A deputy minister recently took the position that state laws on religious conversions should be respected – apparently regardless of what the Malaysian Federal Constitution states.
If a person on the street had uttered this, it would have been understandable. But for a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department to be unaware of the principles of our democratic model is utterly unbelievable and unacceptable.
Maybe I was in a deep slumber like Rip Van Winkle and have just woken up to the post- pandemic world to find out that our country’s way of governance has changed.
If what the deputy minister said is true, then the Federal Constitution is not the supreme law of the land anymore, and so we have leaders apparently suggesting that state laws should reign supreme along with Sharia laws.
Have we become something of a unitary government where the federal government has delegated authority to the respective states and channels policy decisions down to them for implementation?
The late Karpal Singh once famously said people should not fool around with the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of the land.
But if we survey the current political imbroglio, a proverb comes to mind: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
A word of general advice: it’s perhaps best for one to keep quiet rather than to speak and confirm to all that there is no grey matter between one’s ears.
From what I learnt in law school, there is something called the basic structure of government that should not be tampered with or dismantled under any circumstances, no matter who or which party is in power.
Only in extreme situations such as a military power grab or a coup could the basic structure of government collapse overnight without the consent of Parliament.
A landmark Federal Court case decision in 2018 is binding, and all Malaysian state laws are subservient to the ruling. The ratio decidendi in the Indira Gandhi cases judgment highlights the illegality of the conversion of minors without the consent of both parents. This decision has set a precedent for all future cases.
Therefore, any law – be it state or municipality by-law – that contradicts the Malaysian Federal Constitution shall be null and void.
Vijay Shanmugam is an Aliran reader based in Taiping
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