Citizens’ Constitution

“We are Malaysian citizens: We are free; we are equal; we are friends.”

This is the introduction to an ongoing project to update the Federal Constitution of Malaysia in order to produce a “Citizens’ Constitution”. The preamble statement serves to encapsulate the basic principles, intentions and attributes of the progressive, secular and egalitarian multi-cultural country we are fighting for. This is an ongoing project and will be continually updated as it progresses. Constructive input and comments are welcome.

Latest edits will be highlighted in blue.

I would like to first state that I have no formal legal training (I apologise in advance for any inaccurate legal terminology), and have only recently begun to study the Federal Constitution in depth. In doing so I find that one of the first weaknesses of the Constitution is that it is written in such opaque and convoluted legal language that it is virtually inaccessible to the vast majority of citizens.

IMHO, one of the basic tenets of a national constitution is that it is written for the people (who are its ultimate owners); therefore, it follows that the text and intent of the Constitution should be readily legible and comprehensible to the majority of educated citizens. In its present written form the Federal Constitution of Malaysia must surely test the perseverance of even the most experienced of legal experts, if I may say so.

The Constitution is also badly outdated in parts: several long-outdated provisions such as the ISA, OSA and Emergency Ordinances which were developed to combat insurgents and infiltrators are ‘conveniently’ still in force, thus allowing fascist elements in government to abuse these legal provisions for the purpose of silencing the opposition and suppressing independent thought.

After 50 years, I believe that it is time that the Constitution should be comprehensively updated and re-written in both English and BM in order to clarify its language while preserving the spirit of the original provisions (where no amendments are necessary).

For the reasons above, I believe that the Constitution must be revised, and it should be revised by a cross-sectional citizens’ group with the interests of the people at heart.

I do not consider the present government to be up to this task.

Therefore, we must take it upon ourselves to undertake the revision of the Constitution. Broadly, the objectives of the citizens’ revision are:

(1) to reinforce and enshrine in unambiguous terms the secular and liberal democratic character of the Malaysian nation;
(2) to reinforce and enshrine in unambiguous terms the equality of all citizens irrespective of gender, race or religion;
(3) to remove any and all provisions enshrining discriminatory policies or which run counter to principle (2) above;
(4) to enshrine (responsible) freedom of expression;
(5) to enshrine in unambiguous terms the principle of the strict separation of powers of state;
(6) to enshrine a provision for an independent body to oversee governmental accountability;

There are many more, of course.

In the effort to re-draft the Federal Constitution, I am primarily referencing the Turkish Constitution (available at http://www.byegm.gov.tr/mevzuat/anayasa/anayasa-ing.htm) (and am also researching other best-practice national constitutions), which we will immediately see is no less complex but which is written in clear, direct English.

I consider the Turkish Constitution to be a modern and progressive model for a diverse and multi-cultural country. While neither the Turkish Constitution nor the actual practice of it is without flaws, the document itself is valuable for the fact that it enshrines the secular nature of the Turkish nation AND the equality of all citizens irrespective of gender, race or religion.

BN has clearly forgotten (and refuses to remember) the principles of good governance. Over the years, BN has done its damned best to politicise and corrupt the civil service, universities, judiciary, security agencies and military. With a few notable exceptions, they have largely succeeded. The corruption has even insinuated itself into the Constitution.

We urgently need to undo the corruption wrought by BN, and perhaps we can begin at the Bangsa Malaysia Merdeka gathering, where we can redefine and clarify the original principles and ultimate objectives of our independence.

I hope that one day, we will be able to sum up the complex situation of Malaysian citizenship as simply as:

“We are Malaysian citizens: We are free; we are equal; we are friends.”

6 responses

9 08 2007
jiinjoo

Here’s a weird story of the constitution of Malaysia – since I have been searching for it all the time to quote it during discussion. In the earlier years of this century (2000 – 2003), a simple google / yahoo search on “Constitution of Malaysia” have always landed me on this Richmond university’s website. I couldn’t even verify if it is correct. Alas, it served its purpose.

But as more and more of these conversation are brought online, the online style of quoting started taking root (you have to “link” to the page that says what it says), so people started making money out of it by copy and pasting large amounts of constitution of various countries and slapping ads all over it.

This made it worse because now it’s no longer .edu that’s hosting it, it’s .com and .net of the world.

Recently (actually just this year) a parliment.gov.my entry finally appeared, albeit in a PDF form (to prevent people from doing weird stuff to it I guess). I see this as how the channel matures – i.e. everybody will eventually crowd in and make some form of stand or opinion or exert authority etc.

Similarly, I thought if you want to have a good discussion on the constitution, somewhere somehow people will need to feel free to “crowd in”, give in their opinion / stand etc. Some will be pushed back, others will hopefully encourage change etc. It is hard because to have the collective will of the people enshrined in merely a few words that everyone can understand takes a lot of consideration.

Hopefully, some day in the future, technology will be able to help us collect this aggregated will.

End of story 🙂

[ GhL ] : agreed, jiinjoo. one of the objectives this site was set up for was to aggregate the aspirations of citizens to create a sort of ‘wiki’ citizens’ constitution (moderated of course) that could be used as the basis to update the FC. At the very least, we may be able to create a document to encapsulate the aspirations of the people… which may not tally exactly with the FC in its present form. Haris Ibrahim is an expert on issues surrounding the FC; see his views at his blog “The People’s Parliament

15 08 2007
Lim Sue Kee

Would like to share what I have just read:

The Word and Revolution

On the eve and in the early stages of all the major modern revolutions – the American, French and the Russian – the word was used to spread the cause. In Ten Days That Shook the World, his outstanding on-the-scene reportage of the Russian Revolution, the American journalist John Reed vividly describes this:

All Russia was learning to read, and reading – politics, economics, history – because the people wanted to know … In every city, in most towns, along the front, each political faction had its newspaper – sometimes several. Hundreds of thousands of pamphlets were distributed by thousands of organizations, and poured into the armies, the villages, the factories, the streets. The thirst for education, so long thwarted, burst with the Revolution into a frenzy of expression. From Smolny Institute alone, the first six months, went out every day, tons, carloads, train-loads of literature, saturating the land. Russia absorbed reading matter like hot sand drinks water, insatiable. And it was not fables, falsified history, diluted religion, and the cheap fiction that corrupts – but social and economic theories, philosophy, the works of Tolstoy, Gogol, Gorky ….

This quotation brilliantly describes a vast upsurge of energy among a people newly armed with the word. Something similar occurred in the early stages of the French Revolution. Unfortunately, however, in both instances, the violent train of later events mercilessly suppressed that energy. Tyranny and terror ousted and replaced freedom of speech. Silence was enforced on the people, and the spirit was defeated.

In America, on the other hand, as the classic analysis by the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville makes clear, the town meetings characterized the early New England were a seedbed for the cultivation of grass-roots democracy. The energy of the township at the time of the American Revolution was directed both toward the present, in the form of striving for independence, and toward the future, in the form of the search for an independent political order. Energy for the sake of liberation was at the same time constructive. During the struggle to break free from England, all thirteen of the original colonies were writing their own constitutions. The state of Virginia was at the same time drawing up the Virginia Bill of Rights, which remains a model of its kind.

I just needed to express myself. I am not calling for a violent revolution but a soft revolution, ie through the polls. Just do it guys!

[ GhL ] : Thank you for sharing your very lucid comment, Suekee, we usually get valid but unprintable stuff 🙂
Seriously, though… My reply to your comment has grown into a full-size post, which will be up shortly.

Would be glad to meet you at the Bangsa Malaysia Merdeka get-together next weekend. Full details atThe People’s Parliament

[ new . GhL ] : whoops, accidentally deleted your email address during a routine commenters’ privacy protection exercise; would you mind dropping me an email at ghostline2501@gmail.com ? cheers

3 09 2007
chansey

“We are Malaysian citizens: We are free; we are equal; we are friends.”

I suggest a change to the above line:

“We are Malaysian citizens: We are free; we are equal; we are brothers.”

I believe the reasons for the change should be clear enough.

Also, I suggest an independent body with the authority to investigate government projects. The results must be publicly disclosed in newspapers and the internet, and recorded in the national archives (not hidden under the O.S.A.), and its members must be chosen by non-government individuals from a selection of accountants and lawyers, possibly with one member from each state.

In addition, perhaps we should also restrict government control of the media, and unban all formerly banned political literature.

[ GhL ] : Chansey, that was the first version of the tagline, then I amended it to keep it gender-neutral, and ‘siblings’ somehow didn’t quite capture the spirit. 🙂

Besides having a body with ACTUAL power to investigate AND prosecute corruption, one idea to ensure accountability is to outsource the auditing of public funds to an auditing panel composed of selected and established private sector firms. The firms would be rotated at random on a yearly basis but would use a standard GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles), so that the accounts of any given department/ministry would be audited by a different team every fiscal year — making the previous auditor’s work also subject to scrutiny by the current team, thus adding another accountability filter.

I haven’t done the math yet, but I’m absolutely convinced the cost of engaging the rotating audit panel would be far, far less than the amount of public money lost to corruption, embezzlement and sheer waste every year. What would it cost, RM100mil? chump change compared to the embezzlement now. I would even go so far as to day it would probably pay for itself within the same year.

As for government control of the media, it should have none, period. In a democratic society, a free and fair media is supposed to form the ‘Fourth Estate’, and any form of government interference compromises the independence of the media. There will of course be variations of quality, but disputes over media content can be dealt with through the civil courts and a (reformed and updated) media authority. The ruling party can always form their own media ‘mouthpieces’ in a private capacity, but these will be seen as such and not in the guise of a ‘national’ newspaper.

3 09 2007
Satya

I’m curious. Is there a country in the world that actually does outsource its auditing like this? It seems a really good idea in theory; you could apply this principle to any organisation… heck, even to the UN!

What do you mean when you say “media authority”? Wouldn’t it inevitably have governmental involvement? FCC for eg.

I REALLY like the idea of a Wiki constitution. But I think the most important question to decide is who the moderators should be. Otherwise the Wiki Constitution is a farce. Ultimately, deciding on this is going to be very arbitrary… the same way that essentially a bunch of wealthy land owners wrote the US constitution. Of course in Malaysia’s case it was slightly difference since the Alliance had this enormous mandate, but the rest of the Reid Commission were also quite arbitrarily decided.

A possible way to decide on the moderators could be elections. That’s how the Alliance was chosen, right? Though admittedly, things were a lot simpler then. It’ll be proportional representation on the Commission of moderators. This idea does have it’s flaws, I’ll admit (then again, don’t they all?). The moderators have to be really trusted by the people, otherwise we’ll end up with a Thai situation (they’re on their 17th Constitution now, right?).

[ GhL ] : The suggestions on this page are not just limited to proposed constitutional amendments; any ideas on how to improve governance are welcome.

To my knowledge, no country (or corporation) has implemented a ‘rotating audit panel’ system yet. The idea of a rotating panel actually came out of my cynicism over the Enron/Arthur Andersen collusion: “who polices the police?” or in this case, “who audits the auditors?” Having a randomly rotating panel (need to think through the mechanics and practicalities of this) by default means that not only will each particular set of accounts be audited by a fresh team each year (thus minimising the opportunities for hanky-panky), the work of the previous year’s audit team will by default also be subjected to professional scrutiny by the current audit team composed of different people from a different company (thus providing a further check against abuse). i.e. EVERY department’s yearly accounts will be audited by a fresh professional audit team EACH year, and there will be no way of knowing in advance which audit team will be auditing which department’s accounts. The audit reports will be compiled and made public.

Is it workable? I think it’s quite possible.

Re: media freedom, I don’t think we can get away entirely from having *some* media regulations — i prefer the term ‘basic guidelines’ — the real question is how much, how well thought-out these are and how well they are interpreted and administered. One thing for certain, the Executive branch of government should never be allowed to have the power to intimidate or suppress the mass media; any media abuses should be processed through the civil courts or special media courts of an independent judiciary.

Ultimately, in real life the Constitution or policies of a nation will almost always be set by a small elite claiming (rightly or wrongly) to represent the people. What we are trying to achieve here is perhaps to increase the people’s participation by first compiling and developing ideas from the ground before the proposals reach the ‘elite’. What I have in mind for the ‘wiki’ Constitution and other proposals like the rotating audit panel is that when we eventually compile enough material to form a working document, we can then submit this document to a few leading citizens in a position to take it further; people of great integrity, whom we know or have strong reason to believe have the people’s interests at heart. I have in mind people like Jeff Ooi and Haris Ibrahim at this time.

All these ideas and suggestions are very much works-in-progress, but your input is much welcome. There is no perfect, cure-all solution, but we can certainly try to improve the mechanisms in place now (and vote out this rotten UMNO-BN government while we’re at it!)

3 09 2007
chansey

I can imagine women’s right’s groups screaming about being left out of the Citizens’ Constitution. LoL…

About the private sector firms, I am not too sure about relying on them – it may be just me, but there is a lot of news about corporatocracy, profiteering and behaviour control these days. Perhaps an independent NGO (answerable to the people and to a lesser extent the government) may be better in the anti-corruption task, with members from foreign and local Universities, firms and the public rotated frequently.

The same goes for media censorship, perhaps just kick the government out of everything and form a media authority (again answerable to te people) to censor movies, advertisements etc.

I guess it goes back to civic consciousness as no amount of checks and balances can compare to the peoples’ ability to reflect on whether what we’re doing is right.

Whatever you do put in that constitution, please add a section where concerned people can form their own groups to monitor and report on government actions. Refreshing the system may be more important than getting it right the first time.


[ GhL ] :
Chansey, see my reply to Satya’s post, just before yours. Most of the responses to your points are there.

P.S. women’s equality (or the lack of it) is too often taken for granted, especially in largely patriarchal societies.

3 09 2007
chansey

I forgot to add the link to the behavior control page, see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20427857/site/newsweek/
to get an idea of how people are trying to control our behavior for their own good.

[ GhL ] : Big Brother (Orwell’s, not the trash reality show) is already a reality.

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