Malaysiakini Letter

Judiciary steps in where the executive has failed

P Ramasamy
Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | It is well and good for Prime Minister Najib Razak to say that is it is "hard to please everyone" when he was asked to comment on the Federal Court's decision that put an end to the unilateral conversion of M Indira Gandhi's children nine years ago.

The BN government in general and Najib, in particular, had all the time to resolve the problem stemming from unilateral conversions after certain cases were highlighted in the country especially the case of the children of Indira Gandhi.

Even though the Law Reform ( Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976 was presented in parliament with the sole objective of resolving the problem of unilateral conversion, however, at the last minute, the controversial clause was removed.

The act of withdrawing represented a great betrayal on the part of the government. It dashed the hopes of those who wanted justice and fair play in a country where politics and decision making seems to be dictated by racial and religious priorities.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Azalina Othman (photo) cannot turn around to say that the lawyer for Indira Gandhi and Member of Parliament for Ipoh Barat M Kulasegaran should be thankful to Najib for the court decision.

Thankful for what?

I don't understand the convoluted logic of Azalina. She cannot pretend that she was not behind the drafting of the bill that was presented to the parliament and the cowardly manner in which it was removed.

She also cannot deny that the clause was dropped not because of anything else but merely on the part of the Najib administration to please certain camps.

In other words, Najib wanted to play politics with the bill and now Azlina wants us to thank him for his cowardly and opportunistic politics.

There is nothing to thank Najib. In fact, he should be criticised for missing a golden opportunity to steer the bill through Parliament that would have put an end to unilateral conversion in the country.

Federal Court steps in

There was a flip side to Najib's politics. By shirking his responsibility, he inadvertently allowed the Federal Court to step in to end once and for all the nightmare and anguish of those families who have suffered the menace of unilateral conversions.

While governments normally succeed in overcoming complex and difficult problems, however, in Malaysia the federal government has failed to address issues that require imagination and boldness. This would explain why on issues that are considered as sensitive by the government, other parties have stepped in to resolve them.

A few weeks back, it was the Johor sultan who stepped in to provide an alternative land for a Hindu temple that was demolished by the owner in Masai. In Johor, the ruler has played a role that has endeared himself and his family to the masses. The Johor royalty have made it clear that there is no place for religious and racial extremism in the state.

If the Federal Court had not taken a bold decision in putting an end to unilateral conversion, those parties who have been denied justice on religious conversion matters would reach a dead end. Luckily, the court stepped to provide hope for Malaysians.

The pro-active stand by the Johor royalty and the progressive role of the Federal Court gives us some hope as to the future of the country.

This is precisely the reason that many other Malaysians think that the present government has outlived its usefulness. If it cannot resolve some basic problematic issues, there is little hope that it could address problems of greater and more complex magnitude.

The Federal Court's decision is an important milestone in putting an end to the suffering and anguish of those families who have suffered the effects of unilateral conversions.

However, the landmark verdict has broader implications. It suggests that the judicial system has a wider role to play in society. It can act as a powerful check-and-balance to allow for the normal functioning of society.


P RAMASAMY is Penang Deputy Chief Minister II and Perai state assemblyperson.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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