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Next Constitution Amendment Bill should include a new amendment of Article 121(1B) to clearly restore to non-Muslim Malaysians the Merdeka “social contract” and their constitutional right not to be adversely affected by Syariah law and courts
(Ipoh, Saturday) : I have been informed that the Attorney-General’s Chambers have submitted to the Government a Constitution Amendment Bill, which is to be tabled to Parliament for passage next week or in the June/July meeting of Parliament from June 18 – July 10, 2007.
The next Constitution Amendment Bill should include a new amendment of Article 121(1B) to clearly restore to non-Muslim Malaysians the Merdeka “social contract” and their constitutional right not to be adversely affected by Syariah law and courts.
Last month, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) conducted a week-long special prayers to express their anxieties, concerns and fears over growing encroachments of religious freedoms and rights in plural Malaysia, although freedom of religion is entrenched in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution and the Constitution the supreme law of the land.
This is because the past two years have seen increasing incidence of disputes affecting the human, family, religious and citizenship rights of non-Muslim Malaysians, such as the Moorthy, Rayappan, Subashini, Marimuthu and Revathi cases.
The 1988 amendment of Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution was to provide to Muslims the constitutional protection for their rights to be adjudicated in syariah courts without detracting any rights from non-Muslims.
I have no doubt that if during the parliamentary debate in March 1988 on the Constitution Amendment Bill 1988 which enacted Article 121(1A), an MP had the foresight to ask whether the intention was to create injustices and family grief like the Moorthy, Rayappan and Subashini cases, or to erode and undermine the constitutional rights of non-Muslim Malaysians to seek legal redress in civil court rather than in syariah court, the answer would have been a clear “No” in both instances.
By enacting Article 121(1A), Parliament never intended to take away even one iota of the constitutional rights of non-Muslims to be fully adjudicated under civil law and not under syariah law.
Why then has the implementation of Article 121(1A) been allowed to create grave strain and stress to Malaysia’s plural society of diverse races and religions?
If there is uncertainty in the interpretation and implementation of Article 121(1A) as to create a situation never intended by Parliament, it is the duty of MPs to rectify it – in this case, by introducing a Article 121(1B) to make it clear that Article 121(1A) does not derogate from non-Muslim Malaysians any rights which they had enjoyed without challenge before the 1988 Constitution amendment.
When I raised this in Parliament last month, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Nazri Aziz said my arguments were valid but there was no way the Barisan Nasional government could agree because there was no way to convince and persuade Malays who constitute the majority of the electorate to support such a constitutional amendment.
Is this an acceptable reason why there should not be a new constitutional amendment of Article 121(1B) to explain clearly the implications of Article 121(1A) as affecting Muslims and not non-Muslims?
Can MCA, Gerakan, MIC and the other non-Muslim leaders in Barisan Nasional in Sabah and Sarawak accept such an argument?
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had asked MCA and Gerakan why there was a swing of Chinese voters to the Opposition in the Ijok by-election.
This is one example – that the Barisan Nasional government is indifferent to the increasing concerns, anxieties and fears of non-Muslim Malaysians about their religious rights and sensitivities as well as their human and family rights as illustrated by the Moorthy, Rayappan, Subashini, Marimuthu and Revathi cases and is not prepared to do what is right – by amending the Malaysian Constitution with a new Article 121(1B).
What we have is a sorry situation where MCA, Gerakan, MIC and the other non-Muslim leaders in Barisan Nasional know that a constitutional amendment in the form of Article 121(1B) is the proper and best solution to the problem, but they dare not stand up for what is right and good for the country whether in Cabinet or the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council.
How then are Malaysians to have confidence in MCA, Gerakan, MIC, SUPP, PBS, SAPP as well as Umno and Barisan Nasional leaders when they are not prepared to stand up for what is right and just by amending the Malaysian Constitution with a new Article 121(1B)?
I call on MCA, Gerakan, MIC and other non-Muslim Cabinet Ministers to ensure that the next Constitution Amendment Bill, when tabled in Parliament next week or next month, would also have a Article 121(1B) amendment.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman