Kit Siang: Select committee on inter-religious relations needed

lim-kit-siang-lawPETALING JAYA: DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang has called for an all-party Parliamentary Select Committee to study and make proposals on how to strengthen inter-religious relations, in the wake of the shariah amendment controversy that he says has divided Malaysia.

The Gelang Patah MP said the study should be based on fundamental nation-building documents such as the Federal Constitution, the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and the Rukunegara declaration of 1970.

It should also include proposals like the private member’s bill tabled by PAS president and Marang MP Abdul Hadi Awang in the Dewan Rakyat to increase shariah penalties by amending the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, or Act 355.

“A Parliamentary Select Committee to promote greater national unity out of the diverse races, religions and cultures in Malaysia will make the 60th anniversary of Merdeka on August 31, 1957 this year a most meaningful one,” he said at a gathering titled ‘DAP Kopitiam Ceramah’ in Johor Bahru last night.

Lim noted reports that the next meeting of Parliament may see an amendment to exclude the application of Hadi’s bill in Sabah and Sarawak so as to avoid opposition from the 57 MPs from the two Borneo states.

The DAP parliamentary leader said such an act would only highlight the divisive nature of the measure undertaken by Hadi.

He also described the final day of the Dewan Rakyat’s latest meeting on Thursday as a “black-letter day for nation building and national unity in Malaysia”.

He said this was because the meeting was adjourned ahead of its normal time at 5.30pm to disallow a debate on Hadi’s bill motion although MPs from Pakatan Harapan parties were prepared to take part.

He added that nation building and national unity also took a beating that day because the amendment has been allowed to become “the most divisive issue in our plural nation of diverse races, religions and cultures” over the past year.

Lim said he had proposed the select committee when on a visit to Pensiangan in Sabah last December, to ensure that national unity would always be of paramount consideration for MPs, especially on controversial issues affecting religion.

He said the “Pensiangan Formula” to resolve the political and constitutional “impasse” created by the bill also included a call for the federal government not to take over Hadi’s bill while letting it remain on the parliamentary order paper.

On March 29 Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman Najib Razak announced after chairing a BN supreme council meeting that the government would not take over and table the bill, citing the consensus policy among the parties in the ruling coalition.

“The Cabinet should seriously consider the Pensiangan Formula on promoting national unity among the diverse races, religions and regions in Malaysia through a Parliamentary Select Committee, where Hadi’s proposals can be given deeper study and consideration,” Lim said.

In a statement yesterday Bar Council president George Varughese called for a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into “problematic” issues that would arise due to the heavier penalties stipulated in the shariah amendment bill.

He pointed to the select committee idea announced by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Nov 22 last year to undertake extensive and in-depth study of the shariah proposal.