At its core, the 1957 Federal Constitution embodies the spirit of moderation of different groups negotiating ways to move forward together. In doing so, it defines
what each one must give up for everyone to gain something. It found a workable compromise for all.
Whether or not we completely agree with it in total, we cannot deny the genius of our Constitution; how it has managed to bind together the weave of our multiracial,
multireligious and multilingual nation. Rather than be dreamers, our forefathers were wise to be pragmatic to the realities ofour society.
Here I would like to share with you what Prof Shad S.Faruqi has to say about our Malaysian Constitution. He outlines 10 sterling achievements of our Constitution – and a testimony of we Malaysian. This article is taken the preface from his book “ The BEDROCK Of Our Nation : OUR CONSTITUTION
As we commemorate 55 years of independence it is time to reflect on our triumphs and travails, our successes and failures and to renew our resolve to overcome many unmet challenges.
In the area of constitutionalism, most will agree that though the cup is not full to the brim, it is not empty. There is enough in it to relish and cherish and protect and preserve.
The Constitution has survived the vicissitudes of race and religious politics. Despite many political and economic crises that could have torn other societies asunder, our Constitution has endured. It has provided a rock-solid foundation for our political stability, social harmony and economic prosperity.
One can count ten sterling achievements of the socio-legal system ushered in by the 1957 document of destiny.
First is the wondrous durability of political cooperation amongst the country’s racial and religious groups. The coalition of 14 disparate political parties under a sometimes shaky but nevertheless enduring political alliance is perhaps the world’s longest surviving political arrangement. The rainbow coalition of political and ethnic parties that has ruled the country for 54 (plus two pre-Merdeka) years is built on an overwhelming spirit of accommodation, a moderateness of spirit, an absence- of the kind of passions, zeal and ideological convictions that in other plural societies have left a heritage of bitterness and violence. The existence of such a power-sharing arrangement has done much to weld politically incompatible elements together. In a country of autonomous and widely divergent cultural worlds, each in its own orbit, the 14-party Barisan Nasional is the sun that keeps the various planets from colliding with the others.
Second is the success of the economy which was achieved by giving protection to the right to property and to trade and commerce. An open economy and vigorous development plans made Malaysia one of the economic success stories of the region. A dynamic economy has implications for the realisation of many of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Many constitutional rights have socio-economic pre-requisites for their flowering. Only then can they find expression in reality. It is not an exaggeration to say that food is as important as freedom and bread as important as the ballot box. Five decades of enlightened policies on foreign trade and investment opened up the global economic gateway for Malaysia long before globalization came in vogue.
The economic successes of the country had significant implications for social justice. They helped the progressive elimination of poverty and the securing of the basic necessities of life for the population. The country’s social welfare policies including price controls, subsidies for essential goods and services, highly subsidised medical services for the poor, free primary and secondary education, educational loans and scholarships, credit facilities for small scale businesses, low cost housing, FELDA schemes, legal protection for workers, and the provision of social security have done much to secure dignity for the lower and middle income groups.
Third, Malaysia used the economy to unite its disparate racial groups. By encouraging entrepreneurship and allowing the minority communities to provide leadership in the economic area and permitting them to soar to the heights of their abilities, the government achieved twin objectives. It succeeded in developing the country. It gave to every community a stake in the country.
The fourth sterling achievement is that despite periodic tensions and racist rhetoric, the country’s enduring and endearing inter-ethnic harmony has few parallels in the world. Citizens not only tolerate, they celebrate each others’ religious and cultural festivals. Instead of creating a melting pot, Malaysia painstakingly weaved a rich cultural mosaic. The plurality of lifestyles this engenders has given rise to an extraordinarily multi-faceted society. The various people of Malaysia are like the colours of a rainbow – separate but not apart. No race, religion or region is in a state of war with the government. Except for the racial riots of 1969 and some other instances of communal disorder, ethnic, tribal or religious violence is unknown. For 54 years Malaysia has provided the world with an example of how a fragmented multi-ethnic and multi-religious polity can be welded together in a common nationality.
The fifth outstanding feature of Malaysia is the peaceful and cooperative manner in which social engineering is being accomplished. Unlike some other societies like Fiji, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia (with a similar problem of identification of race with economic function and the concentration of wealth in the hands of powerful minorities), the Government in Malaysia did not expropriate the wealth of one community to bestow it on another as happened in Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe. It embarked on a pragmatic expansion of opportunities to give to every community its share of the pie. The country’s efforts at social restructuring have had a clear impact. The success of welfare policies has brought human dignity and the graces of life to many who were living on the fringes of existence at the time of independence. Ameliorative programmes have positive human rights implications because formal rights are not enough; rights must find correspondence in social reality.
A sixth remarkable feature of the country is the emancipation of women. In the work place, in schools and in universities, women are easily outnumbering men. In the professions they are making their mark and increasingly moving into leadership positions. Recently the Constitution was amended to outlaw gender discrimination in the public sector.
Seventh, Malaysia as a Muslim country is an exemplar of a moderate, enlightened, progressive and tolerant society that embraces modernity and democracy and yet accommodates the spiritual view of life. The imperatives of modernity and the aspirations of religion mingle together. Secularism and Islam co-exist in harmony and symbiosis. Malaysia preserves the best of its religious, cultural and moral traditions and yet keeps the portals of its mind open to the world. It is a nation in which the past, the present and the future blend together beautifully.
Eighth, Malaysia has successfully kept the armed forces under civilian control. There has been no attempted coup d’etat and no “stern warnings” from military generals to the political executive. Even in 1969 when law and order broke down in the Klang Valley, the National Operations Council was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak who called the shots with the army and police representatives in attendance. If army personnel commit criminal transgressions, they are arrested by the police and prosecuted in the ordinary courts. Malaysia has kept the armed forces out of politics by creating a subtle check and balance between the armed force and the police force. The numerical strength of the two forces, their equipment and the rank of their top officers are nearly equal. Another remarkable phenomenon is that the extra-constitutional military-industrial complex that, behind the scenes, dictates policy in many democratic countries like the USA has not been able to displace civilian control over military and industrial decisions in Malaysia.
Ninth, Malaysia has very successfully used education as a tool of social engineering and upward social mobility. Primary and secondary education is free and open to all irrespective of race or religion. Tertiary education is highly subsidised. Though the number of public universities has risen to 20 from only one after Merdeka, the government is unable to meet the aspiration of all who seek higher education. Nevertheless, the 90% literacy rate is high on any standards. The opportunities for upward mobility through higher education are almost unmatched in this part of the world.
Tenth, our law and order situation is relatively satisfactory. The recent Bersih 2.0 rally, though criticised by the security establishment, was largely peaceful and proves that, by far and large, in this country liberty does not degenerate into a licence for anarchy. Street violence is not our way of solving problems.
The blessings of Allah on Malaysia are many. There is much in Malaysia’s struggles and successes that is worthy of emulation by friends and foes alike.
But despite our successes we cannot be complacent. As we celebrate fifty-four years of independence, our laws and institutions, our values and our views cannot remain impervious to the changes and challenges all around us. We cannot operate the way we operated when Malaya began its tryst with destiny in 1957. One must remember Woodrow Wilson’s observation that the Constitution is not a mere lawyer’s document. It is a vehicle of life and its spirit is always the spirit of the age. In the realm of constitutionalism there are always new challenges and opportunities that beckon the human spirit.