Should the King invoke Article 130?

Hemananthani Sivanandam, The Sun Daily

The contentious debate about whether Malaysia is a secular or Islamic state has been raging on both sides of the political divide.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh recently proposed urging the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to invoke his powers under Article 130 of the Federal Constitution, to refer to the full bench of the Federal Court for an opinion as to whether Malaysia is a secular state or an Islamic state.

He argued that in the 1988 case of Che Omar Che Soh vs Public Prosecutor, the Supreme Court headed by then lord president Tun Salleh Abbas had clearly stated that the law in the country was secular.

However, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said in Parliament last month that Malaysia had never been endorsed or declared as a secular country.

He said according to the nation’s history, Malaysia was formed based on the Islamic government of the Malay Sultanate and the Malay rulers are the heads of religion in their respective states.

While some believe it is best to put an end to the issue, others feel it is best to just move on and leave the sensitive subject unexplored. Views put forward include:

Nazri Aziz

Tun Salleh’s (pronouncement) was obiter dicta (Latin for “something mentioned in passing) and it was not an issue put before the court to decide if the country is secular or Islamic.

He mentioned only in passing that Malaysia has secular laws. It is up to the King now.

Also, we don’t have to be one or the other. We are unique and we have gone this far without any problem.

Why do we have to follow one or the other? If we are not secular, must we be Islamic? No!

Monash University political science lecturer Prof Dr James Chin

Asking for a legal opinion by the King is frought with danger because the issue at stake is really not a constitutional issue, but a political question.

The best place to settle the debate is on the floor of the Parliament which can amend the constitution to say either way.

Karpal Singh

If the government feels that it is obiter dicta, and not the rationale for the decision, then it should get the King to refer the issue to the Federal Court for its opinion.

I don’t think it was obiter dicta, because the court in deciding whether Islamic or secular laws applied in the country, declared it was secular laws … which means we are not an Islamic state.

Even democracy is not mentioned in the constitution, but we should go on the overall manner in which it was drafted. Let the issue be decided once and for all by a full bench of the Federal Court.

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng

Karpal’s suggestion is apt as this issue has been politicised and has tremendous effect on the judiciary, administration and public policy.

In the interest of the nation, I think the King should invoke his powers to settle the matter, as he is above politics. His role is also providing positive moderation of the country.

Let the court decide and put an end to this instead of letting the politicians go around confusing the people.