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The Federal Constitution of Malaysia is the supreme law of Malaysia.

The 1957
Constitution of the Federation of Malaya is the basis of this document. It establishes
Malaysia as a constitutional monarchy having the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the Head of
State whose roles are largely ceremonial. It provides for the establishment and the
organization of three main branches of the government: the bicameral legislative branch
called the Parliament, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate; the
executive branch led by the Prime Minister and consists of Cabinet Ministers; and the
judicial branch headed by the Federal Court.

The document also defines the rights and responsibilities of the federal government, the
member states of the federation and the citizens and their relations to each other. As of
early 2006, the number of individual amendments to the constitution is estimated to be
about 650.

History
Main article: History of the Malaysian Constitution

A constitutional conference was held in London from 18 January to 6 February 1956


attended by a delegation from the Federation of Malaya, consisting of four
representatives of the Rulers, the Chief Minister of the Federation (Tunku Abdul
Rahman) and three other ministers, and also by the British High Commissioner in Malaya
and his advisers.

The conference proposed the appointment of an independent commission to devise a


constitution for a fully self-governing and independent Federation of Malaya. This
proposal was accepted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Malay Rulers.

Accordingly, a commission headed by Lord William Reid, a distinguished Lord of Appeal


in ordinary, and consisting of constitutional experts from fellow Commonwealth
countries was appointed by the Queen and the Malay Rulers. The commission was
appropriately called the Reid Commission.

The Constitution of Malaya was drafted based on the advice of the Reid Commission
which conducted a study in 1956. The Constitution came into force on August 27, 1957.
Formal independence was only achieved on August 31, however.

The constitutional machinery devised to bring the new constitution into force consisted
of:

• In the United Kingdom, the Federation of Malaya Independence Act 1957,


together with the Orders in Council made under it.
• The Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957 between the government of the United
Kingdom and the government of the Federation of Malaya.
• In the Federation, the Federal Constitution Ordinance 1957 by the Parliament.
• In each of the Malay states, state enactments approving and giving force of law to
the federal constitution.

The Constitution of Malaya (with significant amendments) was used as the basis for the
Constitution of Malaysia when Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore merged to form
Malaysia in 1963.

[edit] Amendments
The constitution itself provides by Articles 159 and 161E how it may be amended (it may
be amended by federal law), and in brief there are four ways by which it may be
amended:

1. Some articles may be amended only by a two-thirds majority in each House of


Parliament but only if the Conference of Rulers consents. These include:

• Amendments pertaining to the powers of sultans and their respective states


• The status of Islam in the Federation
• The special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak
• The status of the Malay language as the official language

2. Some articles of special interest to East Malaysia, may be amended by a two-thirds


majority in each House of Parliament but only if the Governor of the East Malaysian state
concurs. These include:

• Citizenship of persons born before Malaysia Day


• The constitution and jurisdiction of the High Court of Borneo
• The matters with respect to which the legislature of the state may or may not
make laws, the executive authority of the state in those matters and financial
arrangement between the Federal government and the state.
• Special treatment of natives of the state

3. Some articles may be amended by a two-thirds majority in each House of Parliament,


and these amendments do not require the consent of anybody outside Parliament

4. Some articles, these are not the most important, may be amended by a simple majority
in Parliament.

[edit] Interpretation

According to constitutional scholar Shad Saleem Faruqi, the Constitution has been
amended 42 times over the 48 years since independence as of 2005. However, as several
amendments were made each time, he estimates the true number of individual
amendments is around 650. He has stated that "there is no doubt" that "the spirit of the
original document has been diluted".[1] This sentiment has been echoed by other legal
scholars, who argue that important parts of the original Constitution, such as jus soli
(right of birth) citizenship, a limitation on the variation of the number of electors in
constituencies, and Parliamentary control of emergency powers have been so modified or
altered by amendments that "the present Federal Constitution bears only a superficial
resemblance to its original model".[2] It has been estimated that between 1957 and 2003,
"almost thirty articles have been added and repealed" as a consequence of the frequent
amendments.[3]

In July 2007, the Court of Appeal held that the doctrine of separation of powers was an
integral part of the Constitution; under the Westminster System Malaysia inherited from
the British, separation of powers was originally only loosely provided for.[4]

[edit] Organisation
The Constitution is divided into 16 parts and 13 Schedules. Each part and schedule
contain relevant articles. There are 230 articles in the 16 parts, including those which
have been repealed.

[edit] Parts

• Part I - The States, Religion and Law of the Federation


• Part II - Fundamental Liberties
• Part III - Citizenship
• Part IV - The Federation
• Part V - The States
• Part VI - Relations Between the Federation and the States
• Part VII - Financial Provisions
• Part VIII - Elections
• Part IX - The Judiciary
• Part X - Public Services
• Part XI - Special Powers Against Subversion, Organised Violence, and Acts and
Crimes Prejudicial to the Public and Emergency Powers
• Part XII - General and Miscellaneous
• Part XIIA - Additional Protections for States of Sabah and Sarawak
• Part XIII - Temporary and Transitional Provisions
• Part XIV - Saving for Rulers' Sovereignty, Etc.

[edit] Schedules

• First Schedule - Oath of Applications for Registration of Naturalisation


• Second Schedule - Citizenship of persons born before, on and after Malaysia Day
• Third Schedule - Election and removal of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and his
deputy
• Fourth Schedule - Oaths of Office of Yang di-Pertuan Agong and his deputy
• Fifth Schedule - The Conference of Rulers
• Sixth Schedule - Forms of Oaths and Affirmations
• Seventh Schedule - Election and Retirement of Senators
• Eighth Schedule - Provisions to be inserted in State Constitution
• Ninth Schedule - Legislative Lists (The responsibilities and rights of the Federal
and State government)
• Tenth Schedule - Grants and Source of Revenue Assigned to States
• Eleventh Schedule - Provisions of the Interpretation and General Clauses
Ordinance, 1948 (Malayan Union Ordinance no. 7 of 1948), Applied for
Interpretation of the Constitution
• Twelfth Schedule - (Repealed)
• Thirteenth Schedule - Provisions Relating to Delimitation of Constituencies
• Notes - The original texts of articles 1 to 15 before they were modified.

[edit] Notable Articles


[edit] Article 5

Clause 1 provides that no person may be deprived of life or personal liberty save in
accordance with law.

Clause 3 guarantees the rights of an arrested person to be informed of the reasons of his
arrest and to be legally represented by a practitioner of his choice.

[edit] Article 6

Article 6 provides that no person may be held in slavery. All forms of forced labour are
prohibited, but federal law may provide for compulsory service for national purposes. It
is expressly provided that work incidental to serving a sentence of imprisonment imposed
by a court of law is not forced labour.

The National Service Act was drafted based on Article 6.

[edit] Article 8

Article 8 by clause (1) provides that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to its
equal protection.

Clause 2 states: “Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no


discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, gender or
place of birth in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a
public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or
disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business,
profession, vocation or employment.”

The exception in clause 2 is used to justify the reservations and special provisions for the
Malays and the Bumiputras of Sabah and Sarawak under Article 153.

[edit] Article 10

Main article: Article 10 of the Constitution of Malaysia


See also: May 13 Incident and Operation Lalang

Article 10 (1) guarantees the freedom of speech, the right to assemble peacefully and the
right to form associations to every Malaysian citizen. However, Parliament may by law
impose restrictions on these rights in the interest of the security of the Federation,
friendly relations with other countries, public order, morality; and restrictions designed to
protect the privileges of Parliament, to provide against contempt of court, defamation, or
incitement to any offence.

Article 10 is a key provision of Part II of the Constitution, and has been regarded as "of
paramount importance" by the judicial community in Malaysia. However, it has been
argued that the rights of Part II, in particular Article 10, "have been so heavily qualified
by other parts of the Constitution, for example, Part XI in relation to special and
emergency powers, and the permanent state of emergency that has existed since 1969,
that much of [the Constitution's] high principles are lost."[5]

Article 10 (4) states that Parliament may pass law prohibiting the questioning of any
matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or
protected by the provisions of Part III, article 152, 153 or 181 of the constitution.

Several acts of law regulate the freedoms granted by Article 10, such as the Official
Secrets Act, which makes it a crime to disseminate information classified as an official
secret.

The Sedition Act 1948 makes it an offence to engage in acts with a "seditious tendency",
including but not limited to the spoken word and publications; conviction may result in a
sentence of a fine up to RM5,000, three years in jail, or both.

The Public Order (Preservation) Ordinance 1958 allows the Police to declare certain
areas "restricted", and to regulate processions or meetings of five persons or more. The
maximum sentence for the violation of a restricted area order is imprisonment of 10 years
and whipping.[6]

Other laws curtailing the freedoms of Article 10 are the Police Act 1967, which
criminalises the gathering of three or more people in a public place without a licence, and
the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which grants the Home Affairs Minister
"absolute discretion" in the granting and revoking of publishing permits, and also makes
it a criminal offense to possess a printing press without a licence.[7]

The Sedition Act in particular has been widely commented upon by jurists for the bounds
it places on freedom of speech. Justice Raja Azlan Shah (later the Yang di-Pertuan
Agong) once said:

The right to free speech ceases at the point where it comes within the
“ mischief of the Sedition Act.[8] ”
[edit] Article 11

Though Islam is the religion of the Federation, Article 11 provides that every person has
the right to profess and practice his own religion. Every person has the right to propagate
his religion, but state law and, in respect of the Federal Territory, federal law may control
or restrict the propagation of any religion, doctrine or belief among persons professing
the Muslim religion. There is, however, freedom to carry on missionary work among non-
Muslims.

[edit] Article 13

Article 13 provides that no person may be deprived of property save in accordance with
law. No law may provide for the compulsory acquisition or use of property without
adequate compensation.

[edit] Article 32

Article 32 of the Constitution of Malaysia provides for a Supreme Head of the


Federation, to be called the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who shall take precedence over all
persons in the Federation and shall not be liable to any proceedings whatsoever in any
court.

The Consort of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is to be called the Raja Permaisuri Agong
shall take precedence next after the Yang di-Pertuan Agong over all other persons in the
Federation.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected by the Conference of Rulers for a term of five
years, but may at any time resign his office by writing to the Conference of Rulers or be
removed from office by the Conference of Rulers, and shall cease to hold office on
ceasing to be a Ruler.

[edit] Article 121

Further information: Status of religious freedom in Malaysia


In 2006 a judge ruled that Article 121 limited the federal courts from ruling on matters
ruled on by the Syariah court (Islamic court).

[edit] Article 149

Article 149 gives power to the Parliament to pass laws to suspend a person's fundamental
rights vested to him in Part II of the Constitution if the Parliament believes that the
person is a threat to national security or public order notwithstanding the fact that the
laws are conflicting with Article 5, 9, 10 and 13 and 79.

The laws passed to the effect of this article include, to name a few:

• Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (Revised 1980)


• Internal Security Act 1960 (Revised 1972)
• Official Secrets Act 1972
• Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984
• Sedition Act 1948 (Revised 1969)
• Universities and University Colleges Act 1971n

The Acts mentioned above recognize the death penalty, the detention without trial, the
caning and the silencing of people critical to the government to be lawful although they
contradict with the articles on fundamental rights in Part II of the Constitution.

[edit] Article 150

This article permits the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to issue a Proclamation of Emergency
and to govern by issuing ordinances that are not subject to judicial review if the Yang di-
Pertuan Agong is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security, or the
economic life, or public order in the Federation or any part thereof is threatened.

[edit] Article 152

Article 152 states that the national language is the Malay language. However, the
Constitution guarantees the freedom of learning and using of other languages, except on
official purposes. Official purposes here means any purpose of the Government, whether
Federal or State, and includes any purpose of a public authority. To this effect, all court
proceedings and parliamentary documents and meetings are conducted in Malay.

The official script for the Malay language is also stated in Article 152 as rumi or the Latin
script. However, use of Jawi is not prohibited.

[edit] Article 153

Main article: Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia


Article 153 grants the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or King of Malaysia, responsibility for
safeguarding the special position of the Malay and other indigenous peoples of Malaysia,
collectively referred to as Bumiputra and the legitimate interests of all the other
communities. The article specifies how the King may protect the interest of these groups
by establishing quotas for entry into the civil service, public scholarships and public
education.

Originally there was no reference made to other indigenous peoples of Malaysia (then
Malaya) such as the Orang Asli, but with the union of Malaya with Singapore, Sabah and
Sarawak in 1963, the Constitution was amended so as to provide similar privileges for the
indigenous peoples of East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), grouping them with the
Malays as Bumiputra.

The scope of Article 153 is limited by Article 136, which requires that civil servants be
treated impartially regardless of race. Clause 5 of article 153 specifically reaffirms article
136 of the constitution which states: All persons of whatever race in the same grade in
the service of the Federation shall, subject to the terms and conditions of their
employment, be treated impartially.

Clause 9 of article 153 states Nothing in this Article shall empower Parliament to restrict
business or trade solely for the purpose of reservations for Malays.

The Reid Commission suggested that these provisions would be temporary in nature and
be revisited in 15 years, and that a report should be presented to the appropriate
legislature (currently the Parliament of Malaysia) and that the "legislature should then
determine either to retain or to reduce any quota or to discontinue it entirely."

Under Article 153, and due to the 13th May 1969 riots, the New Economic Policy was
introduced. The NEP aimed to eradicate poverty irrespective of race by expanding the
economic pie so that the Chinese share of the economy would not be reduced in absolute
terms but only relatively. The aim was for the Malays to have a 30% equity share of the
economy, as opposed to the 4% they held in 1970. Foreigners and Chinese held much of
the rest.[9]

The NEP appeared to be derived from Article 153 and could be viewed as being in line
with its wording. Although Article 153 would have been up for review in 1972, fifteen
years after Malaysia's independence in 1957, due to the May 13 Incident it remained
unreviewed. A new expiration date of 1991 for the NEP was set, twenty years after its
implementation.[10]

However, the NEP was said to have failed to have met its targets and was continued
under a new policy called the National Development Policy.

[edit] Article 160

Main article: Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia


Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia defines various terms used in the
Constitution. It has an important impact on Islam in Malaysia and the Malay people due
to its definition of a Malay person under clause 2.

It took effect after August 31, 1957 ("Merdeka Day" or "Independence Day") in West
Malaysia, and took effect in Singapore and East Malaysia when they merged with Malaya
in 1963. The article no longer applies to Singapore, as it declared independence from
Malaysia in 1965; however, it does affect the legal status of Singaporean Malays when
they enter Malaysia.

The article defines a Malay as a Malaysian citizen born to a Malaysian citizen who
professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language, adheres to Malay
customs, and is domiciled in Malaysia or Singapore. As a result, Malay citizens who
convert out of Islam are no longer considered Malay under the law. Hence, the Bumiputra
privileges afforded to Malays under Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia, the New
Economic Policy (NEP), etc. are forfeit for such converts.

Likewise, a non-Malay Malaysian who converts to Islam can lay claim to Bumiputra
privileges, provided he meets the other conditions. A higher education textbook
conforming to the government Malaysian studies syllabus states: "This explains the fact
that when a non-Malay embraces Islam, he is said to masuk Melayu (become a Malay).
That person is automatically assumed to be fluent in the Malay language and to be living
like a Malay as a result of his close association with the Malays."

It is interesting to note that a Malay from Sabah or Sarawak is listed as a Bumiputra of


Sabah and Sarawak in the Constitution, separate from Malays of the Peninsular.

[edit] Article 181

Article 181 guarantees the sovereignty, rights, powers and jurisdictions of each Malay
Ruler within their respective states. They also cannot be charged in a court of law in their
official capacities as a Ruler.

The Malay Rulers can be charged on any personal wrongdoing, outside of their role and
duties as a Ruler. However, the charges cannot be carried out in a normal court of law, but
in a Special Tribunal under the purview of the Council of Rulers.