Respect for Loyal Opposition Essential for Democracy

The Civil Society Initiative for Parliamentary Reform (CSI-Parliament) stresses that a loyal opposition is a legitimate and necessary part of any system of democracy, including our constitutional monarchy.

We strongly criticise the threatened use of the Sedition Act 1948 and the leveling of accusations of treason against anyone who has a critical view of our political system, regardless of whether the person is a parliamentarian, a member of the royalty or an ordinary citizen, especially by those who would take offence for purely populist or politically-partisan purposes.

CSI-Parliament stresses that the democratic space for debate and deliberation on issues of national interest is now more important to protect as the country makes its ways through uncharted waters of deeper democratization and more extensive political plurality at the state government level.

The initial sacking of Perak Religious Department Director Datuk Jamry Sury by the Pakatan Rakyat state government, the subsequent order by HRH the Sultan of Perak to reinstate him, and the consequent criticism by Karpal Singh MP of HRH the Sultan of Perak’s order have resulted in different perspectives of the law and constitutional convention brought to public attention.

Let us not forget a similar situation faced by the Barisan Nasional in attempting to nominate its candidates for the post of Menteri Besar in Perlis and Terengganu. Political convention and processes in the latter cases – hitherto taken for granted – were then called into question by many, including Government and Barisan leaders. While at the end of the day there can only be one lawful position on the matter, there must be sufficient room for legitimate public discussion and deliberation of what exactly that position is.

In connection with the new controversy over various statements of Parliamentarian Karpal Singh, CSI-Parliament condemns political manoeuvres which are bent on manipulating a complex though legitimate difference of opinion on constitutional law and the position of the Malay Rulers into a so-called stand-off between the palace and the opposition. Just as dangerous is the attempt by some quarters to portray this incident as a potentially seditious and treasonous questioning of royal prerogatives, and consequently a perceived slighting of the position of one particular community.

CSI-Parliament is confident that wise counsel shall prevail and that the unacceptable attempt by certain parties to take advantage of this situation to promote ill-will and hostility between the races will fail miserably. It is these irresponsible parties who are the real threat to peace and stability in this country.

To ensure an inclusive process of democratization and the liberty to engage in healthy and open debate free from threats of sedition and accusations of treason, CSI-Parliament takes this opportunity to echo the longstanding call by the Bar Council and other civil society organizations to abolish the Sedition Act 1948. More pertinent legislation to bring genuine threats against the public order before the courts of our land is already available in our statute books.

Press Statement issued jointly by: Dr Lim Teck Ghee, Wong Chin Huat, Edward Lee, Andrew Khoo, Haris Ibrahim. Kuala Lumpur 12 May 2008

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