Federal Constitution, Malaysia Agreement and the citizen

Darell Leiking

Darell Leiking, MM

There are those in this country who are tempting fate and isolating reason in order to benefit from potential discord rather than overcoming real problems engulfing the everyday Malaysian. If goodwill is in deficit in Malaysia presently, so is leadership.

This is not a violent country, and there is only one reason for it, its people love peace above any petty or substantive differences. Peace is non-negotiable to the Malaysian.

I rather if our leaders reminded themselves this before they lead everyone willing to follow them down dark alleys of hate.

I am from Sabah, the poorest state in the federation. I am one of the 25 MPs elected by the good people of my state to improve the lives of those in this eastern most state. The sun rises here first in this federation but the rays of wealth elude the average Sabahan. While the Sabahan tries to make his/her way through life along with his/her family and community those with eyes only for power try to shake our foundations in order to preserve their worth as saviours. They pick emotional foundations, which are core to our people.

They distract from real day-to-day, bread and butter issues so that their failures as leaders state-wide and nationally are ignored, and all that is talked about are these emotional discontents.

I want to confront their shortcomings.

So I’ll use the word of the day, religion.

For is it not religion the most convenient and controversial topics to manipulate to emphasise a presumed enmity among citizens?

I’ll offer another word, faith.

Mindful that religion and faith are similar but at times starkly different. I refuse to speak about religion in the specific, as it is always personal. The nation state has long presented itself as a platform for multicultural societies, many people with many religions living side by side in peace, by upholding the rule of law. The nation state intends to be a peaceful place for all citizens without exception. It does that by not discriminating people and the things they choose to believe in. I use the law to achieve that balance.

Since the law is the basis of that peace and prosperity, it is the rule of law I defend here.

Whether it is about the uttering of words in different languages or grabbing forcibly books from institutions, the parties involved may invariably disagree but they must respect the law. The fact many leaders speak of subsidiary issues before addressing the legal basis of the issues is alarming, and further more irresponsible.

While dialogues are imperative so that those parties can understand each others’ point of view and to accept that outcomes will be compromises not win, at the very start the rule of law cannot be disregarded.

Dialogue does not excuse the absence of enforcement of law and order.

From across the sea, we in Borneo, seek and ask the Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS) to return the Bibles they have taken from a premise not under their jurisdiction. Even the allegations last week of Christians and Jews working to undermine the Muslims are also another example of unsubstantiated claims by JAKIM.

These events unnecessarily create animosity, suspicion and to fuel mistrust between Malaysians. Unfortunately Prime Minister Najib Razak has offered no solution to the JAIS Bible confiscation or reprimanded JAKIM for their utterances.

This is not the first time this administration has been half-baked when it comes to Constitutional freedoms. Previously in 2009 the Najib Administration offered a 10-point solution to the escalating religious standoff. That has come to naught.

Today, the Prime Minister hands the role of arbitration to the states and abandons his own proposal. While there were glaring weaknesses in the 10-point solution, it was the Prime Minister’s and to now turn and say that each state should ultimately drive the issue and not his administration is cowardly. In the case of my State Sabah, it is now known that the Islamic Authorities have in fact issued a Fatwa in June 2003 to effect the same ban on non-muslims from using the “Kalimah Allah” and 31 other words. With this, it has become incumbent upon the Prime Minister (who has left it to each state to implement the 10 point solution) and the Chief Minister of Sabah to make this clear to all Sabahans once and for all, on whether we can or we cannot utilise the “Kalimah Allah” and the other related words.

Many others and I have championed the Malaysia Agreement 1963 all to which others naysayers have criticised me over as being Borneo Centric. I beg to differ as we are not! We respect the spirit and letter of the formation of Malaysia. Let me remind them that the Federation of Malaysia was jointly formed with the explicit recognition of the terms set out by Sabah and Sarawak. We in Sabah and Sarawak had expressly made it clear via the Inter Governmental Report and the respective 18/20 Points. These were made public and prior to formation. I hold up the Malaysia Agreement and its ancillary instruments besides the Federal Constitution, seeking clarification after clarification because these are the premises and documents / instruments my state and my country was formed and built upon.

Which is the same reason I ask now, the Government of the Day, not to overlook the absolute religious freedoms enshrined in the Federal Constitution and to defend them.

There are enactments in every state Islamic bodies, with the exception of Sarawak, stipulating limitations on acts by non-Muslims. These have steadily been incorporated over the last twenty years. It is plain to see how these inclusions demonstrably seek to restrain other communities presumably under the guise of protecting the Muslim population.

These are legislative overreach since these bodies were never mandated to affect Non-Muslims.

Those enactments should have been engaged by state legal bodies entrusted with justice for all Malaysians without exception. If they were found unconstitutional actions should have been initiated then.

The passivity of those appointed to defend all Malaysians has led us to these moments of inconsistencies.

The rule of law must ultimately be respected. All Malaysians find respect for others and themselves through the rule of law. There need not be a discussion to decide if ‘Molotov Cocktails’ are objectionable or for bodies to over-extend their jurisdiction and confiscate the properties of other legal entities.

Religion is, I state again personal, a choice of conscience.

The Bible removal and restriction on words to be used by all Malaysians are lamentable, and it marks the much more devastating issue that some individuals have the prerogative to impose their interpretation of the law without taking cognisance of the Federation of Malaysia and its Constitution, which allows without qualification nor exclusion its people the right to express their faith in any language they feel fit.

Communities need not justify religious practices and worship as long as they don’t break the law. Laws must be broken first, arguing there is a potential for the law to be circumvented is non-sequitor.

It cannot be that the argument is made that there are potential laws, which may be circumvented. That is not fair. Every person walking out of a hardware store with a hammer has the ability to bludgeon another but that is not a basis not to sell hammers to anyone or to sell them at all.

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet have to recognise the Federal Constitution. Countries should not have meetings to decide whether the Constitution matters. It is what it is!

What they have to do is to explain to those whose views are not in line with the Constitution where those lines are. If some need education then the Government cannot abrogate themselves of these duties simply because it is politically incompatible for them.

The lines are the same for all Malaysians. That is how this country was founded, on the Rule of Law and that is how we must be again or in our local lingo, Sekali Lagi!

* Darell Leiking is MP for Penampang and Sabah’s sole PKR Member of Parliament.