If no public apology from Utusan Malaysia and Bernama, decision in next 24 hours whether to refer them  to Committee of Privileges for abuse of parliamentary privilege in distorting what I said in Parliament to paint me as anti-Malay and anti-Islam

Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): If there is no public apology from Utusan Malaysia and Bernama, I will decide in the next 24 hours whether to refer them  to the Committee of Privileges for abuse of parliamentary privilege  in distorting what I had said in Parliament on Wednesday when debating the issue whether the claim that Malaysia is an Islamic State is compatible with the Merdeka social contract, the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the 1963 Malaysia Agreement and the 1970 Rukunegara. 

I have checked the Hansard for that day and there is no doubt whatsoever that Utusan Malaysia and Bernama had acted most irresponsibly and mischievously in trying to distort what I had said to paint me as anti-Malay and anti-Islam, setting the stage for a baseless but ferocious  political onslaught against me, as evident from the two screaming  front-page headlines in the Utusan Malaysia in the past two days, viz:

  • “Kit Siang persoal negara Islam - Ketua Pembangkang juga pertikaikan mengapa ketua kerajaan harus orang Islam” – 10.6.04
  • “’Jangan bermain api' -- Kit Siang harus henti persoal Malaysia negara Islam – Hishammuddin” – 11.6.04

I have no doubt that those who had wanted to paint me as anti-Malay and anti-Islam would have combed through what I had said in Parliament on Wednesday for proof, but have been able to come out with nothing, forcing them to invent the canard  that I had challenged why a Muslim is the Prime Minister of Malaysia. 

Even the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was misled to make public comments based on a completely false premise, that I had raised the issue as to why the Prime Minister should be a Muslim. 

Najib said yesterday that the question of the  Prime Minister of Malaysia being a Muslim is a non-issue as the majority party in Parliament is Umno and hence the head of government is chosen from that party. He said this had always been the practice and the people had accepted this and there was no reason for me  to raise this issue now, wondering what was my aim “as for Malaysians it is a non-issue and there is no dispute about it".

Najib said indeed there was no provision in the Federal Constitution saying that the head of the Federal Government should be a Muslim.

He said:
"But by convention it is such. If things are working well, why should we bring it up as an issue."  

I am in full agreement with Najib that the question of a Muslim as Prime Minister is a non-issue, so what is all the hullabaloo in the past two days in the Utusan Malaysia, with all the dire warnings about “playing with fire”, “tarnish the image of Islam”, “cause disunity among the community and destabilize the country’s security”? 

I had never questioned in my speech in Parliament, whether on Wednesday or at any time, why the  head of government in Malaysia  is a Muslim, as it  reflects the political realities in Malaysia.  But I had questioned why the government is staking a position that the Prime Minister must be a Muslim in accordance with its definition of an Islamic State, when the Malaysian Constitution is very clear that the post is open to all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion.  On Wednesday, I  had contrasted this with the latest development in India, where a member of the Sikh religious minority, Manmohan Singh, has become Prime Minister of India. 

Despite my agreement  with Najib that the question  of a Muslim being the Prime Minister of Malaysia is a non-issue, certain power-hungry cliques in the run-up to the UMNO party elections in September have deliberately and mischievously created this synthetic issue  to get political popularity and  mileage to win  votes even though at the expense of truth, political stability and the nation-building process. 

I have a very good  idea as to the person who is behind this irresponsible media ploy, and I am prepared to name him if challenged. 

Malaysia is in the 21st century and UMNO is 58 years old and it is time that UMNO and the country outlive the tensions of every UMNO party elections undermining the fabric of nation building and national unity resulting from

ambitious but unscrupulous aspirants for high office who have no compunction in sacrificing  or mortgaging principles, sense of responsibility and national interests to the extent of  raising racial temperatures just to win votes in the UMNO party elections – which will be held in three months’ time in September this year. 

This was why 1987, the  “battle royale” between the UMNO A and  B, was such a turbulent and disastrous  year for  Malaysian politics and nation-building – with all sorts of issues created for UMNO support, including the controversy over the appointment of Chinese primary school headmasters and senior assistants not versed in Mandarin – paving the way for the “dark age” for democracy and human rights in Malaysia, the 1987 “Operation Lalang” ISA  mass arrests. 

The Prime Minister and his deputy, who are both the No. 1 and No. 2 in UMNO, should send out a clear message that in 2004 under their leadership,  both Malaysian and UMNO politics have reached a greater maturity by establishing two important points:  

  • That UMNO party elections could be held democratically and smoothly without adversely affecting  inter-racial relations and harmony or unnecessarily raising communal temperatures;  and
  • That Malaysians can publicly discuss important national issues such as whether the “929 Declaration” that Malaysia is an Islamic State or the PAS Islamic State Document are compatible with the  Merdeka “social contract”, the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, 1963 Malaysia Agreement and the Twenty-Points on Sabah and Sarawak’s entry into Malaysia, and the 1970 Rukunegara in a rational, sober and responsible manner without all sorts of dire threats and warnings or  undemocratic tactics of intimidation to silence freedom of expression.

In fact, UMNO leaders at all levels should realize that the DAP’s defence of the Merdeka “social contract” and the 1957 Constitution,  1963 Malaysia Agreement and 1970 Rukunegara that Malaysia was conceived by the major communities and founding fathers as a democratic secular nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State is fully in conformity with the public positions  of the first three Prime Ministers, and that DAP’s stand cannot be faulted without besmirching the memory and legacy of Bapa Malaysia, Tunku Abeul Rahman, and his two successors Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn. 

New Straits Times reported that former Prime Minister and father of the “929 Declaration”, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had asked me for my definition of an Islamic State. 

I will respond to Mahathir when I address the meeting of Perak DAP State and branch leaders in Ipoh tomorrow, as my primary concern today is to establish beyond a shadow of doubt that Malaysians must  be able to engage in a  free, rational and responsible  public discussion  and debate on the Merdeka “social contract” of Malaysia on  Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State,  and its incompatibility with the UMNO and Barisan Nasional  “929 Declaration” and PAS’ Islamic State Document, without warnings, threats, smears or  character-assassinations.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman