Parliament Notes: Constitutional Amendments Postponed

By Wong Chen

The first sitting of the Parliament 2024 session, recently ended on 27th of March. It was a sitting dominated by one main issue; the proposed constitutional amendments on stateless and citizenship. While it was widely covered in the news, behind the scenes, several MPs, including myself were involved in many hours of negotiations regarding the specific wordings and policy positions of the amendments.

As Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on International Relations and International Trade, I have the responsibility of dealing with potential negative international reactions and fallouts from such amendments. In addition, my position as the Malaysian Chapter Chairman of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, also puts me in direct disagreement with a few clauses of the amendments. In direct conflict with my personal feelings, is the fact that this a Unity Government bill, which means that as a government backbencher, I too will be subjected to the party whip in terms of voting.

As such, for the first three weeks of the said Parliamentary sitting, almost on a daily basis, I had meetings regarding the subject matter. I met up with UNICEF, ambassadors, diplomats and civil society activists. On the other hand, I also had long meetings with the Home Minister, including one in the presence of the Attorney General. I also had a half an hour meeting with the Prime Minister on multiple matters, including the said amendments.

Then on 22nd of March, I was sent by Parliament to Geneva to attend and represent Malaysia at the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting. Upon arriving in Geneva, I received a message from the Home Minister that the government has decided to de-couple the highly contentious issue regarding foundlings. A compromise was offered.

Then on the 25th of March, whilst in Geneva, I received a message that I must return to KL for the vote slated for the 27th of March. I arrived in KL at 8 am on the 27th of March, got into Parliament at 11 am. The Home Minister stood to defend the amendments at around 5 pm. At 5.30 pm, the Speaker said that since the government did not seek a motion for extension of time, the debate has to end. This means the amendments will only resume for debate in the upcoming June/July Parliament session. This break in the debate, may allow interest groups and stakeholders to start lobbying again to further amend the bill. If that happens, the entire negotiation process will be effectively re-started; this time with another two months to sort things out.

Malaysia is racially and religiously, very diverse. As such, we need to consider the views of all, however much we personally disagree with these views, before a major constitutional decision is taken. It is because of this very same diversity (which can unite or divide us) that we need to adopt an evolving and organic law-making process. What it means, in practical terms, is that the laws that we pass must start on a considered compromise, but coupled with a commitment to evolve and refine these laws over time, learning from real life experience in the applications of these laws. This also means that the laws should have some vagueness and wriggle room; reflecting our own experiences of being a nation still unsure of our unique diversity.  As we wriggle and evolve ahead to becoming a nation of Malaysians, the laws in time, should also evolve to be more solid and precise. For that to work, we must strive to reject all forms of extremism, both as an individual or as a racial or religious group.