Mahathir is reducing the supreme law of the nation into a “useless scrap of paper” by the manner, frequency and the trivial reasons for altering the Constitution

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, July 19, 1993 on the Constitution Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1993

Mahathir is reducing the supreme law of the nation into a “useless scrap of paper” by the manner, frequency and the trivial reasons for altering the Constitution

Firstly, on behalf of the DAP MPs, I wish to protest in the strongest possible manner at the most unprecedented undemocratic violation of established parliamentary practice in suspending Standing Order 48 in dispensing notice being given to MPs, and rushing straight into the second reading debate of the Constitution Amendment. (No. 3) Bill 1993.

I cannot speak for Barisan Nasional MPs, but the majority of Opposition MPs would be laying the eyes on the Constitution Amendment (No. 3} Amendment Bill 1993 for the first time when they entered the Dewan Rakyat Chamber this afternoon.

Why is it necessary for the indecent haste to dispense with the Standing Orders to give notice to MPs and to rush through all three readings of the Constitution Amendment (No. 3) Bill today?

Everybody knows that the entire constitutional amendment exercise this time is not for the the good of the country or people, but for the sake of one person, to appoint Tun Mustapha as Federal Minister for Sabah Affairs without having to resign his Usukan Sabah State Assembly seat, as is now required by the Federal Constitution.

Could it be the Tun Mustapha could not wait for another day, after waiting for two full months to be sworn in as Federal Minister since the first announcement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir on his appointment.
In fact, Tun Mustapha could have taken up his appointment as Federal Minister two months ago if he had resigned his Usukan Sabah State Assembly seat as required by law, but UMNO is afraid of losing in the Usukan by-election despite all the brave talk about UMNO being prepared to fight the Sabah state general elections.

It is a complete mockery of the Federal Constitution and the democratic process that the Federal Constitution and the Parliamentary Standing Orders should be subverted just, for the sake of one-person to allow Tun Mustapha to be a Federal Minister without a by-election in the Usukan constituency in Sabah.

The Barisan Nasional two-thirds majority has given the government the arrogance of power that it has developed an utter contempt for the Federal Constitution and the democratic process.

Although the history of Constitutional amendments in the country is a history of the emasculation of the Constitutional spirit, rights and guarantees, all at the whims and fancies of the ruling government, the present constitutional amendment bill overshadows all previous constitutional amendments in the manner and the triviality of reasons for altering the Constitution.

In my personal experience as MP for the past 24 years, apart from emergency meetings of Parliament, there had never been a single occasion where Standing Order 48 had beers suspended to rush through any Constitution Amendment Bill through to the second reading debate without notice or circulation the Bill to MPs in advance.

Even in emergency meetings of Parliament, copies of the Bill were given to MPs many days in advance. This was what happened in the two special Parliamentary meetings in January and March this year to remove the Rulers’ immunities. This was also what happened with regard to the special Parliamentary meeting on January 17, 1979 to legalise the illegalities committed by the Federal Government for the previous eight years as declared by the Privy Council in the famous case of Teh Cheng Poh alias Char Meh v. The Public Prosecutor or the special Parliamentary meeting in 1967 to topple Sarawak Chief Minister Stephen Kalong Ninkang and impose emergency rule in Sarawak or the special sitting in copies of the Bill are given to MPs many days in advance.

In the entire 36-year history of Malaysia, there had only been one occasion where a Constitution Amendment. Bill had been taken through all three readings without any advance notice and where the Bill had not been given to MPs in advance – and this was the constitutional amendment bill on August 9, 1965 to effect the separation of Singapore from Malaysia.

At that time, the Prime Minister, Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed was a backbencher in the Dewan Rakyat and the Deputy Prime Minister, Ghafar Baba, had just, been appointed a Senator.

They would agree that the circumstances of the August. 9, 1965 constitution amendment bill to effect the separation of Singapore from Malaysia which justified the bringing of a Constitution Amendment Bill to Parliament to be rushed through all stages without notice or circulating the bill to MPs in advance are completely different from the present constitution amendment bill aimed solely to enable one person to become Federal Minister without resigning his Sabah State Assembly seat.

Is the Barisari Nasional Government suggesting that there would be nation-wide chaos and unrest, if the Constitution Amendment. (No.3) Bill is stood down until tomorrow – or even if it is not passed at all?
I believe that even way back in 1965, as backbencher, Dr. Mahathir did not agree with the manner in which the August. 9, 1965 Constitution Amendment Bill was presented to Parliament, without notice and without circulating the Bill to MPs in advance.

Tunku Abdul Rahman amended the Federal Constitution once a year, but. Dr. Mahathir amends the Constitution at every meeting – i.e. three or four times a year

This led him to make caustic attacks against the government of Tunku Abdul Rahman, for “the utter contempt of the Government for accepted public morals and general expectation”.

Thus in his famous book, the Malay Dilemma, which was banned in the country for 12 years – including six years when he was Deputy Prime Minister, he criticised the lowly place of Parliament in the government scheme of things:

“Laws were hurriedly passed without prior consultation with the representatives who had to ‘sell’ these laws to the people… In the main, Parliamentary sittings were regarded as a pleasant formality which afforded members opportunities to be heard and quoted, but which would have absolutely no effect on the course of the Government. The general feeling was that whether or not the Parliament sat, the Government would carry on. The sittings were a concession to a superfluous democratic practice. Its main value lay in the opportunity to flaunt Government strength. Off and on, this strength was used to change the constitution. The manner, the frequency and the trivial reasons for altering the constitution reduced this supreme law of the nation to a useless scrap of paper.”

Today, Dr. Mahathir has out-Tunku Abdul Rahman in demeaning and trivialising Parliament, and what we see today, is the ‘flaunting’ of the Government’s strength and two-thirds majority to change the constitution on the most trivial of reasons – to enable Tun Mustapha to become Federal Minister- without having to resign his Sabah State Assembly seat!

During his 13 years as Prime Minister from 1957 to 1970, Tunku Abdul Rahman introduced 12 Constitution Amendment Bills, averaging one constitution amendment bill a year.

But Dr. Mahathir, who had criticised Tunku Abdul Rahman and declared that “The manner-, frequency and the trivial reasons for altering the constitution reduced this supreme law of the nation to a useless scrap of paper” has reached the stage of introducing a constitution amendment bill for every parliamentary meeting – and this is the third Constitution Amendment. Bill for this year alone!
Tunku amended the Federal Constitution once & year, but; Dr, Mahathir amends the Constitution three or four times a year – as I will not be surprised if there is another Constitution Amendment Bill in the next Parliamentary meeting – as the Lord President, Tun Hamid, is still waiting for the establishment of a Court of Appeal, another tier of the appellate between the High Court and the Supreme Court.

I telephoned to the Deputy Prime Minister, Ghafar Baba, this morning asking that the second reading debate for the Constitution Amendment (No. 3} Bill should be stood, down at least tomorrow, co give MPs at least 24 hours to study the Bill.

Ghafar Baba said he would speak to the Prime Minister arid the Speaker, and I regret that he had not been able to show the courtesy and respect which all MPs, whether from the Barisan Nasional or the Opposition, are entitled to in being given time to study bills, especially Constitution Amendment. Bills, before they are rushed fur debate.

Barisan Nasional again playing the role of ‘ninja assassin’ to kill DAP motion, this time to deplore the Kelantan State Government new regulation restricting and public: sale and consumption of alcohol affecting non-Muslims

It is not that Parliament would have no business if the Constitution Amendment Bill is debated for second reading. There is one outstanding Bill from the previous meeting, the Rang Undang-Undang Rumah Penyembelihan (Penswastaan) 1993, a government motion to approve expenditure from the Consolidated Fund to finance the Chair of Malay Studies at the Leiden University The Netherlands, and a motion by the DAP MP for Kota Melaka, which reads:

“Bahawa Dewan yang mulia ini mengambil ketetapan menyatakan kesal terhadap pengharaman minuman dan penjualan arak di kalangan rakyat bukan Islam di Negeri Kelantan muilai Ihb Julai 1993 oleh Kerajaan Negeri yang merupakan bukan sahaja satu pencabulan hak asasi rakyat bukan Islam tetapi juga pencerobohan kuasa Kerajaan Pusat. Maka Kerajaan Negeri Kelantan diarahkan menarik balik pengharaman ini dengan serta-merta. ”

The Barisan Nasional probably wants to use the second reading of the Constitution Amendment Bill, although this violates all parliamentary practice and democratic principle, to kill the motion by Lim Guan Eng to deplore the Kelantan State Government new regulation restricting the public sale and consumption of alcohol affecting non-Muslims from coining up for debate – a tactic which is typical of Barisan Nasional in Parliament, which I had described in Penang State Assembly as the role of ‘ninja assasin’ to kill DAP motions in Parliament .

The Barisan Nasional has lost all sense of priority, of what is important for the country, in coming to Parliament for a constitutional amendment at every meeting, on matters which are trivial and inconsequential.

For instance, there would be more justification if the Government comes to Parliament to ask for constitutional amendment to launch a campaign of political reform to clean Malaysia of corruption and money politics, showing that. Malaysia is in the mainstream of an Asian-wide “uprising against corrupt, money-polities’, like in South Korea, Taiwan and even Japan. Furthermore, this will be fully in conformity with the Barisan Nasional Government’s ‘Look East Policy’.

At present, the reverse is taking place in Malaysia where political corruption is at its most rampant in the history of the country. After 16 months, for instance, the country is still waiting for the outcome of the Anti-Corruption Agency investigations into the MIC President and Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, in the MAIKA Telekom shares hijacking scandal, when in South Korea, some 3,000 Government officials, businessmen and politicians have been fired, reprimanded or jailed on bribery charges in the past eight months, while a new “sunshine law” had been passed in Taiwan requiring top political leaders, including the president, the premier and members of the cabinet and all legislators, to declare their family assets and deposit their financial holdings in blind trusts.

Barisan Nasional MPs have also lost their sense of priorities and the ability to distinguish between what is important and what is trivial. I want to ask the Gerakan MPs in particular how they could support the amendment, to the Constitution for the sake of one person, while they are not prepared to support the amendment to the Federal Constitution to increase two new Parliamentary seats for Penang state for the sake of over a million people in Penang?

Constitutional amendment for the political interests of UMNO Baru and not for national interest
The constitutional amendment to repeal Article 43(8} has nothing to do with strengthening the democratic process or entrenching the spirit, of truth, freedom and justice in our constitution.

It is a blatant move to serve the political interests of UMNO Baru and not for any national interest.

This is because it has finally dawned on Dr. Mahathir that it would be politically too costly and damaging for UMNO Baru to go through with the Usukan by-election and that, it would be more expedient to abuse its two-thirds parliamentary majority and amend the Federal Constitution.

It is indeed scandalous that the Malaysian Constitution should be amended just to enable one person to be a Federal Cabinet Minister and to save UMNO Baru Sabah from the embarrassment of a defeat, in a by-election in Usukan.

Mahathir had clearly been badly advised over the whole question of the appointment of Tun Mustapha as Minister for Sabah Affairs, for he should have known of the provisions of Article 43(8) of the Federal Constitution.
When Dr. Mahathir appointed Sakaran Dandai as Minister for Land and Co-operative Development after the 1990 General Election, Sakaran Dandai had to vacate his Sipitang Sabah State Assembly seat because of Article 43(8} of the Federal Constitution.

Even if Dr. Mahathir had overlooked Article 43(8) of the Federal Constitution when on May IS he made his surprise announcement of Tun Mustapha as Minister for Sabah Affairs – surprise even to Tun Mustapha himself – there was no excuse for the Minister for Law,. Datuk Syed Hamid Albar, to declare 24 hours later that “that there was no law which said that Mustapha had to vacate his State Assembly seat”.

In countries where Ministers are expected to conform to high standards of Ministerial competence and capability, a Law Minister who could publicly commit such a ‘blooper’ would have tendered his resignation.

Something is frighteningly wrong about the way the government is run that despite the clear provision of Article 43(8} that Tun Mustapha must resign first before; he could assume any Ministerial appointment, his oath-taking ceremony was scheduled to take place on 26th May 1993!

When Dr. Mahathir finally realised that Tun Mustapha cannot assume his Federal Cabinet appointment without resigning his Sabah state seat, the Prime Minister declared that “UMNO is ready to face a by-election if Mustapha has to vacate his Usukan state seat”.

Clearly, Dr. Mahathir did not consult Ghafar Baba before making this announcement, for he must have been informed by Chafer Baba subsequently that UMNO is likely to lose in such a by-election.
Dr. Mahathir must have been convinced of this diagnosis when he visited Kota Kinabalu for his first Harvest Day Festival on May 30, as he must have found the political ground for UMNO in Sabah very hard and cold indeed.
The amendment of the Federal Constitution shows that the Barisan Nasional Government does not have any respect for the sanctity of the Federal Constitution which should not be amended just to suit the whims and fancies of those in power.

Denial of the right of people to be represented by Members of Parliaments for two years
The present Bill seeks to amend Article 54 to ban parliamentary by-elections arising from casual vacancies within two years of the completion of the full term of Parliament.

This is most undemocratic as it will deny the people in the affected constituencies the right to be represented by Members of Parliament for up to two years.

This provision was first amended in 1968 where there would be no by-elections in the case- of casual vacancies in the Dewan Rakyat, which occurred within six months of the completion of the full term of Parliament.

Now, Dr.Mahathir is taking this another step further stretching the ban on by-elections from six months to two years before the completion of the full term of Parliament. Once such a precedent is allowed, the period could be further extended until finally no by-elections at all would be allowed in between general elections!

What is the reason for such an undemocratic amendment of the Constitution?

The reason must lie in the fear of the Barisan Nasional in fighting by-elections. Of course, there would be victories arid defeats for the Barisan Nasional in by-elections, but whether Barisan Nasional wins or loses, it has to spend enormous sums of money, sometimes running into tens of millions of ringgit for one by-election.

In fact, Malaysian electoral politics have reached a stage where the greatest service a Barisan Nasional MP can perform for his constituents is to die so that there could be a by-election, where a phalanx of Ministers will descend on the constituency carrying bags-full of money for distribution!
This is the corruption of money-politics in Malaysia, but now, even the Barisan Nasional must have found the cost of money-politics very high indeed.

The Constitution Amendment {No. 3} Bill also seeks to amend section 9 of the Eighth Schedule in the Constitution to provide that. State Constitutions are also consistent with the Federal Constitution in the ban on by-election to fill casual vacancies falling within two years of the completion of the full term of the Legislative Assemblies.

Article 71(4} provides that. “If at any time the Constitution of any State does not contain the provisions set out in Part I of the Eighth Schedule…. Parliament may….by law make provisions for giving effect in that State to the essential provisions or for removing the inconsistent provisions.”

Firstly, it should be noted that an amendment of the Eighth Schedule to ban by-elections in State Assemblies falling within two years of the completion of the full term of the Assembly does not automatically extend this application to the State Assemblies.

It is clearly envisaged under Article 71(4) that the State Assemblies should be given an opportunity to bring their State Constitutions in line with the Eighth Schedule by way of amendments to the State Constitution.
It is only when the State Assemblies refused or failed to amend their respective .State Constitutions to be consistent with the Eighth Schedule, that “Parliament may….by law make provisions for giving effect in that State to the essential provisions or for removing the inconsistent provisions.”

Amendment of Eighth Schedule without consent of States a violation of Federal-State concept and relationship

This means that another act of Parliamentary legislation is needed to override the refusal or failure of State Assemblies to amend the State Constitutions to bring them in line with the Eighth Schedule.

Secondly, it is clear that this amendment is solely de-signed to further UMNO Sabah’s political interest, and this is why this is not a Constitution Amendment Bill taut a UMNO Sabah Bill.

UMNO Sabah is so afraid of having to fight by-elections in Sabah, especially after the formation of the PBS-USNQ coalition, that they want to ban all by-elections in Sabah altogether.

This amendment to the Federal Constitution is in fact to defend and uphold the right of political “frogs’, who jump from party to party – the latest move in the UMNO fight against, anti-hopping law in Sabah against Assemblymen defecting.
Of course, this UMNO move could be completely nullified if the Sabah state legislative assembly is dissolved for the holding of Sabah state general elections,
Sabah Chief Minister, Joseph Pairin Kitingan has called on the PBS to get ready for general elections, and of course, the most ideal time for PBS-USNQ State Government to hold general elections in Sabah would be just, before the big fight in the UMNO General Assembly in early November.

Thirdly – which is most important – any amendment, to Schedule Eight to unilaterally amend State Constitutions is a grave violation of Federal-State relations as it undermines the sovereignty of State Constitutions as conferred by the Merdeka Constitution of 1957.

The Merdeka Constitution of 1957 was the result of agreement between the States and the Federal Government, and the Eighth Schedule was drawn up to require all State Constitutions to be consistent, with certain essential provisions which had been agreed upon by all the States.

This is a set of essential provisions for all State Constitutions to comply and it should not be amended. Otherwise, it would render State Constitutions completely meaningless if the Federal Government, through its two-thirds majority, could amend State Constitutions at will by amending the Eighth Schedule.

In view of this, the Eighth Schedule should not be amended at all, or only with the agreement of all States. Had the Federal Government discussed and secured the consent of all States to the amendment of the Eighth ‘Schedule?

In fact, this is an amendment with far-reaching implications on the whole basis of Federal-State relationship, which requires time for research. But we are asked to debate on this matter when we have just received this Bill – which is a gross disrespect, and injustice not only to MPs irrespective of their party, but to the people and to all States in Malaysia.

For this reason, to protest in the strongest fashion against the manner and the trivial reason for presenting this Constitution Amendment {No, 3) Bill, DAP MPs will now stage a walk-out from this Chamber.