MCA, Gerakan, MIC and SUPP Ministers should explain why they agreed to the implicit import of the “929 Declaration” that Malaysia is an Islamic state into the royal address for the official opening of Parliament – breaking the important tradition that the royal address should be non-partisan and non-controversial
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Thursday): MCA, Gerakan, MIC and SUPP Ministers should explain why they agreed to the implicit import of the ‘929 Declaration” that Malaysia is an Islamic state into the royal address for the official opening of Parliament on Monday – breaking the important tradition that the royal address should be non-partisan and non-controversial.
The royal address’ statement that “the rakyat must know the true meaning of an Islamic state” was a most improper import of the “929 Declaration” by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the Gerakan national delegates’ conference on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia is an Islamic state, on two important reasons:
(i) the “929 declaration” is against the founding principles of the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the “social contract” and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement that Malaysia is a democratic, secular, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive nation with Islam as the official religion but Malaysia is not an Islamic state; and
(ii) The “929 Declaration” does not have a national mandate or legitimacy, presently rejected by the majority of Malaysians, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, although for different reasons.
There is a third reason why the government attempt to import the “929 declaration” into the royal address is most improper and a serious breach of constitutional traditions and parliamentary conventions.
It is undisputed convention in a system of parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy that the royal address at the official opening of Parliament is a speech drafted by the Government, and not by Yang di Pertuan Agong, to outline the Government's policy for the coming session of Parliament and to indicate forthcoming legislation.
It is one of the fundamental tenets of Malaysian constitutional monarchy that the Yang di Pertuan Agong is above party politics so that he gives a non-partisan focus to all Malaysians for their loyalty to the nation.
It is therefore most improper for the government to prepare a royal address for delivery by the Yang di Pertuan Agong which goes far beyond the outlining of the government’s policy for the coming session of Parliament, by dragging the King down to the partisan battleground, as making political arguments or repeating political attacks by the ruling coalition against the Opposition.
In preparing such a royal address, the government is doing a grave disservice to the office of Yang di Pertuan Agong by undermining its unique character as the non-partisan symbol of national unity, rallying Malaysians as one regardless of race, religion, class or political affiliation.
It is most sad and unfortunate that 47 years after Merdeka and Malaysian parliamentary democracy, there are still political leaders who do not understand the fundamental distinction between the office and the person of Yang di Pertuan Agong, and that criticism of the royal address is not criticism of the Yang di Pertuan personally but the policy speech of the government of the day.
In the seventies, when I had wanted to move a motion in Parliament to amend the Motion of Thanks for the Royal Address, a senior Cabinet Minister protested on the ground that such an amendment would be tantamount to disrespect and disloyalty to the Yang di Pertuan Agong.
This was of course nonsensical, as any such an amendment is merely to show disagreement with the government’s policy speech contained in the Royal Address – which is a common occurrence in other Commonwealth Parliaments.
In the event, I had no difficulty in moving such an amendment, although it was defeated in a vote. I hope there will be no recurrence of such feudal and undemocratic mentality in the very precincts of Parliament in the 21st century, especially from the controversies stemming from the references in Monday’s royal address to the People’s Religious School (SAR) and use of English to teach mathematics and science issues.
In the royal address, the government should have simply stated its policy intention on SAR and the use of English to teach mathematics and science, without importing into it the politically contentious arguments in support of them so as not to compromise the Yang di Pertuan Agong’s non-partisan position and dragging him down to the partisan battleground.
The pros and cons, merits and demerits, the rights and wrongs, of these controversial policies should be expounded by their protagonists and antagonists among the MPs in the parliamentary debate on the royal address, without implicating the Yang di Pertuan Agong, who must always stay above the political fray in keeping with established constitutional traditions and conventions.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman