Sunday, March 30, 2008

Northeast Malaysia Forum 2008 - Malik Imtiaz

The next speaker for Northeast Malaysia Forum at Harvard University is Malik Imtiaz, a Human Rights Lawyer.

We need to keep certain concepts up front. Race, religion and politics have a very distinct role in Malaysia. The reason it is being put as first priority is that what we called social contract.

As of now, democracy is sort of dismantled 20+ years ago, during the Tun Dr. Mahathir's reign. The quality of judges appointed, especially with the judicial issue. The judiciary is not functioning at its level. This has been recognized by 2 of the chief judges already. As of now, we don't have a functioning judiciary.

If that is the case, then we have a serious case of checks and balances. Before this, it was almost entirely by a coalition of Barisan National, who is very focused on racial delineation. Race politics have allowed the concentration of power in an elite group, and this might have allowed corruption to happen. Speaker was appointed by BN, and motions raised by opposition is often being blocked.

What is happening in the last 2 years over here, has been in much of a denial. Put that together, with the seeming lack of attention of Attorney General and Auditor General, and this makes a pretty bleak picture.

On March 8, would that picture changed? We see people voting across races. As of now, we haven't had real democracy, unless we have serious restruction. If we maintain our NEP (which has outlived its purpose), and we maintain the concentration of power, and this would allow spawn the problem. Islamization is not a problem with race and religion, but it is a problem of politic. Race polarization is due to agitatioin of politics.

To move forward, unless Malaysians feel that they are being the stakeholders of this country. We need to do something to make things better. If we are just talking about the bad thing, and we are not doing anything, then we are equally responsible for the bad thing. We need to have the stakeholders take actions. On March 8, we talk about themes and issues, rather than parties and races/religions.

Q: Dissertation on Bloggin and Democracy
A: Changing of minister is a good thing, but lets not celebrate first. Malik Imtiaz worked with Zaid Ibrahim at his partner for 1 year. When we get rid of a person, do we get rid of the view. For all the political parties, it is to keep the momentum going. People are looking at Datuk Nazri, who as someone who has influence, and people will listen to that.

Q: Article 3 and Article 11 (How to remove contradictions in the constitution), as well as on what/how to execute on this.
A: In 1988, Supreme Court decision that says Malaysia as a Secular Law. Islamic Law is only for personal law consideration, for example marriage and inheritance. In 1988, Supreme Court granted hiabus corpus in the case of Che Omar Che Soh, for a Malay to join Christianity. Supreme Court said that for a person who converted into christianity, is that person has freedom to do that.

This changed in 1999. UMNO is having tough time with PAS since early 1990s. Tun Dr. Mahathir decided that we are an Islamic country, and then later as an Islamic state. Judiciary was weak then, after the Tun Salleh Abbas dismissal.

What the Prime Minister said, was taken to heart. There was no big issue in early 1990s.

On the solution, with strong judges, we can get this situation rectified. The idea is to strengthen on judiciary. There is a lot of discussion for an independent commission of appointment of judges.

We should use constitution to deal with issues, rather than through back door effects.

Malik is speaking as a Muslim as well, and March 8 shows Muslim that they can have ways to vent their emotions, besides going deeper into religion.

The second idea of the debate - Social Contract. When social contract was made, it was in 1957, rather than in 1969. Malik did not support Sedition Act. We can deny the fact that people are using language of supremacism, and this is something that hopefully will change post March 8. We have to monitor this kind of debates. And all this comes from mismanagement of government. And if there is corruption/nepotism etc, people are going to react, and it depends on how they react.

Q: Are there efforts to rearticulate Human Rights in Malaysian religious contexts
A: People can't really talk about Human Rights in dinner table. From last year, Malik tried to emphasize on Bangsa Malaysia. And we should try to emphasize on the equality of every Malaysian, while not hurting anyone. Special status is provided for in Article in 153 in Constitution. If Agong thinks if it is necessary, he can offer some sort of assistance for a selected period of time. In constitution, for civil service, to join there is quota, but once it is joined, it is via meritocracy.

Constitution also provides a scheme of protection for bumiputera, rather than a scheme of priviledge. Barisan Rakyat is a civil society initiative, and it has a People's Declaration. In the context of Islam, it is sensitive. Everything happened in the world, would cause Muslims feel that they are in the threat. But in Malaysia, Muslims would not feel threathened. What happens in Malaysia, it is undermining people from other religion.

The constitution provides for Syariah Court to have jurisdiction to have someone who believes in Islam. And for those who did apostosy, then how can they go for Syariah Court. Before 1999, there was no need for that, but today, it is in.

We have non-Muslims who say that it is the problem of Muslims, but that is not solving the problem. Being perceived as defensive is nothing wrong, but there is a real basis for being insecurity. We should allow room for us to deal with this insecurity.

Q: Is there a problem with members of Civil Society joining Political Parties?
A: During the Bersih march, Malik answered to AP, that the civil society now is taking action. Malik clarified that he is not from opposition, but he wants to see whether opposition is living up to its promise. Charles Santiago is an economist and human rights lawyer. Hopefully, with this new breed of politicians in parliament, hopefully the quality of debates in parliament is going to improve.

There was a move at some stage on whether to have a coalition of independent candidates. But Malik felt that it would be better for him to stay outside and look from outside. Students can get involved with this civil society and help out in research and other initiatives. It is interesting to see how that can translates into a better Malaysia.

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