Azalina spewing nonsense on constitutional amendment bill, says law expert

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad presents the Federal Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019, which was defeated in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Former law minister Azalina Othman Said has drawn scorn from former law lecturer Abdul Aziz Bari over a remark she made following the defeat of a government-sponsored bill to restore the Borneo states’ positions as federation partners equal in stature to Peninsular Malaysia.

“Nonsense,” said Aziz in reaction to the Pengerang MP’s suggestion for the appointment of a parliamentary select committee to study a presumed revised bill before its tabling.

Speaking to FMT, he said those who didn’t vote for the constitutional amendment bill on Tuesday could have used their debate time to point out what they saw as lacking in it and ask for the gaps to be filled.

“Why do we need a select committee for such a simple thing? Why waste time?”

Abdul Aziz Bari.

Aziz, who is a member of the Perak state executive council, said it was especially incumbent on opposition MPs from Sabah and Sarawak to point out the perceived flaws in the bill during the Dewan Rakyat debate.

Putrajaya failed to get the required two-third majority vote to amend Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution. Only 138 of the 221 MPs voted for it. Fifty-nine abstained.

Aziz scoffed at those who abstained. “If they seriously thought there were flaws in the bill, they should have been brave enough to oppose it,” he said.

Another expert in constitutional law, Faridah Jalil, gave a different view. She said Putrajaya erred in not having extensive consultations with stakeholders before tabling the bill. She mentioned the Sarawak and Sabah governors and the Council of Rulers as being among the stakeholders.

She acknowledged that such consultations were not legally required, but she added: “It would have been the best way to move forward. The constitution operates not only on the basis of the written word. Good governance and political calculations are important, too.”

Azalina Othman.

She said the Special Cabinet Steering Committee to Review the Malaysia Agreement 1963 should have been given the chance to study “all opinions” before the bill was drafted.

“And then, there should have been a road show to explain to the public the proposed provision, the new division of power and the new relationship between the territories forming Malaysia,” she added.

Political analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi of Universiti Malaya claimed that there might be “unrest on the ground” if a bill affecting Sabah and Sarawak rights were brought before Parliament and it turned out to be “riddled with shortcomings” or “a half-hearted effort”.

He said the situation today was different from what it was in 1976, when the constitution was amended to affect the rights of the two states. “Not many were brave enough to retaliate because they were scared of the Internal Security Act.”

James Chin of the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute said Pakatan Harapan “must do the numbers” before tabling such a bill again. “They thought opposition MPs from Sabah and Sarawak would not dare to vote against the bill. But they abstained and that is a ‘no’ as well.”

He said the wording of the bill fell short of “returning to the original wording” of the Malaysia Agreement, as the public had been earlier led to believe.

Oh Ei Sun, a fellow of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said he found it odd that there was a hurry to table the bill. “I can only imagine it was with good intentions. Hopefully, it was not sinister.”

He said it was likely a litmus test to see if any constitutional amendment would get the necessary support.