I grew up in Kota Bharu. My father was fond of Western cuisine and had a Hainanese cook who prepared the dishes he enjoyed.
Our family was in grief. He was dear to us all. He had no known relatives. So my father took it upon himself to arrange a full Chinese funeral for the cook, complete with a brass band and procession, and invited all the cook’s friends. We children followed in respect as the process wove its way through the town.
The picture that our current politics paints of us is devoid of wonder, and therefore of possibility.
Our politics has become an enemy of our sense of wonder. Instead it has sown doubt, uncertainty and fear. These are disabling emotions. It is not by accident that authoritarian regimes everywhere begin their subjugation of people by cutting them off from their past. Systematically, they replace the richly textured memories of a community that make people independent, inquisitive and open with prefabricated tales that weaken them into subjugation through fear and anxiety. They destroy the markers of memory, the checks and balances of tradition and institution, and replace them with a manufactured set of images all pointing to a centralized power.
In that wonder we shall recover what it is we love about being who we are, who we are amongst, and we shall more fiercely defend not just our own, but each others’ freedoms.
A Constitution of Consensus
One place for us to begin this process together is our Federal Constitution.
The Constitution is the ultimate safeguard of our fundamental liberties. These are liberties which cannot be taken away.
The truth is that our Constitution was built by a deliberately consultative process aimed at achieving consensus.
The question of whether the Federation should be an islamic state, for example, was considered and rejected by the Rulers and by the representatives of the people. Had we wanted to be ruled by syariah, the option was on the shelf, so to speak, and could easily have been taken, because prior to this the states were ruled by the Sultans according to syariah law. The fact that we have a constitution governed by common law is not an accident nor an external imposition. We chose to found our nation on a secular constitution after consultation and deliberation.
What we should be uneasy about is not so much ethnic discord, which is often manufactured for political ends and has little basis in the daily experience of our citizens, but the subversion of our Constitution. Such subversion is only possible if we forget that this Constitution belongs to us, protects us all, and underwrites our nationhood and we fail to defend it.
The political framework of this country cries out for reform. But reform is not about the blind embrace of the new. That would be to fly from disorder to confusion. Our path to reform must come from a recovery of the “old” living spirit of Constitutionalism, and the “old” values of freedom and justice, and the “old” memories each of us carries in themselves of what is good about our nation.
National reform must begin with reform of our party system. This is because one of the chief reasons this nation is sick is that we have a diseased party system. A diagnosis of the disease of the party system finds that the parties are sick because they have strayed from from the Constitutional principles that govern them (they are subject to the Societies Act). In doing so they have become undemocratic. In becoming undemocratic they have lost legitimacy. In losing legitimacy they have lost public support and the ability to rejuvenate themselves. The cure, surely is for them to conform themselves again to constitutional principles.
I have warned that Umno, like any other political party that has been in power for so long, must reform, or it will be tossed out by the people.
It is not just Umno that needs to reform. The entire political system needs to change, to be in greater conformity with our Constitution and in the spirit of the Rukun Negara, which says from these diverse elements of our population, we are dedicated to the achievement of a united nation in which loyalty and dedication to the nation shall over-ride all other loyalties.’”
We should not expect our political parties to reform of their own accord. Leaders who owe their position to undemocratic rules and practices are the last people to accept reform. The people must demand it.
Today, in 2009, an African American man is President of the United States. He has just won the Nobel Peace Prize. In 46 years, and well within my lifetime, how far things have come. Had you told me in 1962, after that incident, that a black man would be president in my life time, I would not have believed you. This change did not happen without struggle.
If the authorities do what is unjust, ride roughshod over constitutional rights and deny the sovereignty of the rakyat and the primacy of our constitution, we rest secure in the knowledge that history shows us that the just cause, defended stoutly, persistently and peacefully, will prevail. And sooner than we might expect.
EXTRACTED FROM: Razaleigh.com
Keynote speech on the launch of the book, Multi-ethnic Malaysia
UCSI University, Cheras, October 16, 2009
READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE HERE: Constitution of Consensus