Sun: The all-powerful executive
The all-powerful executive
Zainon Ahmad and Llew-Ann Phang
Updated: 12:08AM Sat, 01 Oct 2005
DR SHAD SALEEM FARUQI is professor of law and legal advisor at Universiti
Teknologi Mara, Shah Alam, and has been associated with the faculties of law
at the International Islamic University Malaysia and Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia. He graduated from Wesleyan University, USA, at the age of 19 and
has been studying and teaching law for over three decades. He has written on
the Malaysian constitution and on Islam, democracy and good governance. He
has been involved in several international and national projects, been
consulted by Fiji, East Timor and Iraq on their constitutional documents and
had helped draft the constitution of the Republic of the Maldives. He told
ZAINON AHMAD and LLEW-ANN PHANG that the trend of executive dominance of the
legislature and of the judiciary is pronounced everywhere in the world.
Q: Prof. Do you think we are being old fashioned if we were to ask you
whether this so-called separation of powers in the government between the
executive, legislative and judiciary still exist?
A: It much depends on whether you look at things structurally or you look at
things functionally. If you look at things structurally, then we do have an
executive branch, a judicial branch and a legislative branch but
functionally of course, the executive has begun to dominate all three
organs. And the executive is now basically the heart of the government
process. It was not meant to be that way. There was meant to be a check and
balance between the three. They are supposed to be the pillars of government
but standing apart. All of them supporting the super-structure called
government but standing apart. That separation seems to have been overtaken
by political events.
However, let me mention this, that we were never really meant to be entirely
separated like in the USA. Our system calls more for check and balance
rather than separation because at the level of the executive and the
legislature, there was always an overlap because the PM and members of his
cabinet sit in parliament and, therefore, are part of it, are answerable and
accountable unlike in the USA where the president and his cabinet are
totally separate from the legislature. So, to sum it up then, in Malaysia,
structurally, there is still some separation, especially at the level of the
judiciary. But functionally, I have to say, the executive has begun to tower
over everyone else. And part of the reason, I think, is the people have
given to the government - consistently - a two-third majority.
So Parliament dominates the legislative sphere. In the area of the
judiciary, more and more tribunals are being created to decide on cases ---
where the judicial function of deciding cases is handed over to specialised
agencies or tribunals.
* So there is truth to what Datuk Seri Rais Yatim said in his book Freedom
Under Executive Power in Malaysia in which he argues that over the years,
the executive has become much more powerful than it was meant to be?
I think Datuk Seri Rais Yatim certainly hit the nail on the head. But the
alarm he is sounding about had been sounded a long time ago. As early as
1932 when Lord Hewart, one of the English law lord, wrote a book called The
* In which he talked about the growing power of the executive?
Yes. The trend is that the executive is beginning to control parliament and
is getting more and more involved in decision-making, even in the judicial
sphere through tribunals. So the executive is now dominating all three
organs of the state.
You see, we tend to think of disputes as belonging to the judicial branch.
Well, that's the general impression. But not all are settled by the courts
anymore. For instance income tax disputes, labour disputes, students being
expelled, licences withdrawn, houses to be demolished, planning
permissions --- these are all involving rights, duties --- and they're
decided by the executive through tribunals exercising what could be called
quasi judicial functions. Then there are advisory boards on preventive
detention. Courts do not even examine the matter as it is done purely by
So the executive does make hundreds and thousands of quasi judicial or
judicial decisions where the courts have absolutely no say. And Lord Hewart
was not alone in sounding the alarm. Someone wrote a book Bureaucracy
Triumphant. There was also a book called The Passing of Parliament --- that
parliament has died. So actually, in the (19)30s, (19)40s, in England, this
alarm was being sounded. The trend of executive dominance of legislature and
of the judiciary is pronounced everywhere in the world.
* That means this is not something unique to Malaysia, that it is also
Yes. The simple reason for this is that state functions have grown and with
state functions growing, state powers have grown. The traditional
institutions, mechanism, principles and procedures for checking these powers
* So parliament, which is supposed to question the executive on its
policies, on its programmes, has failed too. Is that what you are saying?
Yes. MPs are supposed to question the executive branch or the front
benchers. But how much can MPs ask in the one-hour question time? At the
most 10-12 questions are asked.
* Or six or seven only.
That's about it. And parliament does not sit every day. So it's more like a
part-time institution. Whereas the government works 24 hours a day and its
tentacles spread everywhere. How can a part-time institution control an
over-time institution? The executive is an over-time institution. There are
about 800,000 public servants, if not more, and they do many things. It is
difficult for parliament. Thus, the amount of discretionary power that
developed over the last one century is just unbelievable.
* It's the same in England?
It's the same in England. But in England there are some differences. One
difference is this--- that parliament does exercise check and balance over
the executive in many areas. Reason for this is that the opposition is very
strong. The Opposition has nearly 50% or 45% of the seats. And then there
the tradition of the free press is very strong. They have very strong NGOs.
We have some of that but nevertheless there are lots of qualitative
differences. But everywhere in the world executive is beginning to dominate.
A recent British parliamentary report said that "parliament legitimates, it
does not legislate."
* So basically, it's a rubber stamp?
Not in so many words but it is. It signs, it approves. It puts the chop.
It's a fact that the policy behind the law is contributed by the ministers
or the departments. The timing of the Bill is decided by the government. The
minister then pilots the Bill through. The date the bill is introduced is
decided and even the date the Bill is likely to be passed.
* Let's go back to what you said just now --- "parliament legitimates, it
does not legislate". This means that our MPs should no longer be referred to
as lawmakers as they no longer make law.
True, true ... Actually no doubt about it, in the lawmaking sphere, the
executive has become more important than parliament for a number of reasons.
One is that, as I mentioned earlier, the policy behind the law is executive
policy. The timing for the law is determined by the executive. The executive
then uses its brute majority to push the bill through.
* Without any change?
Ah, I did some research on this. Something like 80% of the Bills over a
period of five years from 1991 - 1995 were passed without a comma or a
fullstop being amended. About 15% of the Bills were withdrawn by the
government. Because of MPs' input, or inputs by the NGOs, or international
pressure, the government decided to withdraw and relook at the Bill. Only 5%
of the Bills did Parliament make any impact in terms of amendments, and
these amendments are incorporated by the government. So, it is quite clear
that the legislative process is basically an executive process, not a
parliamentary process. So you can actually say that the centre of gravity of
the entire legislative process has shifted from Parliament to Putrajaya.
* So there is no point talking about a world-class parliament when there is
already a trend of executive dominance. And the dominance all the more real
with the government controlling 90% of the seats.
Let me clarify this. Much depends on what the functions of Parliament are.
In traditional consitutional theory, parliament performs four separate
functions. Law making - in this area, one has to admit parliament
legitimates, it does not legislate. Executive is more important than
parliament in the law-making sphere. Secondly, the control of national
finance. Here, the control of parliament is even weaker than the legislative
sphere. Financial policy is basically executive policy. Parliament merely
votes the budget. But large parts of the budget are voted without any debate
whatsoever because time runs out.
You spend about 20 days or so discussing the budget. How much can you
discuss? As you newspaper people have observed, the budget debate is used to
hit the government on the head about everything else other than the budget.
From potholes to education policy to illegal immigrants. So, the realities
of the budget are that the executive determines the votes - how much money
will be spent on education, on defence, how much will be allocated to UiTM
and to other universities. I think the executive determines and the MPs
basically, legitimate (it).
* Well, it need not be that way. But it is that way because of our system?
Exactly. In our system, if the budget fails, the government will have to
fall because the budget vote is an issue of confidence. MPs may criticise,
they may have their say but the government will have its way. MPs may have
their say but the government must have its way because if the budget is
defeated, that will amount to a vote of no-confidence in our system of
parliamentary democracy. Unlike in the USA where the president's budget is
often rejected and the president stays as the president. But here, that's
So in the legislative sphere, government has become more important in the
sphere of control of national economy. Parliament basically legitimates. It
looks into broad policies but that's about it.
* The third function?
You call that the deliberative function. MPs deliberate on policy, they ask
questions, they size up the government, they require further information. I
think on that, question time does serve its purpose. It highlights problems
of national policy, it highlights problems of the constituents. I know
question time doesn't get a full and fair coverage in the papers. Actually a
great deal of very critical stuff is uttered on the floor of Parliament
during question time. But of course, question time is not entirely effective
as I have said earlier.
And then there is a fourth function ---constituency function. MPs are
supposed to be the voice of the people, to highlight the problems of the
people in Parliament and to give feedback to the government. I think on
that, the Malaysian MP does a good job. He goes back to his constituency, he
keeps his ears close to the ground, his fingers on the pulse beats of the
nation. Somebody has done comparative studies, of Malaysia and Japan and
Korea, have found that the Malaysian MP is closer to his constituents then
MPs in Korea and Japan. Of course, it's a matter of interpretation.
* Why do you say it's a matter of interpretation?
Now, this author who wrote this report says this is because of
under-development of certain aspects in Malaysia. He feels that the
Malaysian MP is able to provide a voice to his constituents better in
Malaysia then in other countries because in other countries, citizens have
better recourse to the courts, better recourse to the media and better
recourse to other remedies. He said because these other remedies are
under-developed here, therefore the MP has become the predominant voice in
raising the grievances of the citizens.
But I would like to say the Malaysian MPs are doing a good job in providing
redress to his constituents. Every MP plays a one-man public complaints
bureau role and I think for that, we have to pat them on the back.
* Now despite the growing dominance of the executive in the legislative
sphere, surely we can still aspire for a more active parliament. Surely
there must be something we can do to make our parliament world class.
Whatever that means these days.
Certainly. A great deal can be done to improve things. For example, in the
legislative sphere, I think we need to make use of the Select Committee
procedures. They are in the book. As far as I know, since Merdeka, I am
told, only about six times have we appointed this committee. I understand
one is sitting right now to look into the criminal law.
This committee can provide very useful feedback to the government on what
specialists in the area say. This committee can meet upstairs and invite
citizens groups, scholars, and any affected party to give feedback on the
But as I said, only about six times since Merdeka, we have this. I would
like to say something about the unusual and undesirable practice that Bills
are embargoed till the day they are presented in Parliament. Bills should be
made known to the public even before that. So we can still have a better
parliament. So I'm making a number of suggestions.
Number one is we should resort to the Select Committee Procedure more often.
Bills should not be embargoed as they should be made available to the public
for further comment. Thirdly, there is a procedure for private members
Bills. We should give monetary support to MPs to draft private members
Bills. In the UK the procedure is MPs who wish to introduce private members
Bills apply, to take part in a ballot. The top 10 in the ballot will receive
financial assistance because drafting a Bill requires expertise, money, time
so they will receive monetary support.
Fourthly, I think, all MPs must have legislative assistants or support
staff. Support staff consisting of researchers on economic matters and even
in legislative matters. In countries like the Philippines, which is
economically much worse off than us - not as well off as us - each
congressman has four legislative assistants. We don't give to our MPs any
assistant. I think each MP must have legislative assistants to do their
research for them, to draft their speeches for the debate on the Budget ---
the impact of the Budget on, let us say, fishermen, on rubber tappers, on
I also think we should have an Institute of Parliamentary Affairs. If we can
have ILKAP for the judiciary, INTAN for the administration, why can't we
have an Institute of Parliamentary Affairs to train our MPs in improving
their institutional efforts.
* This is done in other countries?
Yes, in many other countries. I have travelled to the Philippines often, I
am involved in some groups there. There are special groups to train MPs to
perform their Parliamentary function. Not only to train MP in Parliamentary
procedures but also to sensitise MPs to the problems of the poor, the
marginalised. Sensitise them, for example, on gender issues and assist them
with information, with background research on what they can raise in
Parliament. So I think we need to assist our MPs. We are not being fair to
our Parliament and to our MPs.
* Now let's go on to our constitution. It has been amended so many times
that many people are of the view that it is no longer our original "document
of destiny" or "our national charter" or that the spirit of the original
document has been diluted. What do you think?
Well, there is no doubt about it. The constitution has been amended many
times. Up to this year, I think there have been about 42 amendments. In 48
years. However, each amendment contains a number of clauses and if you were
to count the number of clauses that have been amended and re-amended and
re-amended, up to 2001, I have counted about 644 amendments.
In other countries, like the USA for instance, you amend Article 3, that's
one amendment. Article 4, that's another amendment --- amendment number two.
And if Article 5 is amended, then it is amendment number three. Here, what
we do is, in one Constitutional Amendment Bill, sometimes we amend 40
Articles in one go and we count that as one amendment. Actually, it should
be possibly, 40 amendments. So that's what I was saying. There have been
about 42 Amendment Bills passed since Merdeka but each amendment bill often
contains scores of amendments.
If you were to count each clause as a separate amendment, we have about 650.
Six-hundred and forty-four up to 2001. If you count up to 2005, it will be
about 650, or so, times the provision of the Constitution that have been
re-written or amended from time to time.
* Other countries, are their amendments also this numerous?
Well, there is no uniform pattern. If you look at the American Constitution,
it's been amended only about 30 times in 230 years. And they jokingly say
America is the frozen continent when it comes to amendments because things
just don't thaw that easily.
* What about India?
India is like Malaysia. Partly rigid, partly flexible. In India too, many
amendments have been passed but in India what has happened is that the
courts have risen to the ocassion and have told Parliament that "you cannot
amend the basic structure." In Malaysia, that argument has been raised and
rejected by our courts. Our courts have said as long as the government
follows the proper procedures, it can amend anything.
* Regardless of whether the spirit of the Constitution still remains or not?
Yes. The danger of rejecting the basic structure is this. I'm just giving a
hypothetical example. Let us say tomorrow, the government of the day says
let us amend the Constitution to extend the life of Parliament from five
years to 25 years. As long as the two-third majority is obtained, that
amendment can be passed but that amendment would totally destroy the
democratic basis of the Constitution because that means for 25 years, there
will be no elections.
Remember in Sri Lanka, one day they passed the law, they said "okay, no
elections this time". And the government just continued for another five
years. Britain too had extended the life of parliament several times.
* What happens if an amendment extends the life of parliament to 20 years or
Well, it's a case of using the Constitution to destroy the Constitution. In
which case, the Constitution will contain the seeds of its own destruction.
The basic structure argument is highly contentious because it raises the
question of who should decide what is basic? The government of the day or
the judges? Anyway, what is basic structure? So suppose you take away the
immunities of the rulers. Was that part of the basic structure? The late Tun
Suffian Hashim in the Faridah Begum case said "yes, it is". So, it's a
Anyway, amendments of the Constitution always pose a political dilemma. The
dilemma is this. The Constitution has to be open to change because life is
always larger than the law and the law has to keep moving. Otherwise, it
will just fall behind. As someone nicely said: "The Constitution that will
not bend will have to break".
* What is your comment on Article 10 of our national charter which provides
for freedom of speech, assembly and association. Did the original drafters
of the constitution really wanted us to have all those freedoms?
Well, my impression is Article 10 does not safeguard free speech very well.
In the chapter on fundamental rights, some fundamental rights are very well
protected or better protected. For example property, for example religion.
But two or three fundamental rights were always left at the mercy of
Parliament. Liberty was one of them and fundamental right to speech was
Article 10 Clause 1(a) from day one said all citizens are entitled to
freedom of speech and expression. Article 10 Clause 2 says Parliament, may
by law, impose on the above right, restrictions on eight grounds - public
order, national security, incitement and offence, friendly relations with
other states, contempt of court, contempt of Parliament, defamation,
And Parliament has used public order, national security grounds to enact
laws like the Police Act whereby permits are needed to march, to assemble;
Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act. So actually from day one,
freedom of speech and expression was not one of the better protected rights.
* And these rights have become more proscribed today?
Yes, I would agree with you since 1971, the restrictions have been further
enhanced because of the 1971 Constitutional Amendment. We call it the
Sensitive Matters Amendment. Now sensitive matters cannot be questioned,
even in Parliament. So the law of sedition applies fully in Parliament. So
freedom of speech and expression was never really as well protected even on
Aug 31, 1957.
But I acknowledge, it has been subjected to further restraints. However,
talking of personal freedoms and amendibility of the Constitution, it is
quite clear fundamental rights have been subjected to more and more
restraints over the years. Executive power has been enhanced more and more,
over the years.
* Are there features of the constitution that have remained intact?
Many other features of the Constitution have remained largely intact...
federal-state relations have generally remained the way they were at the
time of (19)57 and (19)63, when Sabah and Sarawak came in. We have a
federal-state division of power.
For example Islam. Since 1977, the government has strived very hard to have
a uniform Muslim family law. It has not been easy because states want to
maintain their power. I think the multi-racial, the multi-cultural, the
multi-religious aspects of our Constitution have remained largely intact. I
think when the Constitution was built, there was an overwhelming spirit of
accommodation, tolerance, give and take. I think that has largely remained
intact. It is also quite clear, human rights have contracted while state
power has been enhanced, especially in the area of emergency powers of the
Last time, subversion laws had a time limit. The time limit was restricted.
Last time emergency powers could be questioned in the courts. Now the
Constitution clearly says the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's exercise of emergency
powers cannot be reviewed, questioned in any court, on any ground
* Isn't there anything in the constitution that can prevent frequent
There are other procedures. But the two-third majority rule has obviously
not worked well up to now. But if at some future time, the government loses
its two-third majority, amendments will become difficult. We have to
remember in politics, nothing is permanent.
* Do you think enough has been done to promote legal literacy in our
"document of destiny" that is our Constitution?
Of course not. Not enough has been done. The Constitution is not taught in
our primary or secondary school. It's not taught in universities except in
law schools. And the law school began teaching the Constitution only in
1972. From 1957 - 1972, the Constitution was not taught anywhere. Even now,
the Constitution is taught as one subject. We do not teach, for example, a
special course on human rights. Or let us say, federalism.
In many countries, federalism is a separate paper. The Constitution is not
really taught for our civil service examinations. Our local authority
officials, our university officials, I think they are not really familiar
with the fundamentals of our Constitution. I have to say this that the
Constitution is basically marginalised. It's not the force it ought to be.
It is not given the central place in our policy making, in our law-making
that it ought to be given.
* You mean to say that it should be a much referred to document? That we
should refer to it for guidance like the way we refer to our holy books?
In the secular area, the Constitution is the beginning point of what is
allowed and what is not allowed. Often, nobody pays any heed to the
Constitutional provisions. Legislation is replete with clauses which say the
minister shall, in his absolute discretion, be allowed to do such and such.
With all due respect, absolute discretions are unconstitutional because they
violate the spirit of Article 8 - equality before the law. If the minister
has absolute discretion, then he can treat like as not alike and that would
be a violation of equality before the law.
Our laws are replete with situations where, for example, the
attorney-general has a plethora of laws - a multiplicity of laws - and he
can pick and choose which law to apply. I think multiplicity of laws is
alright, provided there is some clear-cut policy which guides the AG in
exercising his discretion as to which law to apply in which particular
situation. Let me give you an example. For arms - there are three separate
laws. Arms Act - seven years penalty. Firearms increased penalty, at 14
years penalty. ISA death penalty.
Now, the Attorney-General has absolute discretion to choose which law to
apply in which case. I think this violates the spirit of Article 8. I think
the laws should provide a guideline to the Peguam Negara as to which
circumstances will attract the Arms Act or the Firearms Act or the ISA and
the courts must enforce these guidelines. So I think, executive actions are
taken in blissful disregard of the Constitution. Laws are passed in blissful
disregard of the Constitution.
Another example. Say I have to supply copies of my book to the National
Library. I am happy to do so, but Article 13 Clause 2 says nobody's property
can be taken away without adequate compensation. With all due respect, the
National Library must give me the price of my book. Now the motive is noble,
we must be build a repository of national information. Yes, but there is a
right to property for a good purpose or for a not-so-good purpose. Nobody's
private property can be taken away without adequate compensation. I think
the law requiring people to give his book is in blissful disregard of the
right to property. I have nothing against the law but what I am saying is
executive actions, legislative actions are taken without regard to the
In Shah Alam, for example, for the last 15 years, Christian groups were
asking for a church to be built. Those who denied them this right or delayed
this right, I think, know very little about the Perlembagaan Persekutuan and
they know very little about Islam and Islam's spirit of tolerance. I think
the delay was contrary to the spirit of freedom of religion in Article 11. I
think the delay was against the spirit of tolerance in Islam.
* What is your take on the criticism of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights by some Asian and African leaders?
Actually, I have a lot of admiration for this doctrine. I think it has a
great many truths which are worthy of great respect, transcendental truths,
universal truths. But on the other hand, from the Third World perspective,
some things can clearly be pointed out.
The Universal Declaration tends to reflect a world view, a cultural view
which will be more suitable for a Western society then for an Eastern or
Southern society. To give you two or three points on this, I think, there is
excessive individualism in this document. It tends to ignore the fact that
human beings are social beings. That they belong or they seek to belong to
groups, that along with the individual entity, they have collective
entities, cultural rights.
We have rights --- religious rights, we have linguistic rights. So this
calls for recognition of our collective identity. Of our identity as part of
the group. Not only in Asia actually ... In Africa, tribal loyalties are
very, very important. The Universal Declaration tends to emphasise
individual rights. It tends to treat the individual as an island unto
itself. Actually, all of us sit in the centre of a large number of circles
of loyalty. And there is the loyalty to our family, to our community, to our
tribe, to our nation, to our religion and I think, from hour to hour, these
loyalties acquire a new priority (laughs).
So I think we have to accept that human beings are not just lone
individuals - lone rangers. They are part of group(s). Another very grey
drawback in this doctrine is it tends to emphasise political and civil
rights over socio-economic rights, but I have to say that this over-emphasis
on civil and political rights was corrected by the International Covenant on
Economic and Social and Cultural Rights.
I think now international law does recognise that food is as important as
freedom. That bread is as important as the ballot box. This International
Covenant on Economic, and Social and Cultural Rights 1966 does acknowledge
that besides freedom of speech, right to association assembly we also need
to give to people some socio-economic rights.
* Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in one of his speeches,
excoriated the Europeans for their hypocrisy when it comes to human rights.
He referred to their demonic ways in dealing with slaves and prisoners and
were responsible for the massacre of innocent villagers in countries they
Actually, I am fully and enthusiastically in support of the point of view
promoted by Tun Dr Mahathir. I commend him for his courage in pointing out
that the human rights record of the West is indeed demonic, shameful and we
need to expose it. However, let me qualify my statement by giving two ideas.
Number one - double standards are not a monopoly of the West. I think most
of us in Asia, Africa also suffer from double standards. We criticise and
condemn some human rights violations. We turn a blind eye towards others.
For example, in many of our neighbours, in our own backyard, sometimes,
human rights violations take place but in the interest of Asian solidarity,
we tend not to criticise. So double standards are not a monopoly of the
West. Secondly, I have to mention that in the past Europe and America had a
horrendous record of human rights. Whether from slavery to colonialism, to
genocide, to the way they have used atomic weapons on innocent civilians in
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, racism, racial profiling, America has bombed 28 nations
since World War II. They sell weapons of mass destruction to Asian and
African countries that can hardly afford them, they have predatory economic
policies that rob us of our basic rights, their economic institutions -
Bretton Woods Institution, World Bank, IMF (International Monetary Fund) are
basically there to safeguard their interest at our expense. They export
their toxic waste to us. Their human rights record is horrendous. Anybody
who knows history will have to admit that the worst violations of human
rights in the last few centuries were in Europe and America.
* But they get away with it?
Now, there are many reasons why America and Europe get away with these
things. One is this - they are the dominant civilisation. Of course,
civilisations rise and fall but 19th century belonged to Britian, 20th
century belonged to the USA and now this century, also I think - at the
moment America is the sole-super-power. They have captured our hearts, our
minds, the appeal of their hedonistic culture. The glitter of the media
personalities, their music, their fastfoods, their clothing. They have
mesmerised us. There is no doubt about it, our basic assumptions of right
and wrong, good and bad, wholesome, not so wholesome is guided by them.
* Is it because they control the world media?
Absolutely. Ah, yes they control the media. And they control the education
too. They control virtually every aspect of our existence - our concept of
beauty is basically determined by them. In Malaysia, whitening creams are
being sold. This is racism. What is wrong with our skin? What's wrong with
it? It's racism for someone to tell that I must lighten my skin. Why don't
you sell skin-darkening cream to the Americans. I mean, why is it that in
language, evil and bad things are dark and good things are light and bright?
There are a lot of prejudices, so I think the glitter of their civilisation
has mesmerised us.
Our young people have basically adopted the culture, the thinking. I have to
be very frank with you. If I go to Hilton Hotel, I'll be reluctant to eat
with my hands the way I do at home because good manners, culture,
civilisation is basically as the West defines it. Our concept of beauty has
been hijacked. Our girls are trying very desperately to look like Barbie
Dolls but how can an Arab girl or a Fiji girl or an Indian or a Pakistani
girl look like Barbie Doll?
* About the UN. A major effort was launched recently to reform it at the
initiative of secretary-general Kofi Annan. But it has failed. To many
people there was never any doubt at all that it was going to fail. What do
Actually I personally attended a conference in Iran on UN reform where
secretary-general Kofi Annan sent a very-high-powered representative and at
that UN conference in Tehran, it was generally accepted that reform of the
structure of the UN, especially of the Security Council, was not going to
succeed because any reform will be vetoed by the permanent members.
You see, the Security Council, in my view, is one of the most despicable,
racist, international agencies in the world today. Out of five veto-wielding
members, four belong to Europe or North America. They are caucasians, they
are Christians. The only one veto-wielding member from Asia is China. The
entire Hindu civilisation, the entire Islamic civilisation, the whole of
Africa, the whole of Latin America is not represented amongst the five
* So in your view, the United Nations always was, and still is basically, an
institution to represent the interest of the victors of World War II. They
have rewarded themselves with certain privileges which they are not going to
Yes. And in addition to that, it is basically an institution to reflect the
interest of the former colonial powers, of the Christian civilisation of the
White civilisation and Latin America, Africa, Asia except China, are
actually totally marginalised. So the reform of the Security Council is
basically to take away their veto power. Will they be willing give this
power up? I mean in all fairness, why should anyone have a veto over an
international institution? Why should there be five permanent members? There
should be no permanent members.
I think the Security Council is a despicable, undemocratic, racist,
religiously-bigoted institution. However, reform in this area was never
going to succeed because any proposal would have been vetoed. They were
trying to pay lip-service by saying okay, they will have a three-tier
membership - five permament members with the veto power, a few more
permanent members but without veto powers and then there willl be some
non-permanent members. That may succeed but, to me, that would be a fig-leaf
to find the original nakedness of an undemocratic, racist, colonial
I have to say very bluntly, the UN in its charter talks about equality of
nations. If there is equality, then how come you have a veto and I don't?
How come you're permanent and I'm not? So, I think the whole idea of
permanent members, veto-wielding members is undemocratic. But of course, we
have to be realistic. This reform will not succeed because the permanent
members will veto.
* But there are other areas that could be reformed to make the world body
more beneficial to the whole world especially the Third World countries.
Many people were very hopeful that in the socio-economic area, in the area
of poverty eradication, in the area of UN having a role in making this world
less cruel in terms of economic distribution, the UN could have played a
role. But what happened?
Now this is the biggest disappointment. The Western world is not prepared
actually to tackle vigorously, problems of poverty. I believe, and I am
fortified in my belief by a number of Western economists who say, poverty
can be eradicated. It can be conquered.
All that is needed is a certain amount of GNP (gross-national-product)
allocated to poverty eradication scheme. That's where the great
disappointment comes. The Western world, especially the United States under
the present regime, is not committed to poverty eradication, social justice.
They are basically committed to predatory policies. Economic predatory
policies whereby actually in the name of free trade they are basically out
to exploit globalisation today.
The World Trade Organisation and all these other international institutions
and international arraignments are basically meant to benefit those who are
already powerful. It is not a level playing field. It's a field whereby
those who are strong will grow stronger and those who are weak will actually
decline further into the abyss of despair.
* One of the fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution is freedom of
religion. Which states that every person has the right to profess and
practice his religion which I assume that a person also has a right to
change his religion and profess a new religion of his choice to stop
professing and practising of his present religion. What has happened to that
Freedom of religion was one of our better protected rights. It was our pride
and joy, really. I don't think there is any other multi-racial country in
Asia or maybe around the world where there is such incredible diversity.
Such close-balance between the Malays and the non-Malays, you know in terms
of population-wise. The non-Malay groups are extremely large especially take
note of Sabah, Sarawak, Penang and yet, we have lived together without
civil-war, without racial confligurations, religious riots.
There are a few exceptions, of course, with (19)69 was the most drastic one.
We have had an incredible amount of religious, racial, linguistic harmony
and I think it was largely because of the vision, the courage and the
large-heartedness of the leaders at the time of Merdeka who decided to
follow the middle-path and I think there is something about the Malay
community itself. The Malay community, up to now, has been very
accommodating of diversity, of tolerance.
I have to say this; that lately - and by lately I mean in the last 15-years
or so - there are some very negative developments. I think there is a fair
amount of religious overzealousness. I think there is some intolerance.
There is some extremism that is taking hold. I hate to put it this way but
increasingly there is Taliban-isation of Malay and Muslim society taking
place. Taliban-isation ... I am personally, bewildered, how religion of
Islam, so universalistic, with so much emphasis on pluralism, on tolerance,
on diversity as a gift of God. How a Malay community so open to
accommodation of others, how there is now a predominance of overzealousness.
Issues, for example, of apostasy laws are being passed to send apostates to
rehabilitation centres, deviationists are being treated with utmost
severity. The moral policing of society is increasing. As I said earlier
Taliban-isation, more and more Taliban-isation is taking place. Our
religious school teachers are telling our kids, telling our young kids in
primary schools and secondary schools, they must not visit each other's
festivals, houses over festivals, they must not send Chinese New Year cards
and Deepavali cards and Christmas cards. What is happening?
* Do you know for sure that what you say is happening? That Muslim religious
teachers telling their Muslim students not to visit their non-Muslim friends
in their homes.
My kids are coming back from school and say: "Ustazah kata ... Ustaz kata".
And I say: "No, you don't listen to them. These are all our fellow-human
beings. You must visit them and they are also children of God. God allowed
this diversity to take place". I quote to them from the Quran - "If Allah
had wanted, he would have made the whole world into one community" but He
did not. Yes, you can be sure of that. It is happening.
* What can we do to stop it? If as you say extremism is taking hold what can
we do to prevent it from spreading?
I think we need to adopt a tough stand. I think leadership - political
leadership, political will - is needed in this area. In my view some of what
is happening is not in accordance with Islam. Islam, as I understand it. It
is not in accordance of the Constitution.
To give an example from Islam, I don't think Islam mandates sanctions for
all transgressions of Islamic morality. I don't think Islam mandates
punishments for people who don't say their prayers. It is wrong not to say
your prayers. Prayers are wajib (compulsory) but I don't think this is a
matter for the state to punish. I think this for Allah to punish.
Increasingly we are passing laws to punish people who don't say their
prayer. At one time, it was only for Friday prayers. Now there are states
who are passing laws for other prayers as well. Now, this is what I would
call Taliban-isation. Yes, there are state enactments that are being enacted
for other prayers as well. They're punishing people for not fasting. I think
a lot of this moral policing, too, I don't think Islam requires it. Islam
too, has a sense of privacy. There is a concept of privacy.
Now, officers are hiding behind bushes, they are hiding under floorboards,
peeping through. I don't think that's Islamic. I don't think Islam allows
that. I think there is a right to privacy in Islam. I think in Islam there
is no compulsion. Islam recognises pluralism, Islam recognises tolerance so
I feel a little bit uneasy about this attitude towards apostates, attitude
towards deviationists. I think as long as deviationists and apostates are
not belligerent to Islam. I think we must leave them alone.
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