Fight sedition or promote harmony? by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar - The STAR
WHEN Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced more than two years ago that the Sedition Act 1948 would be repealed and replaced by a National Harmony Act, I welcomed the proposal on behalf of Yayasan 1Malaysia. In the last few months, however, some prominent Malaysians have publicly argued for the retention of the Sedition Act.
While there is some merit in their arguments, they overlook the undeniable fact that the basic thrust of the Act runs counter to the spirit of the most fundamental law that governs the life of our nation, namely, the Malaysian Constitution.
Our Constitution envisages a democratic polity that respects the freedom of expression. “A democratic way of life” is also one of the five cherished goals of our national charter, the Rukun Negara.
Our national vision, Wawasan 2020, also speaks of fostering a mature democracy as one of our nine strategic challenges.
The Sedition Act was conceived by the British colonial government as an instrument to suppress any challenge to the colonial authority which explains why the Act was formulated and enforced in a number of British colonies.
Though it has been amended since Merdeka, the Act in essence takes a negative view of dissent and ideas that differ from those espoused by the powers-that-be. It is, to all intents and purposes, a law that seeks to protect and perpetuate the interests of the ruling authority.
Nonetheless, the supporters of the Sedition Act have some legitimate concerns. Will the repeal of the Act result in challenges to the position of Islam as the religion of the nation, or the status of the Malay language as the sole official and national language or the role of the Sultans as constitutional monarchs, all of which are protected in the Sedition Act?
These concerns have come to the fore largely because of continuous and persistent attacks on these constitutional provisions in the alternative media. What has exacerbated the situation is the vile and vicious language employed by these peddlers of vitriolic venom.
If we are committed to inter-religious and inter-ethnic harmony and peace, we will have to ensure that the proposed National Harmony Act takes full cognizance of these concerns.
Indeed, all those clauses incorporated into the Sedition Act following the 1971 amendments to the Constitution pertaining to:
1) the special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of the other communities;
2) the status of Malay language as the sole official and national language and the right to use and study other languages;
3) citizenship and
4) the role of the Sultans as constitutional monarchs, should be integrated into the new National Harmony Act.