Yesterday I said that Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia had 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.
This is because it is not the role or function of the Speaker of Parliament to interpret the Constitution and make a Constitutional ruling which becomes an authority quoted by all and sundry as the law of the land.
Although Pandikar has limited his interpretation to “merely for the purposes of this House” and not an opinion to be “an authority” in the country, there is no doubt that it would be quoted by various quarters as an “authority” both inside and outside Parliament to justify the arbitrary, dubious and controversial stand that Malaysia is not a secular state.
Another fatal defect in Pandikar’s ruling that Malaysia is not a secular state was his sole reliance on the explanation by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom and his failure to canvass all views in Parliament on the controversial subject, including those from non-UMNO Ministers and MPs from Barisan Nasional.
As the DAP MP for Bandar Kuching, Chong Chieng Jen had tried to point out in Parliament after Pandikar’s ruling yesterday, as far as Sarawak and Sabah were concerned with regard to the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Jamil was very wrong to say that Malaysia is not a secular state “berdasarkan kepada fakta sejarah yang menunjukkan bahawa Malaysia telah ditubuhkan berasaskan Kerajaan Islam Kesultanan Melayu dan Raja Raja Melayu merupakan Ketua Agama bagi negeri masing masing” – as both Sarawak and Sabah (and Singapore, which was a party to the Malaysia Agreement 1963) did not have a history of Malay Rulers.
For 44 years, from 1957 to 2001, no Federal Government had ever questioned Malaysia’s constitutional position as a secular state with Islam as the official religion of the Federation as provided in Article 3 of the Constitution, stipulating that other religions may be practised in peace and harmony.
In 1956, the Alliance party submitted a memorandum to the Reid Commission, which was responsible for drafting the Malayan constitution. The memorandum quoted:
“The religion of Malaya shall be Islam. The observance of this principle shall not impose any disability on non-Muslim nationals professing and practising their own religion and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state.”
The full text of the Memorandum was inserted into paragraph 169 of the Commission Report.
This suggestion was later carried forward in the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Proposals 1957 (White Paper), specifically quoting in paragraph 57:
“There has been included in the proposed Federal Constitution a declaration that Islam is the religion of the Federation. This will in no way affect the present position of the Federation as a secular State….”
The Cobbold Commission also made another similar quote in 1962:
“….we are agreed that Islam should be the national religion for the Federation. We are satisfied that the proposal in no way jeopardises freedom of religion in the Federation, which in effect would be secular.”
It is not for the Speaker of Parliament to contradict the position taken by nation’s founding fathers, in particular the first three Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein, the other Alliance founding leaders like Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Tun Tan Siew Sin, Tun V.T. Sambathan and the Sarawak and Sabah leaders who were signatories to the 1963 Malaysia Agreement that Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as official religion.
On Sept. 29, 2001, solely for political purposes, the then Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad made his new-fangled and arbitrary declaration on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia is a “Islamic nation”. Now Mahathir says that Malaysia is neither a secular state nor an Islamic state.
Neither Mahathir nor anyone could rewrite history and deny that Malaya and subsequently Malaysia were formed specifically as a secular state with Article 3 which states:
“Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.”
Pandikar should seriously consider what he could do to minimise if not to undo the damage his improper judgment as Parliament Speaker that Malaysia is not a secular state has done to the entire Malaysian nation-building process, in particular with regard to Sarawak and Sabah’s proper role in Malaysia 50 years after the Malaysia Agreement 1963.