We are a group of Malaysians deeply concerned about the state of our nation. Never before in this country’s history have such stresses and strains been made to bear upon the foundational principles of nationhood which now threaten to subvert the bonds that have held all Malaysians together and kept the nation comprising the territorial components of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak intact.
Constructed when Malaya achieved independence in 1957 under the Merdeka Constitution, the basic structure was re-examined and re-established when the federation of Malaysia came into being in 1963 with the concerns of the Borneo states taken into consideration.
Malaysia’s constitutional history records the fact that this country is a secular nation with Islam as the religion of the federation.
As a rainbow nation of many peoples with diverse religions, we charted our destiny upon a civil and non-religious national legal order resting firmly on the twin principles of the supremacy of the constitution and rule of law.
In 1982, the government introduced a policy to inculcate universal Islamic values that all Malaysians have little difficulty in supporting.
Of these 10 values - trust, responsibility, honesty, dedication, moderation, diligence, discipline, cooperation, honourable behaviour and thanksgiving - what remains of the policy today is the single value of moderation under the concept of Islam wasatiyyah.
Even that value of moderation is ignored by certain quarters, including political leaders who espouse sectarian views to suit their audiences.
Excuse for Islamisation
It is unfortunate that the policy of promoting these 10 values has become a platform for 'Islamisation' by religious bureaucrats.
There is mounting disquiet on bureaucracy-driven “Islamisation” of Malaysia and the Malaysian way of life by the expanding and increasingly assertive religious bureaucracies both at the federal and constituent state levels and the posturing of extremist individuals and groups capitalising on this trend.
We reiterate that we have a civil national legal order that is religion neutral. We are not a theocratic state with religious law being prescribed as the supreme law of the land. Neither should we be forced to live by the rule of religious diktats where decrees of religious bureaucrats have legal and punitive effect.
Lip service and pious platitudes acknowledge the supremacy of the constitution as the nation’s supreme law. At the same time diktats of the religious bureaucrats are given an overarching significance over the constitution.
This has eroded public confidence in the national legal order and in the administrators and the adjudicators of this order.
Legislation needs only pass the test of constitutionality. But these are now subject to the scrutiny of religious bureaucrats who can impede the implementation of such laws.
A case in point is the Domestic Violence Act 1994 which could not be brought into force for almost two years. A similar fate befell the stillborn law reform initiative to preserve the status quo of the rights of parties arising out of one spouse in a civil marriage converting to Islam upon the dissolution of their marriage.
In a democracy, the separation of powers doctrine is the bedrock of good governance. An independent judiciary is essential to ensure a fair and just adjudication of disputes between parties and more importantly, between individuals and the governing authorities.
The 1988 amendments to the constitution exclude the civil High Courts’ jurisdiction over matters within the jurisdiction of the syariah courts. This has unfortunately spawned serious jurisdictional issues and worrying decisions where some civil courts decline to adjudicate constitutional issues and even accede jurisdiction to the syariah court.
Religious freedoms, rights threatened
At the individual and societal level, there is also grave concern about the attendant negative impact on freedom of religion as well as the religious and civil rights of non-Muslims, for example, the constitutional right of parents to determine the religion and religious upbringing of their children who are minors.
Non-Islamic religions appear to be increasingly marginalised amid growing indications of intolerance of non-Muslims, their beliefs and their practices. This development undermines Malaysia’s claim to be a model moderate nation where Islam co-exists harmoniously with other religions in a multicultural society.
The government’s call for moderation is being challenged by loud voices of intolerance and immoderation which if unchecked will tear apart the unity of citizens bound together by a common nationality.
We reassert the concerns raised and endorse the recommendations set out in the open letter issued on Sunday December 8, 2014 by a group of 25 Malaysians.
We consider ourselves duty-bound to call upon the federal government and state governments to give their undivided attention to this grave peril that our nation faces.
Let there be a recommitment to the genuine pursuit of the 10 universal values which will be fully supported by all Malaysians and which will make Malaysia a good and great nation.
Let our leaders, be they from the legislative, executive or judicial arms of governance with the undivided support of all patriotic Malaysians, uphold their oath of office to preserve, protect and defend our constitution.
We write this letter with deep anguish. Our leaders must, with immediacy, act intentionally, decisively and authoritatively before irretrievable damage is done to our beloved country.
The open letter is signed by:
1. Albert Talalla, former high commissioner to Canada, ambassador to China, Germany and the US and former director-general of the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations
2. Beatrix Vohrah, former Professor of Law, UiTM
3. Bob Teoh, freelance writer and former general-secretary of NUJ and secretary-general of the Confederation of Asean Journalists
4. Choo Siew Kioh, former ambassador to Sweden and the Republic of Mali and high commissioner to India and former Commissioner of Suhakam
5. Clifford Francis Herbert, former secretary-general of the Ministry of Finance
6. Dr David KL Quek, past president of the Malaysian Medical Association
7. Dennis Ignatius, former ambassador to Argentina and Chile and high commissioner to Canada, political affairs columnist
8. Denison Jayasooria, secretary-general of Proham and former commissioner of Suhakam
9. Faisal Hamdi Hamzah, medical practitioner
10. Hartini Zainudin, child activist
11. KC Vohrah, former judge of the Court of Appeal and former commissioner of Suhakam, co-editor of Sheridan & Groves The Constitution of Malaysia (5th Edition)
12. KJ Abraham, former deputy director-general of DID
13. Dr KJ John, founding director of Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI)
14. Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari, chairman of Proham and past president of the Malaysian Bar
15. Lal Chand Vohrah, former judge of the High Court, former judge of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and former judge of the Appeals Chamber of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
16. Lee Su See, former head of the Forest Health and Conservation Programme, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) and vice-president of the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO)
17. Leong Yoke Faie, former chief executive BP Malaysia Sdn Bhd
18. Lee Kam Hing, former professor of History, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur
19. Lew Sip Hon, former ambassador to the United States
20. Lim Heng Seng, former chairman of the Industrial Court and head of Arbitration and deputy head of Civil Litigation, Attorney-General’s Chambers
21. Lily Zachariah, former ambassador to the Republic of Italy, Chile and Senegal
22. Dr Lyana Khairuddin, educator and scientist working on HIV and HPV
23. Mahadev Shanker, former Court of Appeal judge and former commissioner of Suhakam
24. Mano Maniam, actor, teacher and scholar at local and American universities, recipient of the Fulbright Distinguished Artiste Award in 2000
25. Mulkit Singh, former professor in Department of Microbiology, National University of Singapore and School of Medicine, University of Notre Dame Australia
26. Patrick Sindu, former president of the Consumer Association of Sabah
27. Philip Koh, co-editor of Sheridan & Groves ‘The Constitution of Malaysia’ (5th Edition)
28. Ramesh Chander, former chief statistician of Malaysia and senior statistical adviser to the World Bank
29. Rose Ismail, former journalist, coach and trainer
30. Saw Leng Guan, director of the Forest Biodiversity Division of Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) and fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM)
31. Sharifah Zuriah Aljeffri, artist and social activist
32. Simon Sipaun, former Sabah state secretary and former vice-chairman of Suhakam
33. Stanley Isaacs, former head of Prosecution, Commissioner of Law Revision and Parliamentary Draftsmen of Attorney-General’s Chambers
34. Stephen Foo Kiat Shin, former attorney-general of Sabah
35. Tan Siok Choo, lawyer and newspaper columnist
36. Prof Terence Gomez, professor, Faculty of Economics, Universiti Malaya
37. VC George, past president of the Bar Council of Malaya and former Court of Appeal judge
38. Dr V Thuraisingham, past president Malaysian of the Medical Association and past master of the Academy of Medicine
39. Wilfred Lingham, former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Development, Sabah
40. Yip Pit Wong, former director of Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency Sarawak and chief senior assistant commissioner, MACC Selangor