The Star: The citizen and the Constitution

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.

The citizen and the Constitution


10 September 2010

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.Rakyat Guide booklet no.2

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 light bulb 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.

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