The Malaysian Bar is dismayed at the suggestion that the Federal Constitution should be amended to ensure that only Malay-Muslims may be appointed as the prime minister of Malaysia.
What is more perplexing, if not perturbing, is the suggestion that it is the “understanding” in the social contract among Malaysians that the Malays are “expected” to always lead in politics.
The Malaysian Bar – coming from the perspective of an interpretation of the Constitution, as well as against the backdrop of all lawyers practising in the peninsula, with members coming from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities – firmly believes that such a short-sighted suggestion by certain quarters could not be further from the truth in terms of what Malaysia needs to boost the rule of law.
The topic of multiculturalism in Malaysia continues to be a hot button issue; it is a path well-trodden, having been discussed in every conceivable form of media – to the point that Malaysians have become accustomed to hearing the same arguments, resulting in lethargy and desensitisation from overexposure to such divisive arguments.
The Malaysian Bar notes that the rehashing and rephrasing of these arguments due to ill-conceived statements made by irresponsible parties only serve to stir up the hornets’ nest for their own political ends as they have made no effort to verify their statements against the provisions under the Constitution.
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The Malaysian Bar asserts that the citizens of Malaysia must pull itself out of this quagmire. The social contract that binds all Malaysians is the recognition that all Malaysians are equal under the law – regardless of race, religion, descent, place of birth or gender. This is premised on Article 8 of the Constitution, which, as one of the fundamental liberties, has a special place as a central pillar of the Constitution and forms the basic structure of our Constitution.
Article 4 of the Constitution provides for the supremacy of the Constitution. Apart from Article 4, the Rukun Negara calls for, among others, constitutional supremacy (keluhuran perlembagaan).
When read together with the equality provision under Article 8 that supports multiculturalism, these concepts are part and parcel of the Malaysian identity.
Any purported suggestion that only a certain race should be allowed to take on the mantle of prime minister of Malaysia by operation of law, regardless of competency and merit, betrays a fundamental tenet of the Constitution and amounts to defacing the Malaysian identity.
There is nothing in the Constitution that supports such calls to distinguish between races – and in light of the Reid Commission report at the time the Constitution was constructed, it is clear that multiracialism in Malaysia was taken into account and thus formed the basic structure of our Constitution (as recognised in the cases of Semenyih Jaya and Dhinesh Tanaphll).
The principles enshrined in the Constitution were deliberated extensively by the Reid Commission in meetings held between June and October 1956. In its report, the Reid Commission made special mention of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s submission that all nationals should be accorded equal rights, privileges and opportunities and that there must not be discrimination on the grounds of race and creed.
Even Article 153 of the Constitution entrusts the Yang di-Pertuan Agong with the responsibility of safeguarding the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities.
Nothing in the Constitution supports the notion that any one race stands supreme over others where the appointment of the Malaysian prime minister is concerned.
Any attempt to enact laws contrary to Part II of the Constitution, including Article 8, should be struck down and deemed unconstitutional under the basic structure doctrine.
Calls to purportedly mandate the exclusive right of Malay Muslims to assume the role of the prime minister of Malaysia should be seen as anathema to the tenets of the Constitution and a disgrace to the memory of the founders of Malaysia.
Such calls, if made a reality, will only serve to erode multiculturalism in Malaysia by displacing other races as “second-class citizens”, unfit to serve their beloved tanah air (homeland).
Multiculturalism in Malaysia is not only a social reality, but a legal reality as well, being enshrined as a central pillar of our Constitution. It is a reality that makes us Malaysians, which we all should always strive to strengthen and protect.
Such calls, if not rejected, will invariably lead our nation down the slippery slope of ignominy and, if left unchecked, towards complete apartheid.
Karen Cheah Yee Lynn is president of the Malaysian Bar
This piece is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only.