Proposed citizenship amendments: Green or white paper needed

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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Projek Sama calls for the “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government to produce and lay before Parliament a green paper and allow more deliberation on the proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution regarding citizenship.

However, if the government insists on a set of amendments, then it should be accompanied by a white paper that explains the government’s justification for such contentious amendments and furnishes facts, data and cases that guided its decision.

We call on all parliamentarians, especially government backbenchers and opposition MPs, to protect the Federal Constitution from rushed amendments. No one should be blind supporters of such amendments, nor should Parliament be a mere rubber stamp. It should play a vital role in policy formation, with transparency and meaningful deliberation in the lawmaking process, and that should be the new practice and norm under this government premised on institutional reform.

While part of the amendments is progressive – the granting of citizenship for children of Malaysian mothers born out of the country – the other amendments are arguably regressive as they have far-reaching implications for children born in Malaysia who will nevertheless be rendered stateless.

The issues have been in the limelight in the media with civil society groups, government backbenchers and the national human rights commission voicing real and serious concerns. Meanwhile, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail has cited “control” and “security concerns” as justification for the amendments.

In the debate, we note that the facts and data defending the government’s position have been released partially and in stages without presenting a full picture justifying the pressing need for such amendments. Not to mention, some data presented by the home minister has been heavily criticised, as it contrasts starkly with the experience of and the data collected by frontline activists, civil society groups and stateless individuals.

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It is disturbing that constitutional amendments affecting the lives and rights of many are handled in such a manner shrouded in secrecy. Minister’s assurances per se cannot buy society’s support, unless sufficient room is provided for non-government stakeholders to make an informed assessment of the merit and feasibility of the government proposal, its impact and implications for statelessness and society and its improvement and an alternative policy to address both government and stakeholders’ interests.

We understand that the Sabah State Government and many parliamentarians in Sabah are particularly concerned with the security implications of certain existing provisions. It appears that some quarters want to present these restricting amendments as a quick fix for “Project IC”.

If these amendments can indeed mitigate the consequences of Project IC, the government should simply present facts and figures to convince the public.

A rushed bill may be more damaging than just being a placebo, with unintended consequences including denying citizenship to some stateless natives in Sabah and Sarawak and causing grave cruelty to abandoned babies nationwide – in direct contradiction to the value of “compassion” (ehsan) in Madani.

If the government is confident of its solution, it should not fear presenting a green or white paper before tabling the bill. Tabling the bill for first reading in this sitting and for debate and a vote in the next sitting will not protect the government’s credibility if the bill has to be withdrawn because of a backlash.

If MPs can’t bring themselves to oppose the bill, then they must not be part of the yes vote. This is a justified occasion for backbench disobedience.

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Taking into account [ast experiences, the government should aim to forge a cross-party consensus through a parliamentary select committee to support this amendment, similar to what happened with the ‘Undi 18’ [reducing the minimum voting age from 21 to 18] and anti-hopping amendments (to curb cross-party defections].

We wish to remind the government that if this constitutional amendment fails, similar to how the first Pakatan Harapan government failed to amend Article 2(1) of the Federal Constitution in 2019 despite its benign intention, the government’s authority would be damaged, and such damage would be self-inflicted.

It is high time we modernise the legislative process to allow more transparent, substantive deliberation and public participation in the law-making process.

The mindset of “the government knows it all” must change. – 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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