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Friday, June 27, 2014

Dangerously close to breakdown of law


COMMENT In recent months, Malaysians have had to endure a series of happenings that is not only unsettling but also downright dangerous for the nation state. Lawmakers and the government may not realise it but a nation is made up of citizens deciding to live together by agreeing to obey a set of laws that we call the constitution.

The latter is kept alive by institutions that protect the rights of citizens with the guarantee that the constitution is the highest law of the land. Once we lose confidence in these institutions then the constitution itself becomes a worthless piece of paper. When some citizens are privileged over others, the rest are not only repulsed by a lack of fairness, they too begin to think that they can ignore law and order. It is at that moment that the nation state starts to unravel. We are dangerously close to that situation.

Let’s take the role of the inspector-general of police as an example. The IGP’s main function is to enforce the law. He must enforce the law following the constitution. It is not his place to interpret the law or assume the role of judges when carrying out his duties. The constitution is very clear that the civil courts are superior to the syariah court.

If the civil court has made a ruling and there is incidence of contempt of court, the IGP must carry out his duties according to the law. He has no business interpreting whether the High Court or the Syariah Court takes precedence over each other. That is for the judiciary to decide. If the IGP feels personally conflicted, he should step aside by resigning to allow another police officer to carry out his duties. In matters of law enforcement, the IGP has no business interpreting the law.

Next up is the role of the attorney-general, whose role and function is clearly spelled out in the constitution. The attorney-general acts as the public prosecutor and has invested in him the discretion to prosecute. Even if there is overwhelming public pressure for him to do so, he must act with the material evidence he has in hand. Only he knows whether the prosecution will work and he brings cases that he is confident of winning.

If the AG has already decided that there is no case for a defendant to answer, nobody can force his hand. They can seek judicial review but they cannot arrogate to themselves the power to prosecute.

They may disagree with the AG but they cannot assume his powers and refuse to back down no matter what they believe. This is clearly spelled out in the case of Selangor Islamic Council (Mais) and their refusal to return the Bahasa Malaysia and Iban bibles.

A third case in point refers to the role of Malaysia’s nine royal families. With all due respect, Dr Mahathir Mohamad is right when he said that members of the royal families should have no role in business or government. By involving themselves in these matters there is a danger that their sanctity as head of state as defined by the constitution may be compromised. They expose themselves to criticism when they overplay their hand.

One former royal, for example, was successfully sued by a major commercial bank and had to pay a substantial financial penalty. To avoid unfair advantage to others and as part of the constitutional bargain they entered into, our royal families must protect themselves as well as all Malaysians by avoiding controversy as much as possible.

Unfortunately, recent events have shown that there is now a lack of restraint in business pursuits that is opening up a rift between the royal institution and citizens.

Time to reclaim our country

On the streets, the lack of respect for the law manifests themselves in many ways. Citizens do not bother with road regulations often resulting in accidents and inconvenience. Littering is another commonplace occurrence nowadays with refrigerators ending up in our monsoon drains.

There is so much plastic matter dumped into our seas and forests that some waterways and coastlines are littered with such garbage. Scant regard for environmental laws also take a toll where virgin forests are cleared for vegetable farms as in Cameron Highlands. Unregulated development in hill slopes results in landslides and even deaths.

The result of all this active disregard for law and order is the inversion of the Malaysia Boleh tagline. Coined in the 1990s to represent the nation’s “can do” spirit, it is now the personification of our unhealthy disregard for law and order.

If lawmakers, royals, members of the religious aristocracy can get away with whatever they are do, why can’t we do as we like? This attitude is detrimental to the sanctity of Malaysia as a nation state. When we tear down every law in the land, what will stand between us and the devil?
          
It is high time Malaysians reclaim the country from those who are intent to wreck havoc and chaos by ignoring and deliberately denigrating the constitution. There are three simple ways we can go about protecting the sanctity of the nation state.

Firstly, educate ourselves by purchasing a copy of the latest Malaysian Constitution. We need to understand the document that laid the foundations of the nation. By doing this, we can better defend the nation against revisionists bent to re-defining Malaysia to fit their current and present objectives.

Two, those of us who are more acquinted with constitutional law must take the lead bringing light and challenge politicians who make pronouncements like Malaysia is an Islamic state. Even the chief proponent of the concept, Mahathir, has now back-trekked.

The constitution is clear that Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the religion of the federation. Those intent on making Malaysia a theocracy had better realise that all laws that contravene the constitution, even if it is passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, are null and void.

Thirdly, we must translate intent into action. When we speak our, put our names to paper. This helps us to moderate our views and not get media organisation such as Malaysiakini into legal wrangles. Scathing comments may satisfy our frustrations but it changes nothing. Instead, take to action by writing to your MPs as well as those whom you disagree with. Engage constructively in the environment within your control.

There is nothing more patriotic that wanting a peaceful existence and living within the confines of the constitution. Society must be allowed to evolve naturally and gradualism has served us well. We must not take our peaceful co-existence for granted. But we also must not let others fight for our rights as citizens.

In short, do not just sit back and complain about the bad hats in our midst. Start doing good by making sure one does not litter, reduce the use of plastics, shun developers who are irresponsible, pay our taxes on time and then demand that our lawmakers do right by us.

This message is for all those in government on both sides of the political divide. For it we do not live within the confines of the constitution, none of us are safe.



NEIL KHOR completed his PhD at Cambridge University and now writes occasionally on matters that he thinks require better historical treatment. He is quietly optimistic about Malaysia's future.

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