The Malaysian Constitution

Haris Ibrahim asked a very valid question on how can you consider your self to be a Malaysian when you don’t know the contents of the Malaysian Constitution? I for one, like the majority of Malaysians would complain about our rights, the Law, the system, the government but  have little inkling what the Malaysian Constitution is or how it has evolved over the years.

Thankfully for the web, we can now get an instant idea about the Malaysian Constitution through Wikipedia. There are also copies available on line.

While I am making it a point to learn more about the Malaysian Constitution, I also did some research on the Constitutions of other countries and I found out some rather disturbing comparison.

The American Constitution was enacted in 17 September 1787 making it the oldest surviving constitution in the world. Since it was enacted, 223 years ago, the American Constitution was amended a total of 27 times.

The Japanese Constitution which was enacted on 3rd May 1947 was never amended throughout its 63 years history.

For a closer comparison to Malaysia, the Constitution of India was enacted in 26 January 1950 and is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world totalling 117,369 words in English, containing 440 articles in 22 parts and 12 schedules. The Indian Constitution was amended a total of 108 times in its 60 years history.

Coming closer to home, the Singaporean Constitution was enacted on 9th August 1965 and has been amended only a total of 5 times.

In comparison, the Malaysian Constitution was enacted on 27th August 1957. It contained 15 parts and 13 schedules, much less than the Indian Constitution but the Malaysian Constitution has been amended more than 700 times in 53 years.

What’s utterly disturbing to me is the frequency of the amendments. Malaysia really top the world for amending its Constitution.

Malaysia        700 times in 53 years (13.208 times a year)

India               108 times in 60 years ( 1.800 times a year)

USA                  27 times in 223 years (1.211 times every 10 years)

Singapore         5 times in    45 years (1.111 times every 10 years)

Malaysia is amending its Constitution as frequent as 13 .2 times a year while India is doing it about twice a year. USA and Singapore amends that Constitution once every ten years.

This leaves the question of what is a Constitution? If it is a legally binding Law, then the frequency of the amendments in the Malaysian Constitution gives the impression that the Law is not legally binding as it can be changed 13 times a year or a Law is amended every month for the past 53 years.

The frequency of the amendments made to the Malaysian Constitution should serve as a wake up call to all Malaysians to learn more about their country’s Constitution and what the politicians are doing to the Law.

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9 Responses to The Malaysian Constitution

  1. gina says:

    Seriously, why even have constitution if they want to amend it at their whims and fancies? Might as well run this country like cowboy town. Wait a minute. It’s already running like a cowboy town.

  2. shorthorse says:

    Malaysia Boleh! So typical of our Govt to try and break a record … in this case, at the expense of its citizens … 😦

  3. Pink Jeans says:

    Wow, what an eye-opener! I never knew Malaysia was so, erm… “flexible”.

  4. asme says:

    It was mind boogling for me as well when I finally decided to dig a bit more.

  5. adam says:

    you should try to figure out how many amendments that we did after including sabah and sarawak into malaysia. most of the amendments were created because we wanted to include those two states. our constitution was drafted for Malaya, back in 1956 with the help of the Reid Commission.

    • asme says:

      118 amendments were made for the formation of Malaysia, to include Sabah and Sarawak. This represents only 16.9% of the amendments, not a majority.

      Another 42 amendments or 6% were made to exclude Singapore during the separation.

      What about the balance 77% or more than 500 others amendments?

  6. Malaysian Constitution says:

    There is a longstanding and widespread believe amongst Malaysians that the Malaysian Constitution has been amended far too frequently and that this is a bad thing. Out of curiosity, I spent many hours researching these changes. I have managed to attribute 41% of the amendments to innocent, technical changes such as those relating to the formation of Malaysia, the removal of Singapore, the creation of Federal Territories, the creation of the Federal Court and updating of archaic language such as Borneo States to Sabah and Sarawak and Muslim law to Islam.

    This by no means imply that the other changes are fundamental ones. I simply have not had the time to classify the rest. For example, I have not included in the 41% those amendments which simply increase the amount of federal grant to States.

    If you are curious about the other changes perhaps you could spend some time reviewing for yourself the reasons for the other amendments to see how many of them are in fact something that we need to be disturbed about. I think you will be surprised to find that only a small fraction of the changes are fundamental one.

    To review the individual amendments, please see the annotations to the 2006 Reprint to the Federal Constitution which you can view from the link below.

    • asme says:

      Thanks for the link.

      Well, some of the changes may be necessary but it would be disturbing if just a few fundamentals changes slip through the abundances of changes.

      • Malaysian Constitution says:

        That may very well be the case but I hope you can see that all I am trying to do is to encourage and promote debate based on facts and not on misunderstandings. I am planning to analyse and categorise the other amendments in the future so as to provide the public with a full picture of the nature of these amendments.

        One important fact which is not always mentioned in coffeshop discussions is that the Malaysian Constitution is a very much longer than other Constitutions, such as the US Constitution. Ours has over 60,000 words whereas the US has only 5,000. This is because our Constitution, in addition to having fundamental constitutional matters, contains very detailed provisions on mundane things like how the public services and the consolidated funds are to be established and operated. Thus, in my view, a large part of the Constitution is really no different from any other normal Act, which from time to time must be amended to keep up with the times (and it is over 50 years old).

        The Constitutional Scholar Prof. Abdul Aziz Bari made similar observations in his book “The Malaysian Constitution: A Critical Introduction” where he say, and I quote, from Chapter 13 (Amendments to the Constitution):

        “Amendments are something that are difficult to avoid especially if a constitution is more of a working document than a brief statement of principles” (page 167)

        “Admittedly, whether the frequency of amendments is necessarily a bad thing is difficult to say.””…one must not forget the different nature of the American and Malaysian constitutions. The former is short and general.” (page 171)

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