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PH MPs warned to toe the line as DAP split over 'regressive' constitutional changes

U-turn by prominent DAP MP who defended the plight of the stateless?

4 minute read
Some DAP MPs are unhappy that they are told to support controversial constitutional amendments being proposed by the government, while others have now made a U-turn on their stand in defence of stateless children, including a prominent MP in the Klang Valley.
Some DAP MPs are unhappy that they are told to support controversial constitutional amendments being proposed by the government, while others have now made a U-turn on their stand in defence of stateless children, including a prominent MP in the Klang Valley.

A split has emerged in DAP, with a small section of its MPs unhappy with the party leadership's stand to support controversial constitutional amendments that would remove the rights to citizenship for abandoned children and foundlings, MalaysiaNow has learnt.

A well-placed source in the party said the MPs had been warned to toe the government line and vote in support of the amendments, which have been roundly condemned by civil society, rights groups and lawyers, including the Malaysian Bar which issued a strongly worded resolution last weekend condemning the Anwar Ibrahim government "in the strongest possible terms".

It is understood that Pakatan Harapan (PH) parties have been told to ensure that all of their MPs vote for the amendments, which require the support of two-thirds in order to be passed. 

Those against the amendments include former deputy law minister Ramkarpal Singh, who was dropped from the Cabinet during the reshuffle announced by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim late last year. 

DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke said then that Ramkarpal had voluntarily given up his post after learning that his brother Gobind Singh Deo was to be appointed as a minister.

The same source told MalaysiaNow that those in support of the government's move included a DAP MP from the Klang Valley who is also a minister. 

"It is shocking that this DAP MP has made such a big U-turn, when just two years ago this same individual was defending the rights of the stateless and criticising then home minister Hamzah Zainudin's handling of the issue," said the source, who has access to DAP's senior leaders and prominent MPs.

The proposed changes have alarmed rights groups including those fighting for the rights of thousands of stateless children in the country who are denied citizenship despite being born to Malaysian parents. 

The changes to citizenship laws have been packaged with a much welcomed constitutional amendment to give equal rights to Malaysian mothers married to foreigners when it comes to automatic citizenship for children born abroad.

At the heart of the protest is an amendment to remove the automatic granting of citizenship to abandoned babies or orphans born in the country, whose mother or parents cannot be traced. Under the amendment, those previously entitled to citizenship would be at the mercy of the home minister. 

Critics say that despite the current provisions for automatic citizenship, thousands suffer in silence as stateless people, denied public health services, education and job opportunities, and that orphans and abandoned children – many of whom are born out of wedlock – are victimised for life.

They say repealing the provision would create a large new class of stateless babies, orphans and other children who will be denied citizenship if this safety net is removed.

The safety net was the basis for a successful constitutional challenge by a stateless teenager in 2021, in which Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, presiding over a five-member Federal Court bench, ordered the government to issue a new birth certificate and register him as a citizen.

Tengku Maimun said the teenager was entitled to citizenship by virtue of his birth in Malaysia.

She also said that as he was found abandoned at a government hospital in Kuala Lumpur, he was presumed to have been born to a mother who was a permanent resident, which met the constitutional requirements.

The pushback against the government's move has also seen opposition from a group that had campaigned hard for one of the amendments: giving equal rights to children born to Malaysian mothers abroad.

Family Frontiers Malaysia has launched an email campaign urging MPs to demand that the government proceed only with amending the provisions on equal rights for mothers.

"As my elected representative, I ask that you represent my voice in Parliament. Decouple the amendments – move forward with the amendment that will give Malaysian mothers the equal right to confer citizenship. Halt the five regressive amendments – do not allow these regressive amendments to pass and remove the fundamental rights that currently exist in the Federal Constitution," reads a sample of a letter that the group had asked the public to send to their MPs.

This constitutional amendment bid is seen by critics as part of a series of reversals to promises on human rights by the Anwar administration.

Since taking over, his government has launched a clampdown on media and online dissent, with at least half a dozen blogs and news portals subjected to network blocks. Meanwhile, the government's internet commission has stepped up its requests for social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to take down content uncomplimentary to Putrajaya.

Meanwhile, rights activists have been busy engaging with political parties in a bid to enlighten them about the impact of the amendments.

Within the opposition Perikatan Nasional coalition, it is learnt that PAS may oppose the amendments, citing incompatibility with Islamic principles.

"However, Bersatu leaders are still in a haze over the amendments. Our engagements showed PAS leaders to be more receptive and more informed about the issue," said one rights activist to MalaysiaNow.

Early last year, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, responding to a question about children born out of wedlock who grow up as stateless persons, defended their right to citizenship if either parent is Malaysian.

He said the children were innocent and should not be punished for their parents' actions.

"That was the stand taken by someone the media has portrayed as extreme and conservative.

"Meanwhile, we have this so-called progressive DAP leader who is now questioning the basic rights of these unfortunate children who may grow up as stateless," a Sarawak-based activist familiar with the plight of the stateless told MalaysiaNow.