its provisions by promising to empower institutions set up thereunder i.e. the syariah courts via the enactment of RUU355.

Not only did PAS promise the empowerment of Islam in accordance with our apex law, but also has an impressive track record of zero corruption investigations during its previous term as part of the former Pakatan Rakyat coalition governments, certified by non-other than the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

This makes the coalition a natural choice for those who despise corruption while abiding by our collective duty as Malaysians to uphold and defend the Constitution. Yet PAS was turned down by voters at the federal level during the recent polls. Such a result indicates that much remains to be done in educating and informing Malaysians on their sacred duty to uphold the underlying premise of our basic law.

Apprehension

There are plenty of reasons why we must be apprehensive about this incoming government given its lacklustre past performance in defending our constitutional ideals. Consider for example, the needless fiasco created in the wake of the infamous Kajang Move, when His Highness the Sultan of Selangor was pressured to act on the appointment of Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as a replacement MB following the ouster of Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, who by most accounts led a clean, corrupt free administration admired by all.

Consider also former executive councillor Elizabeth Wong’s defence of the illegal use by a church of a Taman Medan shop lot as a place of worship in 2015 contrary to Subsection 70(12) of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974. This law required that those who intent to use commercial property as buildings of worship first acquire the relevant permit, which was not observed by the church concerned. Wong was part of the Pakatan coalition governing Selangor at the time.

Then add that to the censure of UUM academician Dr Kamarul Zaman Yusoff for voicing his concern over possible proselytization activities contrary to Article 11(4) of the Constitution and more recently, the widespread ridicule on social media of His Highness the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for allegedly refusing to cooperate in the swearing in of the new Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed and you have a potent toxic mix affecting race and religious relations within Malaysia.

Looming spectre

This wouldn’t appear to be all however, as we must also factor in the voice of prominent leftists outside the new coalition seeking to influence the new government towards an anti-constitutional direction, such as the recent call by secular group BEBAS’ Boo Su-Lyn for the review of pro-Bumiputra economic policies and government procurement as well as the promotion of secularism in defiance of Articles 153 (on the special position of Malays) and 3 (on Islam) of our Constitution.

Add this to humanist Farouk A. Peru’s recent lamentation that our race-based policies and religious institutions still exist, his branding of Jakim as unnecessary and call for secularisation then, we have cause for concern that an imminent threat hangs over the very existence of Islam in the public sphere.

The looming spectre of this threat must be immediately addressed with the dissemination of constitutional knowledge amongst the Malaysian populace before things get out of hand. Otherwise, our apex law could be at stake.

Defend the constitution

While the right of secular humanists such as those mentioned above to their own views must be respected, it must be made clear that personally held ideologies such as secularism have no place within our constitutional scheme. Neither does liberalism, humanism nor even conservatism for that matter.

The underlying basis for Malaysia, unlike other countries, is not tied to leftist ideologies such as socialism, secularism or anything similar. It is based upon Islam as practised by historically independent Malay Muslim Sultanates that make up the composition of the majority of the states within our federation.

The realisation of this and due cognition of our collective history must remain paramount within all Malaysian minds. All governments, whatever their political affiliation, must abide by what is reflected by our Constitution.

Only the full embrace and defence by all Malaysians of our constitutional provisions as they are will ensure our continued existence as a harmonious and prosperous society. I therefore invite all regardless of race or religion to defend our sacred constitutional provisions as they are, without any reference to any particular ideology or philosophical school of thought whatsoever.

*Faidhur Rahman Abdul Hadi is a lawyer and a member of Young Professionals (YP), a non-governmental organisation formed for the purpose of defending the supremacy of constitutional ideals in the determination of public affairs. Views are of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position of Menara.my in a particular issue.*

 

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