Opposition MPs slam Najib’s unilateral conversion excuse

(FMT) – “So, if the ban was not unconstitutional then, how could it be unconstitutional now?”

The government should stop giving false excuses and admit that it has no political will to push for a ban on unilateral child conversion, says DAP vice-chairman M Kulasegaran.

The Ipoh Barat MP criticised Prime Minister Najib Razak for saying that a ban on unilateral child conversion would require a two-thirds majority vote in the Dewan Rakyat to change the Federal Constitution.

He said in 2009, the government had announced a framework on the conversion of young children.

“So, if the ban was not unconstitutional then, how could it be unconstitutional now?” he said.

He said back then, the framework for the relevant legislation meant that if one parent converts, the child’s religion remains status quo.

“In 2017, after eight years, the Barisan Nasional (BN) government is now contradicting itself.

“The government is behaving this way because some Muslim religious quarters have expressed their opposition to the ban, so they cannot counteract it as it is a sensitive issue.

“It is an eyewash, an excuse to pacify those who are against this amendment, and to postpone the legitimate rights of minorities,” Kulasegaran told FMT.

Najib’s comments had come on the back of a request by a non-governmental organisation, who had asked during a TN50 dialogue for women held last night for Section 88A(1) of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act (LRA) 2016 to be tabled in the next Parliament sitting.

Section 88A(1) specifically states that if a parent converts to Islam, the religion of the children remains the same as when the couple were married, unless both parents agree to the conversion of their children.

However, the bill was withdrawn after the government said Section 88A(1) might go against the spirit of the Federal Constitution. Other amendments to the LRA were however passed, including a provision for the convert spouse to be brought to civil court on other family matters.

Kulasegaran also said that before 2002, the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka had interpreted the Federal Constitution and translated the term “parent” to read as “ibu dan bapa”.

He claimed that “little Napoleons” in 2007 had then hijacked the process and translated “parent” to read as “ibu atau bapa”.

“Instead of addressing all these, they are looking at it as an issue that would need a constitutional amendment.

“If the government was serious, it could have gotten all stakeholders involved in this, including the MPs on both sides of the political divide, to get a common consensus to amend the Federal Constitution if the two-thirds majority was the only obstacle.

“It is using this as a pawn and to seek leverage in the whole issue to get an undue advantage in the next general election (GE14),” he said.

Do all BN MPs back unilateral conversion?

Meanwhile, Parti Warisan Sabah deputy president Darell Leiking rubbished Najib’s remarks on the two-thirds majority vote, saying an amendment to the unilateral conversion act would already get such a majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

“Najib’s remarks implied that all BN MPs were 100% agreeable to the amendments.

“So, this means that BN does not need a two-thirds majority in Parliament in GE14, and just has to table Section 88A(1) for the LRA in the next sitting, as a vast majority in the opposition would also support the amendment,” he told FMT.

Referring to the Dewan Rakyat composition, Leiking said since BN had 122 MPs, it would only need the support of 26 opposition MPs to get the two-thirds majority.

“The 36 DAP MPs alone, along with PKR and Warisan MPs, can indeed secure the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Federal Constitution to resolve the outstanding unilateral conversion issue.

“So all Najib needs to do is to challenge the opposition to support the amendment. I am certain the amendments, if tabled during this coming budget sitting this October, will be passed successfully.”

He added that to his knowledge, only PAS was against the amendment.

Leiking, who is Penampang MP, said if opposition MPs didn’t support BN in helping it get the two-thirds majority vote to amend the constitution, the people would punish them at GE14.

“So there is no reason why Najib shouldn’t challenge the opposition to bring an end to unilateral conversion. He can and should push for this at the next parliamentary sitting next month.”

Zaid Ibrahim, too, weighed in on Najib’s comment, calling it the “joke of the year”.

He said Najib simply wanted a two-thirds majority for BN, and not a ban on unilateral conversion.

“If he had pushed for the passing of the recent Clause 88 of the LRA then, there is some reason to believe him.

“If he had approached the opposition bench and sought bipartisan support to amend the constitution, then we would have reason to believe him.

“He did no such thing since the problem started in 2007. This is another political ploy ahead of GE14, nothing more,” Zaid said.