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Restoring the 1957 Merdeka Constitution to forge one Negara Malaysia, Bangsa Malaysia with pelbagai agama or diverse religions


Speech during the DAP Puchong 14 miles Branch 40th Anniversary Dinner 

by Lim Guan Eng


(Puchong, Sunday): DAP’s nation building vision revolves around putting Malaysians First by establishing negara bangsa dan agama as the prime vehicle of national unity. This contrasts with BN’s BN practice of stressing on race first and the nation last in their slogan “bangsa, agama dan negara”.

The recent inflammatory speeches at the UMNO General Assembly threatening racial hatred and violence against non-Malays and their property as well as the attempt by Majlis Agama Islam Selangor to claim the body of a Catholic man for Islamic burial has distressed moderate Malaysians. There is a need to step back from this racial and religious abyss created by the BN government by reminding ourselves of the 1957 social contract that gave us Merdeka and restore the Merdeka Constitution that respects the rights of minorities, make Bangsa Malaysia and a multi-religious society a part of national policy.

Malaysians who love our country must be prepared to stand up for our rights if we want Malaysia to become more prosperous, more caring, and fairer to all. The time has come to look not from a religious and racial perspective but from a Malaysian identity.

The 1957 Merdeka Constitution did discriminate Malaysians into bumis and non-bumis, which effectively divided Malaysians into first and second-class citizens. Nothing was mentioned about racial dominance or ketuanan Melayu which UMNO has made a part of national policy. Instead equality before the law was a constitutional right under Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.

However all that changed when Article 8 was either ignored or its constitutional effect amended away by BN MPs until many Malaysians who are fifth generation Malaysians are still considered non-bumis. For instance, Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Mohd Khir Toyo’s father was an Indonesian from Jawa whilst his mother a Malaysian citizen. However Mohd Khir is now a bumiputera superior to all Malays whose grandparents were born in Malaysia. Is this fair and just?

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad defined it succinctly in an Asiaweek’s 6/10/1995 issue as "people being able to identify themselves with the country, speak Bahasa Malaysia and accept the Constitution”. This definition of Bangsa Malaysia similar to DAP’s Malaysian Malaysia, with no race as the pivotal race over other races have been accepted by most Malaysians.

Only Bangsa Malaysia can unite Malaysians to take on the world

Deputy UMNO President Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on 17 November 2006 overturned what was national policy for over 10 years when he said that “Bangsa Malaysia” was not part of national policy but only a general concept. Malaysians must not allow UMNO to continue to divide us but must stand up together to loudly and clearly oppose the language of racial division hatred and violence in the UMNO General Assembly.

If Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi wants all Malaysians to unite to take on the world, then he must restore Bangsa Malaysia as part of national policy. Further, the 1957 social contract giving rise to Merdeka must be restored to change the present emphasis of bangsa, agama negara to negara, bangsa dan agama based on Malaysia, Malaysian Race and a multi-religious society. No other country would put race and religion above the nation. The nation must always come first. Only then can we attain genuine national unity and identity based on one common vision, interest and community.

The failure to respect the secular basis of the 1957 Merdeka Constitution and the social contract was highlighted by the constitutional amendment of Article 121(1A) in 1988 and former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed unilateral declaration that Malaysia was an Islamic state on September 29, 2001. The ramifications of this constitutional amendment and Islamic state declaration was clearly demonstrated in the dispute over the right to bury according to Muslim or Hindu rites in the M. Moorthy’s and A.Rayappan’s case.

The civil High Court in deciding that only the Syariah Court had a right to decide his religion, non-Muslims were shocked to be told that in cases involving a Muslim, a non-Muslim has no legal remedy nor a right to be heard. Whereas Article 8 of the Federal Constitution provides for freedom of religion, Article 121(A) effectively locks non-Muslims out of the Syariah Court and prevents them from pursuing their rights through the Islamic legal system.

I wish to commend DAP’s lawyers for their courage and perseverance, especially Sdr A. Sivanesan and M Manoharan for succeeding in Rayappan’s case. This case was conducted with the full backing of the DAP leadership in line with DAP’s stand that only if both parties are Muslim or their Islamic faith is not in dispute, the syariah courts has full authority.

However if one of the parties is a non-Muslim then the civil courts should decide. Natural justice demands that every citizen should have a right of legal representation in court. Non-Muslims have a right to refuse to submit to the Syariah courts as non-Muslims and it is also unlikely that they would enjoy full legal representation.

This clearly goes against the social contract and the original 1957 Merdeka Constitution which allowed for such disputes to be decided by civil courts. DAP calls for a full restoration of the 1957 social contract and the Merdeka Constitution that gave birth to a nation based on a shared sense of values of a secular democracy and justice for all Malaysians.


* Lim Guan Eng,  Secretary-General of DAP

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