Experts: PAS bid to limit PM’s post to Muslims demeaning, unconstitutional

By Julia Chan and Tarrence Tan
Civil rights lawyer Syahredzan Johan said there is no specific legislation that makes atheism an offence under civil laws, further arguing that the Sedition Act cannot be used against someone for being an atheist. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 ― The PAS proposal for a religious prerequisite to become prime minister violates the guarantee to equality and has no practical basis, according to constitutional experts.

They further disputed the Islamist party’s claim that a Muslim prime minister was necessary to safeguard Islam’s position as the religion of the federation, saying this was already a duty of the Yang diPertuan Agong and the Malay Rulers.

“The position of Islam is also protected by the Constitution itself under numerous provisions. You don’t need to have a requirement that the PM is Muslim to ensure Islam is protected,” said civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan.

“It is disappointing that a national party like PAS would seek such an amendment while the nation is clearly built in the spirit of unity and togetherness.”

PAS resolved during its annual assembly on Sunday to urge the prime minister to amend the Federal Constitution and include a stipulation that the position must go to a Muslim lawmaker.

The constitution in its current form is silent on any such religious requirement; it states only that the prime minister must command the confidence of the majority of elected MPs.

Syahredzan also pointed out that the country’s prime ministers were already exclusively Malay-Muslim men as a result of communal politics.

“But, we should strive to break away such racial and religious barriers for the future, not reinforce them. Such an amendment would only be regressive.”

Sabah-based civil liberties lawyer Tengku Fuad Ahmad pointed out that such an amendment would violate other areas of the constitution, such as those concerning the freedom of religion as well as equality before the law.

He also questioned how such an amendment would be received in East Malaysia that is home to significant non-Muslim populations, and which has entrenched rights from the Malaysia Agreement 1963 as well as the two Bornean states’ individual agreements with the federation.

“Regarding Sabah and Sarawak, no amendments that affect the rights of Sabah and Sarawak citizens and their rights pre-Malaysia day can be made without the consent of the heads of state according to Article 161E,” Tengku Fuad said. 

Article 161E of the Federal Constitution states that the provisions dealing with the safeguards for the constitutional position of Sabah and Sarawak can be amended with the concurrence of the Governors of these states.

“It can also be argued that the amendment offends the basic structure of the Constitution and Parliamentary democracy as a whole which could be liable to be struck out by the Federal Court,” the lawyer added.

For constitutional law professor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari, introducing a requirement for the prime minister to be Muslim would be an affront to the community as it would suggest they needed handicaps unavailable to others.

He also said the notion was undemocratic as it would limit some sections of the country from participating fully in the country’s governance.

“It is also politically incorrect for PAS to do so. The Malays don’t need a handicap, it is an insult to the Malay abilities,” he said to Malay Mail Online when contacted.