Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

The Forgotten Constitution

Written by johnleemk on 12:36:27 pm Jul 8, 2007.
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There is quite a bit of hype about the original 1957 Merdeka Constitution — a Constitution much touted by the anti-establishment people, despite it not being really significantly different in nature from the current Constitution.

However, if we really want to go back to the Constitution which the Reid Commission had in mind for Malaya, there is another little-known alternative — the original draft of the Constitution.

There is a myth which persists that the only Constitution given to us by the Reid Commission was the one we had on 31st August 1957. In reality, that was not the Constitution created by the consensus of the Reid Commission.

That is why there are a number of inconsistencies between the Reid Commission's report and the Constitution we had at the time of independence. Some have mistakenly asserted based on the report that, for example, Article 153 (which supposedly guarantees apartheid) was supposed to be re-examined by Parliament 15 years after independence.

The final Constitution was stripped of clauses such as this. In addition, it also enshrined Islam as the official religion (causing a lot of confusion today about whether Malaysia is a secular or Islamic state, when this was never in doubt at the time of independence), and gave Parliament virtual carte blanche to infringe the fundamental rights and liberties of Malaysians.

Who do we have to thank for this? A little-known Pakistani jurist named Hakim Abdul Hamid. The Reid Constitution originally had a clear consensus about the direction Malaysia's Constitution should take it — towards a future with equality of opportunity and a democratic, enlightened populace.

Abdul Hamid vehemently objected towards this approach taken by the other four men of the commission, and they generously relented, devoting a significant appendix of their report to covering his criticisms of the Constitution. This appendix was seized upon by the Alliance government, who used it as an excuse to tear apart the original draft and create their own monstrosity.

Thanks to Abdul Hamid, today Islam is the official religion of the country, and also supposedly makes us an Islamic theocracy. Thanks to this man, Parliament is allowed to restrict our freedom of speech, our freedom to speak our minds, as much as it likes — a blatant travesty of justice totally absent from the original Constitution, which insisted that the courts had the right to determine whether the restriction was reasonable.

Of course, the original Constitution was not perfect either. I think there's nothing necessarily wrong with Islam being the official religion, and a lot of the flaws of the Merdeka Constitution were also present in the original draft.

But if we really want to restore the true intent of the Reid Commission, which based its report neutrally on the views of our founding fathers — the men and women of Malaya who they interviewed and spoke to, the members of the Federal Council who submitted memoranda to them — the document we should be looking to is the forgotten Constitution — the Constitution free from the ravages of the Merdeka Constitution.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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