Some Politicians Creating Fear To Win Over Malay Voters, Says Ex-Minister

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 — Some politicians are looking to win over ethnic Malay voters by creating fear that their special rights may come under threat, former deputy minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has said. Saifuddin said these politicians — whom he did not name — would then harp on the constitution’s provisions on Islam and the special position of Malays in the country. “After the GE13 (13th general election), there are people, some Malay leaders who thought that for GE14 (14th general election), the strategy would be to strengthen the Malay vote bank, because of that you must make sure the Malays understand what is happening in the country.

“Because of that, you have to strike some fear among the Malays that if they are not united… and so invoke Article 153 and Article 3 — ‘you know if you don’t understand this, then other people will be after you’,” the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) member said yesterday when answering a question during a forum here on race relations and the constitution. In the debate over use of the word “Allah” by Christians, some Muslims speak as if they are “under siege” despite the constitution safeguarding Islam’s position, he added. Earlier, Saifuddin noted that it was important to repeal the Sedition Act 1948, as the colonial-era law hinders the public from feeling safe to speak up when someone holding public office “crosses the line” or does an “unconstitutional” act.

“Because with the current Sedition Act, you may arrive at a situation where public intellectuals are resigned to the fact that no one can speak up, when no one can speak up, you unconsciously allow the space for someone else to rewrite the constitution through the backdoor,” he said. If no one dares to pipe up, people in high positions would then be free to create new precedents by reinterpreting the constitution as they wished, he told reporters. “My take is we need to educate the public on the constitution so that we understand and we will uphold the supremacy of the constitution,” he also said during the forum. Constitutional expert Prof Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, who was also a speaker at the same forum, noted that some people interpret Article 3 — which says Islam is the religion of the federation — as if it is the “heart and soul” of the constitution.

They view Article 3 as being superior to Article 4 itself — which states that the Federal Constitution is the supreme law in the country, he said when giving an example of how the constitution has been misinterpreted. “I think the issue is partly the lack of constitutional literacy, the constitution is not taught at secondary level, not taught at universities,” the law professor at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) told the forum. Earlier, Shad noted that the understanding of the constitution was also “lacking at the top echelons of the civil service” and among federal lawmakers. The Bar Council forum titled “Race Relations under the Constitution: The Realities in Malaysia and the Way Forward” also featured lawyers Syahredzan Johan and Gan Ping Sieu as speakers. Speaking at the forum, Malaysian Bar president Christopher Leong said the lack of knowledge about the Constitution often bred “misinformation, misinterpretation and mischief”, and in turn feeding racial and religious extremism.

 

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