Honest journalism and better democracy — Tunku Zain Al-Abidin

Source: The Borneo Post Online


AT their best, you might assume that in a healthy democracy, the realms of journalism and civil society share the same goal. Both want to expand the space – whether in print, online, conference halls or on the streets – in which citizens can discuss the state of the country and debate the ideologies and policies that they believe will take the country forward.

At their worst, agents of both are compromised by undemocratic interests: even in countries regarded as established democracies, newspapers and so-called non-governmental organisations are seen as lobby groups under the thumb of certain political parties, corporations or trade unions. But at least this is mitigated by transparency in terms of ownership and funding, and more crucially, by competition in the media space. In dictatorships, these aspects are absent.

In Malaysia, the print media remains strongly regulated, but the space secured by the mass penetration of the Internet (and then specifically social media) as well as the more relaxed view towards civil society under Tun Abdullah Badawi (compared to the previous environment) has made permanent some avenues for the expression of alternative views. However, investigating certain topics or ‘insulting’ certain individuals are off-limits and can lead to the closure of your online portal or you being in jail. Read more

Hooray for the judiciary — Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin

Source: The Malay Mail Online


MAY 12 — On recent occasions where I’ve been asked to speak on our Federal Constitution, I have quoted five legal luminaries from our history: Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Sultan Azlan Shah, Tun Mohamed Suffian and Raja Aziz Addruse.

Confusion sometimes arises from the first two, while non-legal audiences don’t know the last two. Hopefully one day all young Malaysians will be familiar with these names, and what they contributed in relation to the law. Read more

Rekindling Tunku’s commitment to liberty and justice — Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin

Source: The Malay Mail Online


opinion-clipart-k12118272FEBRUARY 10 — Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj declared in the Proclamation of Independence of the Federation of Malaya, and then the Proclamation of Malaysia, that this nation of ours will “forever be a nation based on the principles of liberty and justice”.

Right from the beginning, liberty and justice were the twin principles that were to inspire our nation — sentiments repeated across his many speeches and writings, as well as those of other leaders of the era such as Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman or Datuk Mohamad Said.

The Rukunegara talks about “guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions.”  Those who fail to realise these values are the founding philosophy of our country should read the documents instead of distorting and misinterpreting selected words of the Constitution.

Unfortunately, politicians everywhere have lost the ability to lead, and have instead succumbed to winning simply through populism, as the votes for Brexit and Donald Trump have shown.  My fear is that we will see a greater lurch towards populism as we get closer to the 14th General Election.

Exploiting ethnic and religious tensions is among the easiest ways to make political gains, notwithstanding helpful electoral boundaries and privileged access to media which will pliantly obscure the elephants in the room. Read more

Rights up our street — Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin

Source: The Malay Mail Online

By Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin

opinion-clipart-k12118272DECEMBER 17 — Most national constitutions refer to the rights that the state must respect and promote for its citizens.

Part Two of our Federal Constitution is headed “Fundamental Liberties”: here are articles about protecting the liberty of the person; prohibiting slavery and forced labour; protection against retrospective criminal laws and repeated trials; equality before the law; prohibition of banishment and freedom of movement; freedom of speech, assembly and association; freedom of religion; educational rights; and rights to property. Related matters concerning citizenship, elections and preventive detention are addressed elsewhere in the document.

Our early leaders spoke often about these rights. Our first Yang di-Pertuan Agong referred to the Federal Constitution as “a charter of our common belief that certain fundamental principles are essential to the dignity and self-respect of man”, while our first Prime Minister, who proclaimed Malaysia as a democracy founded upon liberty and justice, led the call for the formation of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam) on Human Rights Day (Dec 10, 1988).

Today there are many organisations working explicitly towards human rights objectives, while others combine on-the-ground services to the marginalised with an advocacy role. In addition there are the corporate responsibility arms of companies that indirectly promote similar causes, boosting the volunteer efforts that run shelters, orphanages, soup kitchens and homeschooling programmes. Read more

Conservatively speaking freely — Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz

Source: The Malay Mail Online


opinion-clipart-k12118272DECEMBER 9 — Young Malaysians know the world is getting more competitive than ever, that companies and entire sectors can rise and fall dramatically, and that an event in a place they never heard of can somehow affect their lives in Malaysia.

Even though some things might seem inevitable, like transformative technological improvements, not everyone will be able to access, or indeed desire, the fruit of these changes. Combined with the volatility of oil prices, the state of our currency or even the challenge of finding a job, a great many are uncertain about the future.

The root causes of much of this uncertainty lie in geopolitics. Read more

Malaysia Before Malaysia Lecture #6: Federal Constitution – Colonial Legacy or National Pride?


To many Malaysians, the Federal Constitution is deemed as the heart of our nationhood. It holds the promises of our aspirations, hopes and dreams to be attained by preserving ideals as encapsulated by the highest law of the land.

However, this promise has faced much obstacles and for some, its spirit has withered over time – especially with the changing landscape of the people’s liberties, institutions and justice.

Due to this, there have been many concerns severely contested by numerous scholars, activists and communities regarding the perceived values interpreted from the Federal Constitution, when provisions regarding religion, race and fundamental liberties are brought into a controversial light once again in the courts of justice.

Much of it boils down to questioning the origins of the Federal Constitution, its makers and its attempt to move forward from the long episode of colonialism. Has it contributed to the current dilemmas we face today? Will a better understanding of our Federal Constitution ignite a greater appreciation that will revitalize the necessary attitudes to address these very same dilemmas?

In this lecture, Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz, founding president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) will be scrutinizing the history behind the making of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution and the surrounding debate around the extent of its ability to serve as the bedrock of the nation.

Details of event are as follow:
Date: Saturday, 12th November 2016
Time: 10.45am – 1.00pm
Venue: MCCHR Pusat Rakyat LB, Jalan Pantai Baharu (A-3-8 Pantai Business Park), 59200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Admission is free and open to all. Donations are encouraged. Directions to the venue are available at mcchr.org/space.

This lecture is part of the Malaysia Before Malaysia series, brought to you by Imagined Malaysia and MCCHR.

For more lectures like this, follow us on social media:

Ambiga: Brake on MPs’ freedom of speech erodes democracy

Source: FMT News

HAKAM President Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan – The Malaysian Insider file pic, October 15, 2015.

HAKAM President Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan – The Malaysian Insider file pic, October 15, 2015.

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Human Rights Society has expressed concern that certain parties are explicit that non-Muslims MPs should not debate the hudud Bill while Muslim lawmakers must vote ‘aye’ for the law.

“These two statements undermine our parliamentary democracy,” its president Ambiga Sreenevasan said.

The lawyer made the remarks when she took to the podium at the inaugural lecture “Reclaiming our Federal Constitution – Preserve, Protect & Defend” at the University of Malaya Thursday.

Saying she would not go into the merits of the Bill, which is scheduled to be tabled by PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang when Parliament begins its session next week, Ambiga lamented:

“They are saying that non-Muslim MPs cannot discuss the legislation that is coming before Parliament. They are also saying that Muslim MPs have no choice but to vote.

“And we never had such a situation in the past. Of course, when it comes to the (party) whip, that is a different thing. So those are the things that worry me.” Read more

Reclaiming our Federal Constitution — Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin

Source: The Malay Mail Online


OCTOBER 14 — Among our citizens, vastly different interpretations of our Constitution exist. Each formed from different worldviews, each proclaiming legitimacy. If this trend continues unabated, greater polarisation will occur.

That is why steps need to be taken to ensure the vast majority of Malaysians accept a common understanding of the supreme law of the land.

To reclaim it, we need to understand how it came into being. Those who possessed sovereignty and political power agreed our new nation required a constitution, and one was duly drafted and approved. But when was their understanding of this document contested to the extent it became necessary to say we need to reclaim it?

Early opponents of our Constitution were easy to identify since they rejected it outright; but later, the tools of reinterpretation and amendment were used to slowly change its character. This was a political process, often using racial or religious language, accompanied by the centralisation of power. Read more

What can we do? — Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin

Source: The Malay Mail Online


AUGUST 5 — Readers of apparently all ages and backgrounds concerned about ongoings in the country have been asking me: What can we do?

This question stems from concern and pessimism about the future of the country, compounded by a fear that they will get in trouble for speaking their mind about certain issues. It is indeed sad that so many people feel this way in a country that was explicitly founded on democratic principles.


The first sitting of Parliament of the Federation of Malaya on Sept 15, 1959 at the old Parliament House which is now the Malaysian Tourism Centre in Jalan Ampang. — Picture from National Archives

On Instagram (@tz.n9) I have shared the speech that the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong delivered in the Dewan Ra’ayat (as it was then spelled, sitting in a hall that is today the Malaysian Tourism Centre on Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur) in its first session on Sept 12, 1959.

In his historic royal address, His Majesty said that the Federal Constitution is “a democratic achievement of the highest order. It is the product of many minds working with a common aim, to evolve a basic charter for this new Malayan nation of ours — a charter drawn from our past experience and suited to the conditions of our surroundings and way of life — a charter of our firm faith in the concepts and traditions of parliamentary democracy — and finally, and most important of all, a charter of our common belief that certain fundamental liberties are essential to the dignity and self-respect of man.”

Speaking to all citizens, Tuanku Abdul Rahman stressed that the Constitution “belongs to all of us” — to the Agong, to the Members of Parliament, and “to the people as the fount of power.” Read more

Seeking convergence on conversion — Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz

Source: The Malay Mail Online


Tevi Darsiny (left) and Karan Dinish comfort their mother Indira, who holds a photograph of her youngest child, Prasana -- pic taken from MMO

Tevi Darsiny (left) and Karan Dinish comfort their mother Indira, who holds a photograph of her youngest child, Prasana — pic taken from MMO

JANUARY 15 — The issue of the conversion of children to Islam by a single parent is again in the fore, following the latest legal decision in the ongoing tussle involving M. Indira Gandhi, her ex-husband Muhammad Riduan Abdullah (K. Patmanathan before conversion to Islam) and their three children.

In April 2009, Patmanathan unilaterally converted the children to Islam (then aged 12, 11 and a baby of 11 months) without their or their mother’s presence by using their birth certificates. In September, the Ipoh Syariah Court granted (now) Muhammad Riduan custody of them.

In March 2010, the Ipoh High Court granted Indira custody of the three children. In July 2013, the court annulled the conversions of the children and ruled unilateral child conversions unconstitutional; and in May 2014, annulled the Ipoh Syariah Court’s 2009 custody order, cited Muhammad Riduan for contempt of the Ipoh High Court’s 2010 custody order, and directed him to return the youngest child to the mother. The elder two children were already with the mother. Read more