Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Star: The citizen and the Constitution by Shaila Koshy

MyConsti_logo The MyConstitution campaign is to simplify the Constitution for all Malaysians, yet the only group to question the motive of this public service is a group of young graduates who formed a 1Malaysia club.

THERE’S a story former Lord President Tun Suffian Hashim liked to tell in relation to the Federal Constitution.

A law professor from the United States went to a famous bookstore in Kuala Lumpur to get a copy of the Constitution after having attended a lecture on it here.

He spent an awful long time searching; he even found some commentaries on it but not a single copy of the actual book was to be found.

The professor heads off to the chap at customer service: “Can you help me? I’ve been looking for the Constitution of Malaysia. I’ve searched under Statutes in the books section but I can’t find a copy.”

“Ah, that’s where you made your mistake sir,” the man tells the professor, “the Constitution has been amended so many times we now shelf it under Periodicals.”

It was funny when I heard it in 1990 and yet, not very funny too, taking into account some of the amendments that Parliament had made in the 1980s and would continue to make in the years to come.

You’d think a federal Constitution should be difficult to amend, that there should be some safeguards.

In 230 years of the constitutional history of the United States, less than 30 amendments have met the strict requirements of the amending process. In contrast, the Malaysian Constitution has been amended more than 40 times since Malaya obtained independence on Aug 31, 1957, that is, 53 years ago.

I’m sharing these oft-quoted facts here for the benefit of the 1Malaysia Graduates Youth Club in Serdang.

In a statement dated Sept 5, the club said they had lodged a police report against the Bar Council earlier that day for its MyConstitution campaign and distribution of the accompanying Rakyat Guide (RG) booklets that describe the Constitution in simple, layman terms.

Its secretary-general Ezaruddin Abd Rahman said they were concerned the RGs that were being distributed to the public and available over the Internet ( touched on ways to amend the Constitution.

He was right when he said that the booklets entitled “MyConstitution” reveal a citizen’s rights (Articles 5-13), and somewhat right when he said the Constitution could be amended if one elected Members of Parliament who could enable amendments (because Article 159 states you would still need two-thirds of the total number of MPs).

But he lost me when he leaped from there to the RGs inciting hatred and feelings of being “anti” the Constitution and rejecting it as being irrelevant today. And the allegation of seditious tendency – I’m still waiting for the lightbulb moment.

If anyone took the time to read the booklets or attend the campaign forums and workshops, he/she would only come away with a better knowledge of their fundamental rights and understanding of what it means to be a citizen of Malaysia.

It is intended to promote love for the Constitution, not hatred.

The MyConstitution campaign was launched on Sept 13 last year to simplify the Constitution for all Malaysians, especially young Malaysians. It’s sheer irony that the only group to question the motive behind this public service and attack it is a group of young graduates who formed a 1Malaysia club three days earlier on Sept 10, 2009.

For the benefit of the club, the two-year long campaign driven by the council’s Consti Law Committee and the first RG booklet were launched not by any sinister foreign agent but none other than Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong.

In his speech, he had pointed out that the role of the citizen is the most important fact established by the Constitution: “Without the active knowledge and participation of citizens, our Constitution is an empty, meaningless and lifeless document.”

Liew said there was little point in calling ourselves a democratic nation if citizens did not appreciate and exercise their right to vote as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Noting the political upheaval and constitutional crisis after the March 8 general election had sparked interest in the Constitution, he urged the people to “go to the pond and drink the water themselves” and not base their views on what others said.

Since then, 90,000 booklets in English and Bahasa Malaysia have been distributed nationwide with the support of the Federal Government and in partnership with some state governments.

The club is right to be concerned for the Constitution but the object of its members’ target is misplaced.

In the small picture, many peninsular Malaysians will celebrate Malaysia Day on Thursday without even realising that the Constitution we have today only came into being on Sept 16, 1963, at the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia, and that the 1957 Constitution was that of the Federation of Malaya.

In the bigger picture, unless you know what the 1957 or even 1963 Constitution said, how do you know whether your elected representatives have upheld the integrity of the supreme law of the land or amended it for political expediency?

A campaign giving people knowledge and helping them to think for themselves is certainly not sedition.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Malaysiakini: Bar defends 'seditious' MyConstitution campaign

MyConsti_logo The federal government and several state governments have provided funding to the Bar Council MyConstitution campaign, according to co-deputy chairperson of the committee B Mahaletchumi.

"Although the campaign is largely funded by the Bar Council, we have received funding from the Malaysian public, the Prime Minister's Department, and the Sarawak, Kedah and Selangor state governments," Mahaletchumi said in a press conference at the Bar Council office in Kuala Lumpur today.

It was held in relation to a police report lodged by 1Malaysia Youth Graduands Club against the distribution of the brochures because they were alleged to contain seditious material against the federal constitution.

Its secretary-general Ezaruddin Abdul Rahman was quoted by Bernama as saying: "We also believe that the brochures were sponsored by an anti-government foreign non-governmental organisations."

Ezaruddin also claimed that said the brochures titled PerlembagaanKu (MyConstitution), claimed that the people could amend the federal constitution if they voted for members of Parliament who had the intention of doing so.

Mahaletchumi countered that amendments to the constitution is provided for in the constitution, which is where the information in the brochures comes from.

"The constitution has been amended 40 times. And there have been 650 individual amendments. So amendments are possible and have taken place before," she said.

Co-deputy chairperson Syahredzan Johan explained that the constitution can only be amended by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

"Amendments can only be done by MPs. We are not MPs, so we cannot change it. This clearly shows that they (1Malaysia Youth Graduands Club) do not understand the constitution," Syahredzan said.

He also urged the club to come forward and seek clarification from the bar as they have clearly misunderstood the objective of the campaign.

"This is a campaign to educate the public so that they will appreciate the constitution, not to hate it. Where is the seditious content? When did we ever say we want to change the constitution?"

No ulterior motive

Bar Council president K Ragunath (right) voiced his disappointment because the campaign's objective is only to educate the public.

"The committee does not take a position but merely interprets the constitution so that the public can understand its content," he said.

Former Bar Council president Sulaiman Abdullah concurred and stressed that the committee does not have an ulterior motive.

"Our mission to demystify the constitution," he said.

90,000 booklets had been distributed nationwide and booklets in Mandarin and Tamil are expected to come out in October.

Five titles - 'What is the Federal Constitution?', 'Constitutional Institutions and the Separation of Powers', 'Federal- State Relationship', 'Parliament/Legislative' and 'Government/Executive' have been released since.

On Malaysia Day (Sept 16), the Bar Council will launch the sixth guide, which is on the judiciary, at Bangsar.

Senior members of each arm of government have graced the campaign, notably Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia (left); Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum; and Koh Tsu Koon, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of integration and national unity.

The event was also launched by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Liew Vui Keong on Nov 13 last year.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is the patron to 1Malaysia Youth Graduands Club which was established on Nov 10 last year.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Malaysian Insider: Bar Council’s resolve strengthened by accusations over MyConstitution campaign

MyConsti_logo KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 — The Bar Council said today it was determined to continue its MyConstitution campaign despite accusations by a Malay group that it was seditious.

The Bar Council said that instead of halting their efforts, the police report lodged by the 1 Malaysia Youth Graduands Club in Serdang two days ago has strengthened their resolve to reach all six million housing units in Malaysia through their MyConsitution campaign.

“It has strengthened the (Constitutional Law) Committee. They want to move forward,” Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan told reporters today.

The 1 Malaysia Youth Graduands Club has called on the authorities to take immediate action against the campaigners for allegedly advocating the changing of provisions in the Federal Constitution, especially those touching on the special position of Malays and Islam.

Ragunath denied that the campaign was aimed at changing the Constitution, stressing instead that their objective was to increase public awareness and understanding of the Constitution.

“There are no seditious elements or any objective to amend the Constitution,” said Ragunath.

“We are disappointed that a campaign that was well-received by the Malaysian public and politicians across the political divide to enhance understanding of the Constitution was perceived as seditious,” he added.

Ragunath noted that some 90,000 booklets have been distributed nationwide to date since its launch on November 13 last year with the support of the federal government and in partnership with several state governments — including Sarawak, Selangor and Kedah.

He pointed out that senior members of each arm of government have graced the campaign, notably Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia; Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum; Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of integration and national unity; and deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong.

Ragunath also denied claims that their campaign, which has cost the Bar Council RM500,000 to date, was funded by foreign non-governmental organisations.

“This was financed wholly by the Bar Council. We have also received donations from the public, federal government and state governments (Kedah, Sarawak and Selangor) for this campaign,” said Ragunath.

Yesterday lawyer Edmund Bon, who heads the campaign, defended the contents of the booklets, explaining that they were written in a simplified form but were an accurate guide to the provisions of the highest law of the land.

Co-deputy chairman of the Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee Syahredzan Johan said the youth group’s police report showed that they were the “best target group” to reach out through the campaign as they seemed to lack understanding of the Constitution.

“Parliament can only amend the Constitution with a two-thirds majority,” said Syahredzan.

He also slammed the youth group for claiming that the campaign booklets on the Constitution were seditious.

“If it is seditious, then each textbook on the Constitution is seditious,” said the lawyer.

1 Malaysia Youth Graduands Club secretary-general Ezaruddin Abdul Rahman reportedly alleged that the booklets said people had the right to amend the Federal Constitution if they voted for members of parliament capable of doing so.

The other co-deputy chairman of the Constitutional Law Committee  Mahaletchumi Balakrishnan pointed out that Article 153 of the Constitution, which guarantees the special position of the Malays, cannot be amended even with a two-thirds majority in Parliament without consent from the Conference of Rulers.

She also highlighted the fact that more than 40 bills had been presented to the Parliament to amend the Constitution in the past 53 years containing a total of 650 individual amendments.

“The campaign is non-partisan,” said Mahaletchumi, adding that the committee’s focus was to educate the public on the basics of the Constitution without adding their own opinions on certain provisions of the Constitution.

She also said that the committee would launch their next booklet on the judiciary on September 16, besides launching Mandarin and Tamil editions of the booklets in October.

Ragunath noted that although the campaign began in Kuala Lumpur, they have since spread their message to small towns like Alor Star in Kedah, as well as rural areas in Sabah and Sarawak, including an Orang Asli settlement in Tapah, Perak.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

After 53 years of independence, there are Malaysians who still do not understand what democracy means.

Any Malaysian who thinks we have it all or have many things to be proud of must be in deep slumber under the coconut shells. If you don’t believe me, read the news below from Bernama taken from The Malaysian Insider.

Is any of our leaders going to say something about this? Anyone?

SERDANG, Sept 5 — The 1Malaysia Youth Graduands Club (Kelab Belia Graduan 1Malaysia) today lodged a police report over the distribution of brochures said to contain seditious words against the Federal Constitution.

Its secretary-general Ezaruddin Abdul Rahman said the brochures titled “Perlembagaanku” (My Constitution), claimed that the people had the right to amend the Federal Constitution if they voted for members of parliament capable of doing so.

“We were made to understand that the brochures were being distributed in several institutions of higher learning in the Klang Valley and some colleges in Kedah.

“We also believe that the brochures were sponsored by an anti-government foreign non-governmental organisation,” he told reporters after lodging the report at the Serdang police station.

He called on the police and government to take immediate action on the matter as continuous distribution of the brochures could influence the minds of the younger generation.

Ezaruddin also asked the police to probe into the sale of a book titled “The March to Putrajaya - Malaysia’s New Era Is At Hand” authored by Kim Quek.

“We want the Home Ministry to revoke the sale of such a book, which we deem as rubbish because it contains personal attacks and defamation of the country’s leaders, besides touching on racial issues,” he said.

He also believed that the 361-page book had been in the market for quite some time. — Bernama