The Malaysian Bar is shocked by the recent controversial statement made by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who claims it is unconstitutional to promote a multi-racial Malaysia.
This is not the first time the former PM has attempted to recklessly stir the hornet’s nest when touching on the issue of multi-racialism in our country.
The Malaysian Bar views such assertions by the former PM to be highly irresponsible and deeply disheartening, as it serves no other purpose than to incite racial sentiments among the populace. Such statements are divisive and ultimately breed bigotry and bias and are wholly unacceptable to the Malaysian Bar.
It is unfortunately not uncommon for politicians to stir up racial and religious rhetoric for political and self-serving reasons. Such rhetoric is dangerous and history is replete with examples where, if left unchecked, this can result in persecution.
The Malaysian Bar continues to emphasise that there is no such thing as “others” or “outsiders” in the Federal Constitution. The fanning of hateful sentiments by the former PM incites hostility towards groups unreasonably deemed as outsiders or others, of which there is absolutely no basis.
The former PM unjustifiably referred to the rule of law in order to support his vitriolic statement. The former PM’s statement makes a mockery of the cherished principle of the rule of law. The rule of law means a set of principles and ideals for ensuring an orderly and just society.
As such, this phrase should not to be used wantonly, and more so, with the ill intention of misleading the public. When the phrase “rule of law” is deliberately misused and linked to the Constitution without basis for a political agenda, it is a travesty and a complete disservice to the Constitution and to our country.
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The Constitution of Malaysia enshrines the rights of citizens to practise religions other than Islam, in peace and harmony; and while Islam is declared as the religion of the nation, there is no restriction under the supreme law of our land for others to profess and practise their respective faiths. Mutual respect and holding each of us to that value has carried and held us together since the Constitution was put in place by the framers of the Constitution, having considered the diversity of our nation.
The fabric of the Constitution is based on multi-racial aspirations. Whilst some attempts have been made to derail the true narrative of the Constitution, it has rarely been used so blatantly that it would result in the regression of all that we have achieved thus far.
It is therefore timely yet again for the Malaysian Bar to reiterate its call for the enactment of the national harmony bills. We have consistently advocated the enactment of national harmony laws to promote unity, integration and interfaith harmony in our country. In order to achieve the balance of upholding freedom of speech while maintaining public security, the Malaysian Bar has proposed three bills to replace the Sedition Act 1948 — namely the racial and religious hate crimes bill, the national harmony and reconciliation bill, and the national harmony and reconciliation commission bill.
The objective of the racial and religious hate crimes bill is to promote and preserve national harmony by making it a criminal offence to incite racial and religious hatred.
The national harmony and reconciliation bill seeks to capture the rights entrenched in Article 8 of the Federal Constitution – that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law. The bill is to prevent unfair discrimination of persons based on race, religion, gender and other distinguishing characteristics, and it imposes an obligation on the government and all persons to promote equality.
Finally, we have also proposed the national harmony and reconciliation commission bill, which is tasked, among others, to promote awareness, educate and make recommendations to the government for the purpose of national unity. The bill would also empower the commission to constitute an unfair discrimination tribunal to inquire into complaints of unfair discrimination.
The commission – consisting of commissioners from various racial, religious and political backgrounds – would play a key function in being a coordination point between the government, civil society organisations and various stakeholders to engage in a more robust discussion about national integration. The commission would also be empowered to investigate claims of unfair discrimination, and could constitute a tribunal to compel witnesses to come forward, as well as receive evidence in inquiries.
Malaysia is made up of diverse races and faiths, and instead of politicians resorting to hateful speech and hurling accusatory remarks to score political points, more efforts should be channelled towards promoting constructive debate and dialogue between the various groups to foster greater open-mindedness and to embrace our diversity, and recognise that that is what strengthens the nation.
We ought to be proud of our uniqueness as a multicultural society, and we urge our “unity government” to thoroughly consider these proposed bills to ensure that a culture of acceptance is cultivated among the rakyat.
Constitutional values and aspirations of the country need to be internalised for the greater good of all, not by selective and misleading interpretation of the Constitution for political reasons and self-interest.
Karen Cheah Yee Lynn is president of the Malaysian Bar
This piece is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only.