KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 ― Privileges for Bumiputera communities are the exception in the Federal Constitution that otherwise consistently upholds equality for all Malaysians, Universiti Malaya law professor Dr Azmi Sharom said yesterday.
Azmi also said that race-based preferential treatment may only be carried out if these are expressly mentioned in the country’s highest law, such as university and civil service quotas, native land rights, and Islamic religious positions.
“The rule is Article 8, the exception is Article 153,” he told a forum on Malaysian unity here last night.
The law professor also pointed out that fundamental liberties are listed early on in the Federal Constitution.
In the constitution, Article 8 specifies that “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”. The article further explains that “unless expressly authorized by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law,”
Article 153 of the Federal Constitution states that it is the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, including the aforementioned quotas.
When asked if pro-Bumiputera policies like the reservation of some reported Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) work packages for Bumiputera companies fell under the special measures allowed by the Constitution, Azmi said he was unsure.
But he said it was important that such questions are allowed to be asked.
The law professor who is facing a sedition charge for expressing his legal opinion on the 2009 Perak crisis added that Article 153 should also not be be off-limits for debates, but insisted that he was not calling for its removal or amendment.
“Whatever policies that are based on (Article) 153 must be reasonable and they must be discussed,” he said.
Azmi’s views are consistent with the the National Unity Consultative Council’s proposed bill on discrimination, which would require Putrajaya to justify Bumiputera quotas not specifically mentioned in the constitution.
Azmi also stressed that words Malay “special rights” do not appear in the Federal Constitution, and pointed out that Article 153 only mentions the “special position” of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.
“When people say 'our rights', what rights? The Federal Constitution doesn't mention 'special rights',” he said.
Malay “special rights” are regularly used by conservative groups from the community to demand the retention of pro-Bumiputera policies despite many of these deriving from the New Economic Policy (NEP) rather than the constitution.
Legal experts have said that the “special position” of the Malays and Bumiputera does not supersede any other provisions in the Federal Constitution and there exist other important elements in the nations law that guarantees the rights of non-Muslim, non-Malay Malaysians, such as guarantee of citizenship and fundamental liberties.- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/pro-bumi-privileges-the-odd-one-out-in-equality-under-constitution-says-law#sthash.w2QyUCpk.dpuf