With the growing disquiet over the constitutional amendments relating to the granting of citizenship, the prime minister is trying to pass the buck to the rulers. He said that the proposed amendments had been presented to the Conference of Rulers:
"There is a limit to what we can do. After the discussions, any constitutional amendment in the issue of citizenship must be cleared with the Conference of Rulers."
Granting of citizenship not a prerogative of the home minister
The Madani government proposes to table eight proposals to amend relevant provisions related to the granting of citizenships under the Federal Constitution, including the granting of citizenship to stateless children and foundlings.
The proposed amendments, among others, seek to amend the Second Schedule, Part II Section 1(e) that grants every stateless person born in Malaysia citizenship by operation of law as well as Second Schedule, Part III, Section 19(b) which grants abandoned children citizenship by operation of law.
The proposed amendments would make granting citizenship the sole prerogative of the home ministry instead of it being automatic for those who fulfil the requirements of the Second Schedule as it currently stands.
Instead of resolving the statelessness problem and helping the stateless attain the citizenship that they are entitled to under the constitution, this government has chosen to worsen the statelessness problem with the proposed amendments. Those who are stateless are in their predicament due to the failure of the National Registration Department (JPN) and the home ministry to properly administer the law.
Our constitutional monarchs are not "executive rulers".
These controversial amendments to the constitution were proposed by Anwar’s Madani government. They did not arise from the Conference of Rulers so the prime minister should not try to pass the buck just because of the rising objections from civil society.
It is ironic that it was with the victory of "Reformasi" in 2008 that we began to see a conceptual shift from the established norm with the ceremonial constitutional monarchy suddenly being regarded as "executive rulers" just because of the populist succumbing to "race, religion and rulers".
As in other countries, our constitutional monarchy is a remnant of our feudal past. Nonetheless, the democratic system we fought for at independence has clearly demarcated the limits of that constitutional monarchy.
Our system is closely modelled on the British system in which the royalty is limited to official, ceremonial, and representational duties, non-partisan duties such as bestowing honours, dissolving Parliament and appointing the prime minister or chief minister. Even royal prerogative is used according to the laws enacted in Parliament or within the context of convention or precedent. It is exercised on the advice of the minister responsible to Parliament, often the prime minister or menteri besar. The monarch may express his views as a constitutional ruler, but he must ultimately accept the decision of the chief executive and his Cabinet.
Nevertheless, the sovereign's prerogative has limits under our constitutional monarchy. Any reform movement must take the people's interests further forward not backwards. The people's interests cannot be mortgaged in Pakatan Harapan's (PH) political games with Umno to see who is more "Malay", more Islamic, or more deferential to the Malay rulers. Let us be clear, our constitutional monarchs are not executive rulers.
The prime minister would do well to solve the problems faced by many stateless people in this country through good governance and the proper administration of the law as promised by PH in its election manifesto, not by amending the constitution to take away their constitutional right to citizenship. On this issue, please don't try to pass the buck to the rulers.
Kua Kia Soong is a human rights activist.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.