by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Wednesday, January 27, 1993:
DAP welcomes Mahathir’s statement that the Government is willing to reach a compromise with the Rulers
DAP welcomes the statement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting yesterday that the Government is willing to “compromise” with the Rulers on the Constitution amendments so long as the objectives of the amendments are not contradicted.
This is the first time since the constitutional stalemate on January 18, when the Conference of Rulers refused to give its consent to the 1993 Constitutional Amendment Bill, that Dr. Mahathir has indicated that the Government was prepared to return to the discussion table with the Rulers.
This is what the DAP had been advocating during the debate in the Dewan Rakyat on January 18 and 19, and why the DAP MPs cast abstention vote during the voting on the 1993 Constitutional Amendment Bill.
While giving our full support to the principles and proposals in the Constitutional Amendment Bill, DAP urged the Government to return to the discussion table with the Rulers to get their consent as required under the Constitution.
DAP believes that while the majority of the people wants to remove the Rulers’ immunity so that they are not above the law to commit criminal or civil wrongdoings, they also want the issue to be resolved in an amicable manner without any protracted constitutional crisis and confrontation which would adversely affect Malaysia’s economic prospects.
DAP had never abstained on the issue whether the Rulers’ immunity should be removed. In fact, the DAP had been the first to oppose royal wrongdoings, and this was why the DAP Deputy Chairman and MP for Jelutong, Sdr. Karpal Singh, was suspended from Parliament for 20 months in 1984.
DAP’s vote of abstention in Parliament was not to abstain on whether the Rulers’ immunity should be removed, but because of our reservation of the constitutional propriety of pushing through the 1993 Constitutional Amendment Bill through Parliament when there was no consent from the Conference of Rulers.
In other words, DAP abstained because of our constitutional responsibility to remind the Government of the need to return to the discussion table with the Rulers in view of the constitutional requirement that the consent of Conference of Rulers must be obtained before any amendment affecting the privileges, position, dignities and status of the Rulers could validly become law.
Abstention is not abandonment of the right to decide or vote, but exercise of the right not to give support because of important reservations
In this connection, there is a misconception especially when translated into Chinese, that ‘abstention’ is ‘abandonment of the right to decide’ or ‘abandonment of the right to vote’ – giving the impression that it is a negative and irresponsible act.
In actual fact, an ‘abstention’ vote does not mean any abandonment of the right to decide or to vote, but an active and conscious decision to take a stand to withhold support because of important reservations.
In the case of the 1993 Constitutional Amendment Bill, for instance, the DAP MPs took a responsible, positive and construction decision to vote in abstention. The DAP did not ‘abandoned our right to decide or vote’ on the question of the Rulers’ immunities, but to tell the Government that although the DAP supported the principles and provisions to remove the Rulers’ immunity, the 1993 Constitutional Amendment Bill should be deferred so that the consent of the Conference of Rulers could be obtained, as required by the Constitution.
We believe that when we voted in abstention, the DAP acted in a positive, responsible and constructive manner because we wanted to influence the Government and Rulers to reach an amicable settlement to the constitutional crisis without doing untold damage to the economic prospects of the country.
It is most unfortunate that in the past ten days, certain irresponsible MCA and Gerakan leaders had tried to distort the DAP’s stand, as if to advocate that the Government and the Rulers return to the discussion table to find an amicable settlement to the constitution crisis is a betrayal of the rights and interests of the people.
Are MCA and Gerakan leaders going to dissociate themselves from the government and Barisan Nasional if UMNO leaders decided to respond to the call that the Government and Rulers return to the discussion table?
MCA and Gerakan leaders should behave more responsibly on this issue. DAP does not blame them if they dare not urge UMNO leaders to return to the discussion table with the Rulers, but they should not impugn the objectives of the DAP in making this proposal.
Otherwise, MCA and Gerakan leaders would be made to look very foolish when the UMNO leaders responded to the call to return to the discussion table with the Rulers to find an amicable settlement to the issue.
For if MCA and Gerakan leaders want to give the impression that they are totally opposed to any return to the discussion table between the Government and the Rulers, are the MCA and Gerakan leaders going to condemn or dissociate themselves from the Barisan Nasional and the Government if UMNO leaders decided to respond to the call that the Government and the Rulers return to the discussion table?
This is why I had right from the beginning urged MCA and Gerakan leaders not to play party politics an this important constitutional issue.
In the past few days, UMNO leaders are beginning to say things which DAP leaders had said right from the beginning – that a protracted constitutional crisis and confrontation is not good for the country as it will have adverse economic impact.
This is why the DAP had proposed a ‘cooling-off’ period to provide the climate whereby the Government and the Rulers can return to the discussion table to find an amicable settlement whereby the principle that no Ruler is above the law, and cannot be at liberty to commit criminal and civil wrongdoing, is spelt out clearly in the Constitution – and could secure the consent of the Conference of the Rulers.