Allow conscience vote on constitutional amendments over citizenship

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Project Stability and Accountability for Malaysia (Projek Sama) urges the “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government and the official opposition Perikatan Nasional to allow a ‘conscience’ vote on the proposed regressive constitutional amendments over citizenship that will remove the constitutional right to citizenship for many vulnerable groups.

The late Karpal Singh, a principled parliamentarian whom Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim highly respected, might then be proud of this government.

While the government has said it intends to finally deliver on its promise to grant equal rights to Malaysian mothers to confer citizenship to their overseas-born children, the home minister has also stated his intention to bundle together the regressive amendments.

Commendably, Karpal Singh’s son Ramkarpal Singh, the former deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for law and institutional reform, has been consistent in objecting to the regressive amendments, in line with Pakatan Harapan’s commitment to human rights.

Projek Sama wishes that another of his sons, Digital Minister Gobind Singh, can persuade the cabinet to see the wisdom in allowing government MPs – including ministers and deputy ministers – to vote based on their conscience.

This position was actually made by Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli on 18 December 2022.

Projek Sama underlines that the Federal Constitution is too important to be subject to hurried amendments on matters concerning citizenship, without the backing of any white paper to present facts and figures to justify these amendments – especially when the home minister’s poor defence of the regressive amendments has been roundly refuted by stakeholders.

READ MORE:  Halt and review regressive citizenship law amendments

Note that the regressive amendments are not part of the election manifesto of any of the coalitions and parties in the “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government.

So there is no political or moral basis for the government parties to impose their current position on their MPs when the issues are under-deliberated.

Allowing a conscience vote – such that MP can vote according to their conscience, ie parties will not impose their positions on MPs through the party whip – is the best solution to balance the commitments of the government and its MPs.

In this way, the government can proceed to notionally table the bill, and if Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and (or) Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail have committed to do so for whatever reasons best known to them, then they can be seen as having fulfilled their commitment.

Should the amendments fail pass, the government’s political strength remains intact. This is how governments in the UK and other established parliamentary democracies deal with political hot potatoes.

Not allowing a conscience vote can cause conscience-driven parliamentarians in the DAP and Amanah who vote against the amendments to be declared by their respective parties as having ‘ceased to be a party member’ under their respective party constitutions, which would in turn cause their parliamentary seat to be vacated under Article 49A of the Federal Constitution, popularly known as the “anti-hopping law”.

Whether driven by religious or humanitarian convictions, some parliamentarians simply cannot bring themselves to vote for the regressive constitutional amendments, which they know by their convictions would cause heart-wrenching misery to tens of thousands of foundlings in years to come.

READ MORE:  Risk of citizenship amendments harming rightful Malaysians

If they are therefore automatically removed from their party and Parliament, the anti-hopping law will be rendered a draconian law, which is against the noble intentions behind its enactment. More disastrously, the government will face unnecessary tests in any by-elections that ensue, when it should instead be focused on fixing the economy.

Projek Sama reminds the Madani government that imposing the party whip on its parliamentarians does not guarantee the passage of any bill, because human plans may be thwarted by events beyond human control. Providence may work in mysterious ways.

As the government has only five seats (inclusive the six Bersatu defectors) beyond the two-thirds majority, any medical or other emergency affecting six or more MPs – from food poisoning to flu – can cause the government to lose the bill.

If that happens, its political authority will be eroded, as what happened to the earlier Pakatan Harapan government’s defeat on the Article 2 amendment in 2019.

A conscience vote is therefore the best option for the Madani government if it wants to balance the interests of various sectors and avoid the risk of a constitutional bill defeat.

To set an example for the Madani government, we call upon the opposition leader, Hamzah Zainuddin, and the Perikatan Nasional leadership to announce its [willing to allow] a conscience vote for its MPs. – Projek Sama

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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