The Sword of Damocles in Parliament

We, members of the Third Malaysian Parliament who have at last taken our rightful places in this Chamber twenty-two months after our election and suspension, have as our first business the 1971 Constitution Amendment Bill.

No more important bill had ever been submitted to Parliament since Merdeka. No more important bill is likely to come before Parliament in future, assuming that there is still a Parliament.

For the Bill, if passed, will have such far-reaching consequences in the life of the nation that the entire direction of the country will shift to a new course. The government has presented the Constitution Amendment Bill 1971 as the highway to nation unity and the formula to prevent recurrence of May 13 racial riots in Malaysia.

The issues involved in this Bill are of the utmost importance to Malaysians for they involve the fundamental question of nation building, national unity and national survival.

It will be necessary to consider, in this debate, the basic question of nation building and whether measures as proposed in the Bill can make this gravely divided nation more united, harmonious and prosperous.

We in the DAP will discuss and consider this Bill fully conscious of the momentous decision we all will have to take which will help decide not only the destiny of Malaysia but the fate of democracy itself.

But we shall not be cowed or intimidated. My comrades and I have not been elected into Parliament to be yes-men, or be brow-beaten into silence, or to surrender our objectives and principles and to betray the trust and confidence which the people have put on us when they elected us into Parliament on May 10, 1969.

All MPs should be allowed to freely, fully and frankly express their views without being subject to threats and intimidation.

In this connection, we strongly deplore the Sword of Damocles which the governments has hung over the reconvening of Parliament with their often repeated threat that Parliament will be disbanded if it does not provide the necessary two-thirds majority vote to amend the Constitution.

No MP with self-respect will allow this political blackmail to deter him from saying or doing what he believes in, for there comes a time when the duty of nation rings out louder than the duty to Party or even duty to a monthly Parliamentary allowance.

This is the time when every Member of Parliament must stand up and be counted, not only for today and tomorrow, but for the rest of their lives.

The present Constitution Amendment Bill is the direct result of the May 13 tragedy. The government has held from the very beginning that this May 13 riot were caused by the Opposition exploiting the so-called sensitive issues during the General Elections, creating racial tension, conflict and bloodshed.

Thus, according to the government, to avoid any such recurrence, these so-called sensitive issues must be removed from the pale of public discussion and debate. These so-called sensitive issues are the National Language, special provision for the Malays, sovereignty of Malay Rulers and citizenship.

It is painful to re-open the subject of May 13 racial riots, which holds for so many personal tragedies and sorrows without parallel.

However, if we are to learn from the lessons of May 13 tragedy, it is essential that we understand the causes and events which led to the May 13 racial riots. Without such an understanding, it is not possible to prescribe a proper remedy for the malady in our body politic. A wrong remedy may aggravate the situation instead of improving it.

In his preface to the NOC Report on the ‘The May 13 Tragedy’ published in October 1969, the Prime Minister, then in his capacity as Director of Operations, wrote:

“This Report has been prepared with the full realisation that important matters must no longer be swept under the carpet and that the facts of May 13 should be made known to the public.

“Furthermore, it has been written with the conviction that the objective of national unity must be confronted squarely, and the alternatives before us decided upon sincerely and courageously.

“The course of our Nation so charged must be pursued with the united efforts of all loyal Malaysians, resolutely, with courage and confidence.”

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I cannot agree more with the Prime Minister that important matters must no longer be swept under the carpet. If we are to survive the stress and strains in our nation, we must be mature enough to confront our problems squarely in the face, consider and weigh the alternatives open to us, and decide on the best course of action and pursue it.

Those, whether men or nations, who do not learn from the mistakes of history are condemned to repeat the same mistakes at great cost to themselves and others.

It is in this spirit of confronting problems squarely in the face so as to avoid repeating the same costly mistakes of May 13, that I make the following remarks.

It is not my intention here to level accusations against anyone for being responsible for the May 13 racial riots.

But I will be failing in my duty if I do not state that the DAP and the public at large do not accept the version as contained in the NOC Report on the “The May 13 Tragedy” or in Tunku Abdul Rahman’s “May 13 – Before and After.”

We have no doubt that a very different version will emerge if there is an impartial commission of inquiry to collect evidence from witnesses of the May 13 racial riots with power to protect the witnesses from reprisals.

The world press’ version is very different too from that of the government. Although the government had attacked the foreign correspondents for their irresponsible and unfair reporting, only an impartial commission of inquiry can produce an independent finding as to the truth or otherwise of the foreign correspondents’ reports by checking on them and by inviting the foreign correspondent themselves to give evidence.

This is why the DAP had from the beginning called for an impartial commission of inquiry into the causes of the racial riots and the chain of events, so that we can get as true a version as possible.

It is only with such information that we can draw correct lessons from the racial riots and take preventive measures.

To date, a part from producing a very one-sided government version of what took place on May 13, the government had refused to set up an impartial commission of inquiry into the causes and its spread. The government has not been able to give any satisfactory explanation as to why there should not be such an inquiry, if we really want to stop ‘sweeping things under the carpet.’

It is because the DAP and large sections of the Malaysian public disagree with the government as to the causes of the May 13 racial riots, that we differ as to the remedial measures which the government proposes to take, as embodied in the present Constitution Amendment Bill.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, the government had introduced the Constitution Amendment Bill on the stated assumption that once the so-called sensitive issues are removed from the pale of public debate and discussion, racial mistrust and suspicion will lessen and national unity and solidarity strengthened.

Is this stated assumption valid?

For the last 21 months of NOC Emergency rule, the so-called sensitive issues were banned from public discussion and debate. If the government’s stated assumption are valid, then we should be able to say with all honesty that the people of diverse races in Malaysia are more united, more Malaysian-conscious, and that there is much less racial mistrust and suspicion today than in May 1969.

Can we all honestly say this?

I for one will state the contrary. That after 21 months of NOC Emergency Rule, where the so-called sensitive issues are banned, and the ban fortified by the Emergency amendment to the Sedition Act 1948 in August 1970, the people of Malaysia today are even more bedevilled by racial mistrust and suspicion and that they have never been as race conscious now as any time since Merdeka.

In fact, racial polarisation in Malaysia in the last 21 months has gone further, and the racial division had gone wider and deeper when compared to the first 12 years of Merdeka.

Why is this so? If the ban for the last 21 months on sensitive issues has not arrested the rush down the racial slippery slope, how will the entrenchment of these so-called sensitive issues in the Malaysian Constitution promote national unity?

Or has the ban on the so-called sensitive issues in the last 21 months accelerated the pace of racial polarisation in Malaysia? And if so, the entrenchment of these so-called sensitive issues in the Malaysian Constitution can only bring racial polarisation to a head.

We are convinced and disturbed that the ban on the so-called sensitive issues and the Emergency rule for the last 21 months have accelerated the process of racial polarisation in Malaysia.

Large and articulate sections of the public do not accept this ban on so-called sensitive issues, not because they are opposed to the National Language, the sovereignty of rulers, special provisions for Malays and citizenship (and we in the DAP have never been opposed to all these provisions) but because:

Firstly, they reject the government’s contention that the May 13 riots were caused by the discussion and debate of the so-called sensitive issues during the General Elections;

Secondly, the scope of the so-called sensitive issues is so vague that it can cover any criticism or opposition to government policy and action, and we are swiftly reaching a stage where the practice of racialism is a virtue, and the criticism of racialism a crime;

Thirdly, the ban is solely aimed at Opposition members and critics of the government, as borne out by the Sedition charges which have been preferred against two of my party colleagues, Sdr. Fan Yew Teng and Dr. Ooi Kee Siak, in connection with an article in our party journal, the Rocket, in the December 1970 issue.

Malaysians are aware of the many provocative statements and speeches made in particular in the recent UMNO General Assembly, but which carried immunity. I refer in particular to the demand by the Selangor Assemblyman for Kampong Bahru who wanted the government to remove the citizenship of a MTUC leader who had criticised the government for failing to withdraw all the restrictive anti-labour Emergency laws.

Fourthly, the ban is seen purely as a political move to bolster the fortunes of the ruling Alliance and its component parties which suffered serious reverses in the last General elections.

This is admitted by none other than the Deputy Prime Minister in his “MCA neither dead nor alive” speech to Johore Alliance State leaders in Johore Bahru on January 15, when he said:

“In the 1969 general elections, sensitive issues – the national language and the special rights of the Malays – were the issues which generally brought about the setbacks of the Alliance.

“The issues must therefore be entrenched in the Constitution so that in the forthcoming elections, sensitive issues cannot be questioned by the Opposition. And with the entrenchment of sensitive issues, our partners, the MCA and MIC will not be at a disadvantage.”

The only argument for banning the so-called sensitive issues from the public discussion and debate and entrenching them in the Malaysian Constitution is to promote national unity and lessen racial mistrust in the country.

This result can only be achieved if the overwhelming majority of Malaysians support such an entrenchment. But if large sections of Malaysians regard such a move as a political one by the ruling party to stifle the expression of their legitimate fears and grievances then such entrenchment will not be a cementing force for the diverse races. It will instead become the focal point of widespread discontent, and the subject of national division, disunity and discord.

The government can put any law on the statute book or amend the Constitution anyhow they like provided they have the necessary votes in Parliament. But when Parliament is used to block or frustrate the popular will, then the laws it passes will cease to command the respect and observance of the people, leading to a general undermining of public respect for law and order.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, let us be realistic and practical. Although Parliament can ben the discussion of the so-called sensitive issues, and entrench this ban in the Malaysian Constitution, there is no way to enforce this law.

The Government can ban the discussion of these issues in public forums and meetings, over radio and television, even in Parliament and the State Assemblies. But it will not be able to stop people from discussing and debating these very issues in coffee shops, street corners, the privacy of their homes and wherever Malaysians congregate in private, unless it intends to turn Malaysia into a police state and employ half the population as informers to eavesdrop and report on private conversations and feelings of the other half.

When we come to this stage, whatever may be achieved, it is definitely not national unity and the lessening of racial mistrust and suspicion.

Before I dwell on the long-term consequences of this Constitution Amendment Bill, I propose to discuss separate the four issues which the government seeks to entrench and place beyond the pale of public debate and discussion.

1. Sovereignty of Rulers

We in the DAP do not and have not questioned the sovereignty of Rulers. As far as I know, there is not a single Member of Parliament in this House, or a single party represented in this House, which has questioned or seeks to question this provision.

I am aware that there is one political party in this country which does question this provision.

We are told that the reason why the Government wants to entrench the so-called sensitive issues is because it wants to prevent these issues from being exploited by racialist politicians and thus create racial mistrust and ill-will, leading to racial bloodshed.

As the leaders of the opposition party which questions this provision are Malaysian of Malay origin, I do not see the logic of this argument. Is the government seriously suggesting that if Malays themselves question the provision of sovereignty of rulers, these will be a racial conflict and bloodshed between Malays and Chinese?

However, as I had said, we do not question this provision. This is not an issue which creates racial mistrust. I shall come back to this subject later, when I touch on the principle of entrenchment of provisions in the Constitution.

2. Citizenship

What I want to say on this is that although it is now a crime to question the citizenship of Malaysians, we have a clear instance of a UMNO leader calling with immunity for the deprivation of citizenship of a trade union leader for speaking out against the Government.

How will the entrenchment of this question in the Malaysian Constitution change matters?

It will also not escape notice that even though citizenship is now a sensitive issue, which is now not being enforced, it will not prevent extremists from building up pressure for the removal of citizenship of outspoken critics of the government and the extremists.

3. National Language

The DAP has always unconditionally accepted Malay as the National Language, as a vital factor for unification in a multi-racial society,

What the DAP opposes and what the people at large fear is the use of the National Language as an instrument for the eventual annihilation of other languages and cultures in Malaysia. Article 152(1) of the Malaysian Constitution states:

(1) The National Language shall be the Malay Language and shall be in such script as Parliament may by law provide;

Provided that:

(a) no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purpose), or from teaching or learning any other language; and

(b) nothing in this clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal Government or of any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in this Federation.”

We submit that in this Article, the Malaysian Constitution guarantees the preservation and sustenance of other languages in the country. It means that no linguistic group in this country need fear the decline in use or extinction of its language.

The spirit and intention, I submit, of the Constitution safeguard is to build a multi-lingual Malaysian nation with a common National Language for all Malaysians.

It is from this interpretation that we had contended that the fact that the National Language by virtue of its status is bound to become the chief language of administration in this country need not, and should not, mean that the other major languages in the country, namely Chinese, Tamil and English, are not accorded even a subsidiary official status and use in the country.

We stress that the other languages, namely Chinese, Tamil and English have become Malaysian languages by virtue of the fact that considerable number of Malaysian citizens speak these languages and that the Malaysian Constitution safeguard the preservation and sustenance of their use and study.

This is clearly in direct contradiction to the concept of ‘one nation, one language’ for Malaysia.

Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation. Any attempt to suppress the other languages can only lead to opposition from the language groups so affected, leading to national disunity and discord.

The nation as a whole in the last 14 years since Merdeka has dissipated too much energies on the language question. Let us defuse this language question so that all Malaysians can concentrate on the problem of economic upliftment of the have-not. This can easily take place if all Malaysians will (1) accept Malay as a national language; (2) accept the constitutional safeguard to preserve and sustain the use and study of other languages by giving freedom to all other languages in their use, growth and development.

The DAP has been accused of attacking Malay as the National Language in the last general elections campaign.

I challenge the government, which has taped all opposition rally speeches at great public expense, to produce a single instance where we have done so.

What we raised were the unhappiness and frustration of the people at the failure of the Government to “preserve and sustain the use and study” of the other languages as enshrined in the Constitution, because of the extreme demands by influential UMNO circles for the immediate implementation of the policy of ‘one nation, one language’.

The most extreme call was one which laid down a seven-point programme to build a Malaysian nation, namely the banning of all non-Malay languages, non-Malay schools, non-Malay signboards, non-Malay newspapers, non-Malay symbols, non-Malay buildings and non-Malay costumes.

There were leading Malay intellectuals who demanded that Malay shall be the only recognised Malaysian language, and that Malaysian literature should only be written in Malay Language.

There was a Minister who described Chinese as ‘Mao Tse Tung’s Language’!

For speaking our against these excesses and infringement of the spirit and letter of the Constitutional guarantee to “preserve and sustain the use and study of other languages”, I was detained for 17 months under the Internal Security Act. Did the Government arrest the advocate of the 7-point programme to eliminate everything non-Malay in this country?

The message is clear. Those who seek to uphold the Constitutional guarantee that other languages be preserved and sustained are regarded as enemies of the National Language.

A paradoxical situation has been reached. When the Constitutional Amendment Bill is passed, which includes the entrenchment of Article 152 with its constitutional guarantee to “preserve and sustain the use and study of other languages”., the public will see it as in actual fact a further hardening of the Government attitude against giving other languages their rightful place in the country.

The people have lost confidence in the government, and the constitution it is charged with protecting and upholding, because of the abuse of its wide-ranging powers of detention without trial.

The people have good cause to be cynical. The government’s attitude towards the proposed Merdeka University is a case in point.

The Merdeka University project was proposed to give university education opportunities to Chinese school-leavers.

The sponsors of the Merdeka University announced that the project will be a multi-racial one and will use multi-lingual media of instruction and examination system.

The government put all manner of obstacles and threats in the way of the sponsors and supporters of the project. Although the MCA denounced the project consistently, two days before polling day on 8th May 1969, it changed its stand and supported the project and even helped to secure its registration.

When NOC Emergency rule was proclaimed, the Merdeka University was clamped down.

I would like here to ask either the Hon’ble the Prime Minister or the Hon’ble the Minister of Education whether he agrees that the Merdeka University project comes within the ambit of the Constitutional guarantee to “preserve and sustain the use and study of other languages” in Article 152 (1) (b) and whether it is not his bounden duty to support instead of opposing the project.

Mr Speaker, Sir, there is no questioning by any Malaysians that Malay is the National Language. What is unclear and the source of great anxiety and resentment is the formless guarantee to “preserve and sustain the use and study of other languages.”

What is important is not so much to entrench the provision of Malay as the National Language, but to spell out in clear, unambiguous terms that meaning of “preserve and sustain the use and study of other languages.”

In this connection, it will be more useful for a parliamentary commission to be formed to define the extent and meaning of the Constitutional guarantee to “preserve and sustain the use and study of other languages.” Once this guarantee is spelt out and accepted by all Malaysians, then language will cease to be divisive force in Malaysia.

4. Special provision for Malays

The DAP has also been accused of opposing special rights for Malays. We again invite the government to produce a single instance from our speeches and statements to show that we have opposed efforts to raise the economic standards of living of Malays.

As democratic socialists, we are dedicated to the abolition of poverty and economic backwardness regardless of race. We want to create a classless community of Malaysians based on fellowship, co-operation and service, where there is no exploitation of man by man, class by class or race by race.

We support any measure which will help better the lot of the Malay poor. But we are strongly opposed to the use of Malay special rights to enrich the new Malay rich to make them richer, while the mass of peasantry and poor are exploited as ever.

There is gross social injustice and grave unequal distribution of wealth and income in Malaysia. Over the years, the fuedal-compradore and tycoon class have become richer and richer, while the mass of peasantry and workers become more and more downtrodden.

The problem in Malaysia is complicated by an ostensible double coincidence. Firstly, the class divisions in our country appear very often to coincide with communal division, secondly, the disparity in incomes and productivity between urban and rural areas appear also to coincide along racial lines as towns are predominantly non-Malay while the mass of Malays live in rural areas.

Such urban-rural economic disparity and imbalance, however, is not a phenomenon peculiar to Malaysia. Similar social, economic and cultural disparities as between rural and urban areas also confront other developing countries. This is indeed a universal problem, reflecting the slower pace of socio-economic process in the rural as compared to the urban areas.

The key to bridging this urban-rural imbalance is to promote greater and faster economic growth in the rural areas, and not by embracing and implementing an evil, pernicious and racialist doctrine equating economic disparity and imbalance with the racial division in the country.

Any attempt to impose racial theories and solutions to basically economic problems of the have-nots is dangerous as it will pit one race against another, which must culminate in a racial holocaust. It will also be founded on the monstrous falsehood that all the haves in Malaysia are non-Malays, while the Malays are all the have-nots.

The basic problems in Malaysia are an economic and class one, and not a racial problem.

The only effective way to uplift the living standard of the have-nots of all races is to execute meaningful socialist policies untinged by racialism, as in carrying out radical land reforms, beginning with the abolition of absentee landlordism in the padi sector and distribution of land to the tenant farmers, the creation of a comprehensive and efficient rural credit, co-operative and marketing infrastructure to free the peasants from the triple curses of fragmentation, landlordism and credit indebtedness; greater diversification of agriculture and the economy; a modern and science-oriented education system to bring the peasants abreast with the techniques and know-how of twentieth-century era; and a greater rate of industrialisation.

Every Malaysian will support special rights to help the poor Malays, just as every citizen will support any special assistance to non-Malay poor, on the basis of need and not on the basis of colour or race.

The greatest objection to the entrenchment of this provision in the Constitution and its removal from public discussion and debate is that the whole provision will cease to be answerable to the electorate. The Government will be supreme in deciding what it wants to do in this field.

We were earlier told that the Constitution Amendment Bill will not affect the right of any person to raise any matter relating to the implementation of entrenched provision. But that latest revisions to the Constitution Amendment Bill which came to us only three days ago has considerably narrowed and restricted even the right to question implementation.

It is virtually impossible to draw the line between questioning the principle and to the implementation of the provision. The price of making a mistake is to get a Sedition Charge, which on conviction is liable to a fine of five thousand dollars or an imprisonment of three years, or both, and the disqualification to hold elected office or even to vote at elections for five years.

Such punitive provisions will only stifle and suppress open criticism, though it cannot stamp out mounting frustration and discontent with the matter.

To understand how some quarters of the population see this provision, it may be necessary to recall past assurances by government leaders that Malay special provision is a temporary expedient to enable the Malay community to catch up with the other communities.

Last year, however, a Cabinet member said that Malay special rights will continue to be a permanent feature in the country for “hundred of years to come.”

It may be useful to recall what the Reid Constitutional Commission Report of 1957, which recommended the form of Constitution we should have, had to say about special provisions for Malays.

The majority report of the Reid Commission listed the four matters with regard to which the special position of Malays is recognised and safeguarded: Malay land reservations, quotas for admission to the public services; quotas in respect of the issuing of permits of licences for the operation of certain businesses, chiefly road haulage and passenger vehicle for hire; and preferential scholarships, bursaries and other forms of aid for educational purpose.

It reported that it found little opposition in any quarter to the continuance of the system for a time, but there was great opposition in some quarters to any increase of the preferences and to their being continued, but that in due course they should be reduced and should ultimately cease so that there should then be no discrimination between races or communities.

The Commission recommended that there should be no further Malay reservations, and no new quota or other preference could be created, unless specifically authorised by the Constitution. It also recommended that after 15 years there should be a review of the whole matter and that the procedure should be that the appropriate Government should cause a report to be made and laid before the appropriate legislature; and that the legislature should then determine either to retain or to reduce any quota or to discontinue it entirely.

Mr Speaker, Sir, we are now coming to 15 years of operation of special provision to Malays. Again, the question is not so much to entrench this provision, as to inquire as to how well this provision has helped uplift the standards of living of the mass peasantry, apart from creating a new class of Malay rich, and why, these 15 years later, the vast peasantry are still so poor, backward and downtrodden.

The present Constitution Amendment Bill also seeks to empower the government to reserve places for Malay students in institutions of higher learning, even if it means denying non-Malay students with better qualifications of such places.

We regret that 14 years after implementation of the Alliance education policy, it is necessary to introduce such highly divisive policy, because non-Malay students who are denied places and their parents and relatives will resent such discrimination.

It is also an invidious system to the Malay students themselves. Are Malay students biologically and intellectually inferior to non-Malay students that they need such preferences?

We in the DAP do not subscribe to any such theory. We believe that given the environment, education and opportunity, all races can compete with each other on an equal footing.

The fault must lie squarely on the shoulders of the Alliance government for its failure to build up a modern and science-oriented education system aimed at modernising the nation, particularly, the agriculture sector of our country.

Fifteen years after the Alliance national education policy, six out of every ten Malay students entering the University of Malaya still take up Malay or Islamic studies when what is needed most are more Malay scientists, engineers and technologists.

The Alliance can no longer blame the British colonialist for this legacy. For if the Alliance government had been far-sighted enough, and had begun revolutionising the education system on the achievement of Merdeka to bring the countryside into the modern age, we will today be reaping the harvests, of Malay sixth-formers taking their rightful and equal places in science, technology, engineering and medical streams in institutions of higher learning without preferential reservation of places.

It is because of such failures in foresight and vision by the Alliance government in its last decade of rule that our present problems of nation building have been made even more complicated, intractable and explosive.

Implications of Passing the Constitution Amendment Bill

The above subjects are now sensitive issues. This will be the last time and final forum where we can openly discuss this, for after this debate, the sinister Sedition Amendment Act will be lying in wait for its victims.

We submit that these issues are not sensitive in the sense that any open discussion and debate will cause a racial conflict and mistrust. The government has been dishonest, insincere and unfair in the handling of these issues, and have made them more sensitive than they should be.

I have said large sections of Malaysian public reject the government’s arguments for the necessity for this Constitutional Amendment Bill for the simple reason that they reject the basic premise that the May 13 racial riots stemmed from discussion of these sensitive issues.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, May 13 racial riots started because there were people who were not prepared to accept the verdict of the people at the polls on May 10, 1969, which returned an unprecedented number of Opposition candidates in both State and Parliamentary elections.

May 10, 1969 was the high water mark of democracy in Malaysia. Never had the people’s hopes and expectations of the democratic process to peacefully bring about the political, economic and social changes they want been so high.

This affirmation of faith in the ballot box and democracy is all the more remarkable considering the active campaign of those who want the voters to boycott the polls to discredit the parliamentary process as a mockery and elections as a farce.

Even before the 1969 General Elections, voices had been raised questioning the meaning and relevance of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.

During the general elections campaign, there was a sustained movement to discredit the parliamentary process by urging the voters to boycott the polls to demonstrate the people’s rejection of a democratic system which is a ‘fraud and a chicanery’.

The turnout and the results of May 10, 1969 was a major, but very short-lived, defeat for the forces of boycott and rejection of the democratic process.

In three days’ time, the victory of the democratic Opposition turned to ashes, and the stocks of the advocates of rejection of the democratic process rose from the nadir to unparalleled heights.

May 13, 1969 was also a victory for those who disliked the people’s verdict and started riots in the Federal capital to vent their anger and to frustrate the people’s will. Malaysians were murdered, mutilated and maimed. Chaos and carnage ruled the day.

Emergency was proclaimed. NOC military rule replaced parliamentary rule. The newly-elected Parliament was suspended, and new Opposition Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen arrested, silenced or intimidated.

The government’s handling of the May 13 racial riots and the 21-months of NOC rule have not inspired a return of public confidence in the relevance and credibility of the democratic process to fulfill their legitimate aspirations.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that once the Constitution Amendment Bill is passed, the country is firmly set on the road back to democracy, national unity and solidarity.

Today, the whole concept and relevance of parliamentary democracy is being questioned. This is why there is no nation-wide elation and joy at the reconvening of Parliament, for they see as Parliament’s first function self-castration of its role as the highest legislative and deliberative chamber in the country.

Mr. Speaker, let us be frank with ourselves. After May 13, 1969 and the 21 months of NOC rule, more and more Malaysians of all races are thinking of horrible thoughts.

The greatest task today is to turn them away from these horrible thoughts, which if unchecked, will set the stage for the confrontation of violence cutting across race lines.

This can only be done if the people of all races in this country are assured that they will have an equal place under the Malaysian sun, that the objective the nation is heading towards is not a Malaysia which is dominated by any one racial group, whether in politics, or in economics, but where every one will have equality of opportunity to advance to the best of his ability in a multi-racial Malaysia.

The prerequisite for a multi-racial Malaysia, however, is the existence of a meaningful democratic system, where the interests and viewpoints of all Malaysians are represented by their elected spokesmen,

The proposal to ban so-called sensitive issues from public discussion, and what’s more, the proposed removal of Parliamentary immunity of free speech, is to highlight the growing irrelevance of parliamentary democracy.

I do not see how any MP can agree to this proposal to cut his own tongue, and break his pledge to the electorate that he will fearlessly, responsibly and conscientiously voice the people’s legitimate hopes, fears, grievances and discontents in Parliament.

The basic principle of parliamentary democracy is the supremacy of Parliament, as the body elected and entrusted by the people to defend, protect and advance the people’s interest and welfare.

It is incompatible with the principles of the sovereignty of Parliament that MPs are stripped of the right to discuss issues which closely touch the hearts and minds of Malaysians, or that another non-elected organ should have such power to discuss these so-called sensitive issues.

There can be no more effective step than this to understand democracy and strengthen the voices and forces of the enemies of democracy.

If there are issues which the government thinks is best discussed without the presence of public, then Parliament can discuss these issues in closed session. Under no circumstances, however, can we agree that the parliamentary privilege of free speech and the duty of MPs to take up and voice the people’s legitimate discontents and grievances be curtailed.

It is now also proposed to entrench the so-called sensitive issues in the Constitution, so that they cannot be amended by two-third majority of Parliament, but must get the consent of the Rulers in Council.

This is clearly a retrogade step and another blow at the concept of the sovereignty of the people in a democratic system. Do we, Mr Speaker Sir, have the right to tie the hands of the next Parliament on such an important constitutional principle?

I submit that this involves so fundamental an issue that the people should have the chance to express their views. This matter was never raised in the last General Elections, and no mandate was ever given. If the Government insists on introducing the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, then it should first hold a referendum on it so that the people can give their views.

If the Government claims that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill will have the support of the majority of Malaysians, then a referendum will bear this out. On the other hand, if the Government is reluctant to hold a referendum, either because it will be rejected or because it is uncertain of the reactions from the public, then this is supporting evidence of our argument that the Bill does not have the majority support of the people.

The great tasks in post-May 13 Malaysia are two:

(1) To restore national unity and arrest the racial polarisation in this country by assuring all Malaysians, regardless of their race, that they will have an equal deal in Malaysia, by the removal of all the imbalances in the different fields of Malaysian life which cause alienation and antagonism among the races;

(2) Restore the people’s confidence in the Parliamentary democratic process by genuinely operating a meaningful Parliamentary democracy, for without such a process there cannot be a genuine multi-racial Malaysian nation where all will have an equal place under the Malaysian sun.

We have come to the conclusion, after serious consideration, that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, which was framed without due regard to the actual factors sparking off the May 13 riots, will not serve these twin objectives.

We are also convinced from our contact with the feelings on the ground, that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill will divide, rather than unite, Malaysians, and will accelerate rather than arrest the advanced racial polarisation in the country.

We have, therefore decided, with a heavy sense of responsibility, to oppose the Constitution (Amendment) Bill. In the interest of the national unity of Malaysia, we propose that this Constitution (Amendment) Bill be sent to an all-party Parliamentary Commission which should be set up to learn the lessons of May 13 riots and the 21 months of NOC rule, and point the solutions, to a united, multi-racial, just and equal Malaysia.

Such a Parliamentary Commission, which should include non-MP Malaysians eminent in their respective fields, should receive evidence and representations from interested Malaysians and Malaysian organisations to:

(1) find out the cause of the May 13 racial riots;

(2) determine the degree and extent of racial polarisation that has taken place in Malaysia in the last 21 months of NOC rule;

(3) to make recommendations as to how to prevent a recurrence of May 13 racial riots and arrest the racial polarisation in Malaysia;

(4) define the meaning and extent of the Constitutional guarantee to “preserve and sustain the use and study of other language”;

(5) review the operation of the special provisions to Malays for the last 15 years to find out why it had failed to materially improve the lot of the vast Malay peasantry, and to suggest solutions;

(6) report on the relevance and necessity of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill at present before the House;

(7) reconcile the different interests and fears of the different races; and

(8) propose a blueprint to chart Malaysia on to the course towards a just and equal, multi-racial Malaysian nation.

If we all in this House are genuine and sincere in wanting to seek out ways and means to get this gravely divided nation onto the right tracks of unity and solidarity, I do not see why this proposal should not be carried.

We are now at the crossroads of out nation’s history. Democracy is on trial. Multi-racialism is on trial. Malaysia itself is on trial.

Our decision on this Constitution (Amendment) Bill will decide whether Malaysia starts anew to build a just, equal, united, peaceful and multi-racial Malaysia, or whether we plunge relentlessly down the road to further racial polarisation which must lead to a racial confrontation accompanied by a confrontation between, on the one hand, military violence, and on the other, guerrilla violence.

Such a double confrontation will tear this nation apart, and the people of Malaysia will be the worst sufferers. If we are to avoid this road to perdition, let us stand up and be clear in our minds that we must act in the manner whereby the people’s confidence in democracy and the cause of multi-racialism are strengthened.

Before I conclude, I would again urge every Member of Parliament not to allow the Party Whip to dictate his decision on this vital and fundamental question. Only the conscience of every MP should be the guide.

Parliamentary speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at the Dewan Ra’ayat on the Constitution Amendment Bill 1971 as the first parliamentary business on the reconvening of Parliament on February 23, 1971