Academic: Fourth PM to blame for Constitution in ‘coma’

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KUALA LUMPUR: Law professor Azmi Sharom says the Federal Constitution is in a coma, with its “health” having gone downhill since Malaysia’s fourth prime minister took over the country’s reins.

He said this at the launch of a book on Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the country’s fourth prime minister. He was blamed for “destroying” the judiciary, curbing the power of the monarchy and strengthening the executive branch by placing the Election Commission and other agencies under the direct purview of the Prime Minister’s Department.

However, after leaving Umno for the third time and forming new party PPBM, Mahathir has been touted as a possible candidate for prime minister to lead the opposition in its efforts to oust Barisan Nasional in the next general election (GE14). This is despite the PPBM chairman ruling out any chance of returning as PM.

“I would describe the health of the Federal Constitution as being in a coma, and it was put there by those who came after Tunku. It especially went downhill after the fourth prime minister (took over the reins),” Azmi said at the book launch held in Bangsar Village II here today.

“Tunku was a lawyer. He understood the value of law, the rule of law and the protection given to the people under the Federal Constitution. This lack of understanding is plaguing the country now.

“When you give it to a doctor, everything goes haywire.”

The outspoken Azmi, who previously faced sedition charges by the authorities, said the constitution provided fundamental guarantees of freedom of expression and religion.

He added that although he didn’t know Tunku personally, he believed the statesman would be upset with the “way things are” in the country today.

Azmi also hailed Tunku as a “creature of his time” where integrity was then part and parcel of the people.

He also related how Tunku had once approached a school inspector, offering him the post of education minister.

However, the school inspector declined Tunku’s offer as the salary of a minister was insufficient to support his family of 10.

“Nowadays, politics is seen as a means of making money, and I don’t think the concept of service exists any more.”

Also at the book launch was Peter Velappan, one of Malaysia’s most prominent football administrators, who paid tribute to Tunku – an avid football fan himself.

Velappan said after the May 13 riots of 1969, the National Operations Council which administered the country in the wake of the riots cancelled the Merdeka Tournament for that year in the interest of safety.

The Merdeka Tournament was held annually in honour of Malaysia’s Independence Day, and in the past, attracted top international teams from around the region.

“I was sent to convey the message to Tunku that it had been cancelled. At the time, Tunku was recovering from an eye infection.

“Tunku said it was stupid to cancel the Merdeka Tournament as football brought people together,” Velappan said.

He added that the Merdeka Tournaments in the years after 1969 had drawn Malaysians from all walks of life to rally behind their national football team, and had helped heal the nation after the May 13 riots.

Velappan, who was the secretary-general of the Asian Football Confederation for 30 years, also praised Tunku’s compassion.

“Tunku never wanted to see anyone unhappy, hungry or go without clothes.”

Once, Velappan said, a beggar approached Tunku and asked for money. Tunku not only gave him money but the very shirt he was wearing.

Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was a Kedah prince and Malaysia’s father of independence, served as prime minister from Aug 31, 1957 to Sept 22, 1970. He passed away on Dec 6, 1990.

The book launched today, titled “Dialog: Thoughts on Tunku’s Timeless Thinking”, features the writings and artworks of contemporary Malaysians from all walks of life, who pay tribute to Tunku’s wit and wisdom.

The book is a joint production by several organisations including M&C Saatchi Malaysia, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), The One Academy, Projek 57 and the Rojak Projek.

It will be on sale at several major bookstores.