Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia exceeded his powers and functions as Speaker of Parliament when he passed judgment on the Malaysian Constitution ruling that Malaysia is not a secular state.
Can the Speaker of Parliament interpret the Constitution and make a Constitutional ruling which becomes an authority quoted by all and sundry as the law of the land?
Of course not, and to be fair to Pandikar, he is fully aware of this, which is why he qualified what he said in Parliament as only his interpretation “merely for the purposes of this House” and not an opinion to be “an authority” in the country.
However, such caveat by Pandikar will not prevent his “ruling” from being quoted by various quarters as an “authority” or even used by Ministers in future parliamentary meetings to justify their arbitrary, dubious and controversial stand that Malaysia is not a secular state.
Furthermore, it is not within the province of the powers and functions for a Speaker to give his interpretation or ruling on a “hot potato” issue as to whether Malaysia is (i) secular; (ii) not secular; or (iii) Islamic state.
Pandikar should have decided on the issue before him, whether to refer the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom to the Committee of Privileges without wading into this political minefield.
Pandikar referred to various sources to reach the conclusion that Islam is the official religion of the country and thus Malaysia is not a secular state.
Significantly, he failed to refer to the historic constitutional documents, in particular the Reid Commission Report 1957, the White Paper on the constitutional proposals 1957 and the Cobbold Commission Report 1962, which clearly provided for Malaysia to be a secular state with Islam as the religion of the federation.
The very example which Pandikar gave for his ruling that Malaysia is not a secular state is the very same example which the Reid Commission, the White Paper and the Cobbold Commission had given for declaring that Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as official religion.
To the proposal by the British members of the Cobbold Commission for specific provision be inserted on “complete religious freedom as to worship, education, and propagation, in the Borneo territories” to the non-Muslim communites, the Malayan members of the Cobbold Commission, Ghazalie Shafie and Wong Pow Nee gave the views that they “agreed that Islam should be the national religion for the Federation. We are satisfied that the proposal in no way jeopardizes freedom of religion in the Federation, which in effect would be secular.”
The position proposed by the Malayan members prevailed. This episode confirmed that the idea and proposition that the Federal Constitution was secular existed from the very first day of the formation of Malaya/Malaysia.
Article 3 (2) of the Constitution on “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation” was not a latter-day amendment but was in the original Merdeka and Malaysian Constitution all along.
It did not prevent the first three Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and the other founding leaders of Alliance, whether Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Tun Tan Siew Sin (MCA), Tun V. T. Sambanthan (MIC) from assuring the rakyat and the world that Malaysia is a secular state.
If Tunku is alive to say in Parliament that “the country has a multiracial population with various beliefs. Malaysia must continue with a secular state with Islam as the official religion” (as Tunku said in his 80th birthday celebrations on Feb. 8, 1983), or Tun Hussein is alive to fully support Tunku’s position and say “The nation can still be functional as a secular state with Islam as the official religion” as he did on Feb. 13, 1983, and if Pandikar is the Speaker of Parliament, would Pandikar tell Tunku and Tun Hussein that both were wrong and misguided?