Keng Yaik,  Liong Sik and George Chan  should explain why they had jettisoned the 44-year fundamental constitutional principle and cornerstone that  Malaysia is  a  secular nation without any public consultation or consent

- opening of the  Penang DAP 2001  State Convention
Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Sunday)The September 11 barbaric terrorist mass murders in New York and Washington have left an indelible mark not only in American and global politics but in Malaysian politics as well.

We see in the United States how the general revulsion at the carnage and fears of terrorism had been cynically exploited by opportunists of all stripes, whether resulting in new  massive  government outlays for armaments, draconian pressures to  restrict civil liberties of American citizens, pressures for new harsher laws to further harass millions of undocumented immigrants or  even  a call for an international crackdown on counterfeit T-shirts. Last week, a trade lawyer in Washington D.C. probably bagged the title as the biggest political opportunist since the Sept. 11 atrocities when she wrote an article in the Washington Post headlined “From T-shirts to terrorism: That fake Nike swoosh may be helping fund bin Laden’s network” in her campaign  on behalf of America’s single largest export -  copyright (music, movies, logos, seed patents, software, etc) -  where the message is unambiguous:  Enforce Trips (trade-related intellectual property rights) in next month’s World Trade Organisation meeting in Qatar, or you are with the terrorists.

Malaysia has also our share  of such opportunists exploiting the terrorist horrors of Sept. 11 for their selfish and devious ends.  In the recent Sarawak state general elections, the SUPP’s “secret weapon” against the DAP was the campaign of fear, plumbing the deepest fears of the people with  pamphlets full of pictures of the  towering inferno and collapse of the New York World Trade Centre, which killed some 6,000 innocent civilians,  with inflammatory and seditious slogans about terrorism, Islamic jihad and riots,  as good as suggesting that the Sarawakians either vote for Barisan Nasional or the New York horrors would be brought to the state.

The Sept. 11 terrorist holocausts have  also been used to justify human rights violations in Malaysia, whether the clampdown on political ceramahs by the Opposition or the arbitrary use of detention-without-trial laws.

They may also be responsible for creating  the conducive conditions  for one of the most shocking political developments  in the nation’s history.

I refer to the declaration  by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the Gerakan national delegates’ conference  the previous Saturday (29th September 2001) that Malaysia is an Islamic state under UMNO rule and the categorical and unreserved endorsement of Mahathir’s declaration by the leaders of the other  Barisan Nasional leaders at the Barisan Nasional supreme council  emergency meeting a week later last  Friday (5th October 2001).

A week before Mahathir’s announcement at the Gerakan conference, Gerakan and MCA leaders, in particular the Gerakan President Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, had campaigned feverishly in the Sarawak state general elections urging the voters to reject the Opposition parties by alleging that  they supported an Islamic State.

Yet, immediately after the Sarawak state general elections, Keng Yaik and other Barisan Nasional leaders could make a complete turnaround to  support an Islamic state, albeit ala-UMNO,  a concept which they had until then denounced without qualification!  Where are  their  political principles, consistency,  integrity and trustworthiness?
Keng Yaik,  the MCA President, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik  and the SUPP President, Datuk Dr. George Chan should explain why they had committed Gerakan,  MCA and SUPP to abandoning the 44-year fundamental constitutional principle since Merdeka in 1957  that  Malaysia is  a  secular nation when they fully endorsed Mahathir’s declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic State, without any popular consultation, public  feedback or even  seeking the full consent and mandate from their respective party central committees and congresses!

As veteran political leaders, Keng Yaik, Liong Sik and George Chan cannot be unaware that  the fundamental constitutional principle that Malaysia is a secular nation has been upheld by the highest court in  the land in  Che Omar bin Che Soh vs Public Prosecutor (1988).

Delivering the  judgment of a five-man  Federal Court panel, the then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas held that the Constitution and the legal system are “secular” and held that the meaning of the expression “Islam” or “Islamic religion” in Article 3 “means only such acts as relate to rituals and ceremonies”.

He said  that “There can be no doubt that Islam is not just a mere collection of dogmas and rituals but it is a complete way of life covering all fields of human activities, may they be private or public, legal, political, economic, social, cultural, moral or judicial” but rejected  the contention that  the  terms “Islam” or “Islamic religion” in Article 3 is “an all-embracing concept, as is normally understood, which consists not only the ritualistic aspect but also a comprehensive system of life, including its jurisprudence and moral standard” as  this was not the meaning intended by the framers of the Constitution.

Salleh Abas’ judgment that Malaysia was a secular nation was in keeping with the interpretation of his predecessor, the late Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim who  in 1962 defined  the scope of Islam in the constitution as being primarily for ceremonial purposes, such as the permission for prayers to be offered in the Islamic way on official public occasions such as the installation of the Yang di Pertuan Agong, his birthday, Merdeka Day and other occasions.

Furthermore, the Reid Constitution Commission Report 1957,  which recommended the form of constitution we should have, stated that there was “universal agreement” that “any statement in the Constitution to the effect that Islam should be the State religion… would not  in any way affect the civil rights of non-Muslims”.

It stated:

“In the memorandum submitted by the Alliance it was stated 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 religions and shall not imply that the State is not a secular state.”

Bapa Malaysia and the nation’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman confirmed this and declared in the Legislative Council during the debate on the Federation Constitution proposals in 1958:

 “I would like to make it clear that this country is not an Islamic State as it is generally understood; we merely provide that Islam shall be the official religion of the State.”

The position of the constitutional cornerstone that  Malaysia is a secular and not a Islamic state was further reinforced in the negotiations for  the formation of Malaysia in 1963, as Sabahans and Sarawakians were assured that Article 3 of the Constitution  "does not imply that Malaysia is not a secular state."

In view of such historical, political, legal and constitutional antecedents, it is most shocking that Keng Yaik, Liong Sik and George Chan could so summarily, unilaterally and irresponsibily agree to surrender a cornerstone of the Constitution providing for a secular nation in a short emergency meeting of the Barisan Nasional supreme council, without deep thought or the fullest party consultation or public feedback.

In the past two years, when attacking and distorting DAP’s role and co-operation with PAS  in the Barisan Alternative,  Keng Yaik, Liong Sik and George Chan had categorically rejected an Islamic State for Malaysia.   How could they justify their unprincipled volte-face?

Surely, they should be aware that whether Malaysia is a secular or Islamic state is not up to the declaration of one person, even though he is the Prime Minister, but based on the history and articles in the Constitution - as Malaysia has not reached the stage where the Prime Minister can on his own amend the Constitution and change the law!

It has been claimed that  Malaysia is an Islamic state based on the opinion of ulama of the past who had clarified what constituted an Islamic country.  It has not been stated as to who are these ulamas, but in any event, no ulamas whether past or present, local or foreign, can usurp the role of the Malaysian Parliament to determine  the true nature and character of the Malaysian Constitution.

The claim that Malaysia is an Islamic state because it is a member of the  Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) is also untenable, as surely, it is not suggested that there are currently  56 Islamic States in the world in keeping with the membership of the OIC!  Does the Malaysian government recognise countries like Iraq, Indonesia, Uganda and Libya as Islamic states just because of their membership in OIC?

Most important of all, whether Malaysia is an Islamic state must be decided not just by UMNO or PAS, but by all political parties and  Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or party affiliation - or this will be a grave  infringement of the basic citizenship rights of non-Muslim Malaysians!

In  the past few days, the MCA leadership has been trying to justify Liong Sik’s support for Mahathir’s declaration that Malaysia is already an Islamic state under UMNO rule and distinguish it from PAS’ Islamic State by claiming that Islamic state ala UMNO is a secular Islamic state.

Mahathir should explain whether UMNO endorses the MCA explanation, which would give another world’s first to Malaysia  - as no other country whether now or in the past 1,300 years had ever claimed to be a secular Islamic state, which is an oxymoron, a pure contradiction in terms.

Unless Mahathir renounces and dissociates from MCA’s claim that his objective is a  secular Islamic State,  one may have to assume that he is aiming for another world’s “first”  to establish  a secular Islamic state!

The most important question, however, is how Malaysians could entrust their future to  the Barisan Nasional leadership when a 44-year-old constitutional guarantee and cornerstone of Malaysia as a secular nation could be jettisoned so summarily, undemocratically and unceremoniously, without any public consultation or consent.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman