The Federal Constitution is interpreted differently by various groups because there is no preamble that clearly defines the nation’s charter, a Negri Sembilan prince said.
Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin Tuanku Muhriz said this might have exacerbated the present situation of having to reclaim the supreme law of the land.
“Of course, countries which have a preamble still have problems, but there are limits as to how the Constitution should be understood,” he said.
The founding president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) Malaysia said this at the inaugural lecture “Reclaiming our Federal Constitution – Preserve, Protect & Defend” at University of Malaya yesterday.
He cited India, the United States of America and Spain which had a preamble in their written Constitution for guidance of their citizens.
Tunku Zain said whether there was a preamble or not, the articles of the Constitution defined the institutions that “compels our life”.
“We need a Constitution unless we want to live in a state of anarchy,” he added.
He said the Malaysian Constitution needed to be reclaimed because there were citizens who interpreted it in ways that were vastly different from others.
“Competing groups approach the Constitution from their own world views and experiences and each proclaim legitimacy for themselves,” he added.
These occurrences, he said, were more pronounced and visible in recent years.
“If the trend continues, our country will see greater polarisation, making living together increasingly difficult,” he added.
He said this was due to, among others, the rise of race and religious politics, and concentration of power with the Executive.
He said Malaysians must learn and understand the Constitution as in the United Kingdom, where its citizens studied the Magna Carta – which is about upholding the rule of law.
“Unfortunately, our education system is not designed to nurture its people to take a historical narrative view of what it means to be a citizen today.”
He said people’s confidence in public institutions and the national leadership had eroded compared with the early days of Merdeka.
He cited the example of Parliament which failed to protect the Constitution and allowed the passage of the National Security Council Bill last year.
Also, he said, the ongoing delineation exercise by the Election Commission was seen as not observing the principles in the Constitution and instead obeying unpublished guidelines of the Executive.
He said since power was vested in the hands of the Executive, leaders and their political parties must act, but, unfortunately, they misinterpreted the Constitution when speaking to different audiences.
“This process creates a reinforcing of expectation by those particular audiences, and that these interpretations will be adhered to, further catalysing the polarisation that we are trying to combat,” he added.