PETALING JAYA: Non-governmental organisations in East Malaysia have called for a renegotiation of the Federal Constitution if Kelantan insists on enforcing the Syariah Criminal Code.
The Civil Society Organisations of Sabah and Sarawak said the two states signed up for a secular federation when it formed Malaysia with Malaya and Singapore in 1963.
“To prevent a constitutional crisis that erodes the moral basis of Malaysia as a nation, we call upon the Federal Government or the Sabah and Sarawak state governments to convene a Malaysia Summit to be attended by all lawmakers and executive branch at Federal and state levels," it said in a statement coordinated by Jaringan Orang Asal Malaysia (Joas).
It added that the summit would deliberate on a new arrangement, whereby Sabah and Sarawak may have other rights devolved if Kelantan was to have its own criminal justice system.
It said religious freedom was among the top demands of Sabah and Sarawak in the Malaysia negotiations, which produced the Inter-Governmental Committee Report and eventually the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.
“Sabah and Sarawak would not have been part of Malaysia if Syariah criminal law was an item in the negotiation,” the statement said.
The statement said using a secular justice system was part of the entire constitutional package in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution.
“Any fundamental change to this packaged deal requires a thorough renegotiation of the Federal Constitution,” it said.
It said Sabahans and Sarawakians are “legitimate stakeholders in the Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code II (1993) 2015” and outlined several consequences if the enactment comes into force.
For instance, Section 2 of the code holds that any East Malaysian - regardless of faith - who falls prey to thefts, robberies, homicides and bodily harm committed by Muslims will have their case tried in the Syariah court and not in the Common Law court.
Another area of concern was how murderers involving Sabahans and Sarawakians will escape the death penalty when the prosecution cannot produce testimonies by two good adult male Muslims.
The organisations conceded that even if Brunei is not a democracy, it can enforce Syariah criminal law because it is a sovereign nation.
However, Kelantan has “no constitutional competence” to enforce the Code even if it was democratically deliberated, because the state is not a sovereign country, the statement said.
“Sabah and Sarawak objecting to the Code is therefore not infringing Kelantan's democratic aspiration,” it added.
It said should Kelantan be given the power over criminal justice under Article 76A, the organisations will term it a “constitutional coup against the 1963 Malaysia Agreement," and a move no less than advocacy of separatism.
By skirting the need of a two-thirds parliamentary majority to amend the Ninth Schedule, a bill under Article 76A undermines the veto potential of the 57 parliamentarians from East Malaysia.
“It will effectively not just write off the status of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners of Malaya, but even places Sabah and Sarawak as constitutionally inferior to one of Malaya’s states,” the statement said.