The Malaysian Bar is shocked by the recent controversial statement made by our former Prime Minister (“former PM”), Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who claims that it is unconstitutional to promote a multiracial Malaysia.1 This is not the first time the former PM has attempted to recklessly stir the hornet’s nest when touching on the issue of multiracialism in our country.2
The Malaysian Bar views such assertions by the former PM to be highly irresponsible and deeply disheartening, as it serves no other purpose than to incite racial sentiments among the populace. Such statements are divisive and ultimately breed bigotry and bias, and is wholly unacceptable to the Malaysian Bar.
It is unfortunately not uncommon for politicians to stir up racial and religious rhetoric for political and self-serving reasons. Such rhetoric is dangerous and history is replete with examples where if left unchecked, this can result in persecution.
The Malaysian Bar continues to emphasise that there is no such thing as “others” or “outsiders” in our Federal Constitution. The fanning of hateful sentiments by our former PM incites hostility towards groups unreasonably deemed as “outsiders” or “others”, of which there is absolutely no basis.
The former PM unjustifiably referred to the rule of law in order to support his vitriolic statement. The former PM’s statement makes a mockery of the cherished principle of the rule of law. “Rule of law” means a set of principles and ideals for ensuring an orderly and just society. As such, this phrase should not to be used wantonly, and more so, with the ill intention of misleading the public. When the phrase “rule of law” is deliberately misused and linked to the Federal Constitution without basis for political agenda, it is a travesty and a complete disservice to the Federal Constitution and to our country.
The Federal Constitution of Malaysia enshrines the rights of citizens to practise religions other than Islam, in peace and harmony; and while Islam is declared as the religion of the nation, there is no restriction under the supreme law of our land for others to profess and practise their respective faiths. Mutual respect and holding each of us to that value has carried and held us together since the Federal Constitution was put in place by the framers of the Federal Constitution, having considered the diversity of our nation.
The fabric of our Federal Constitution is based on multiracial aspirations. Whilst some attempts have been made to derail the true narrative of the Federal Constitution, it has rarely been used so blatantly, that would result in the regression of all that we have achieved thus far.
It is therefore timely yet again for the Malaysian Bar to reiterate its call for the enactment of the National Harmony Bills. We have consistently advocated the enactment of national harmony laws to promote unity, integration and interfaith harmony in our country. In order to achieve the balance of upholding freedom of speech while maintaining public security, the Malaysian Bar has proposed for three bills to replace the Sedition Act 1948 — namely the Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill, the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill, and the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill.
The objective of the Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill is to promote and preserve national harmony by making it a criminal offence to incite racial and religious hatred. The National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill seeks to capture the rights entrenched in Article 8 of the Federal Constitution — that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law. The Bill is to prevent unfair discrimination of persons based on race, religion, gender and other distinguishing characteristics, and it imposes an obligation on the Government and all persons to promote equality.
Finally, we have also proposed the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill which is tasked, among others, to promote awareness, educate, and make recommendations to the Government for the purpose of national unity. The Bill would also empower the Commission to constitute an Unfair Discrimination Tribunal to inquire into complaints of unfair discrimination. The role of this Commission — consisting of Commissioners from various racial, religious and political backgrounds — would play a key function in being a coordination point between the Government, civil society organisations, and various stakeholders to engage in a more robust discussion about national integration. The Commission would also be empowered to investigate claims of unfair discrimination, and could constitute a Tribunal to compel witnesses to come forward, as well as receive evidence in inquiries.
Malaysia is made up of diverse races and faiths, and instead of politicians resorting to hateful speech and hurling accusatory remarks to score political points, more efforts should be channelled towards promoting constructive debate and dialogue between the various groups to foster greater open-mindedness and to embrace our diversity, and recognise that that is what strengthens the nation. We ought to be proud of our uniqueness as a multicultural society, and we urge our Unity Government to thoroughly consider these proposed Bills to ensure that a culture of acceptance is cultivated among the rakyat.
Constitutional values and aspirations of the country need to be internalised for the greater good of all, not by selective and misleading interpretation of our Federal Constitution for political reasons and self-interest.
Karen Cheah Yee Lynn
6 July 2023
1 “Unconstitutional to promote a multiracial Malaysia, says Dr M”, The Star, 3 July 2023.
2 “Dr Mahathir calls PM Anwar’s unity govt a ‘dictatorship’ after 'Malay Proclamation' rally cancelled”, Malay Mail, 19 March 2023.