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Friday, August 14, 2009

Sensitive Matters Amendment

One of the most controversial amendments in Malaysia’s Constitution is the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 1971, which came in the wake of the May 13, 1969 racial riots.

Known as the “Sensitive Matters Amendment,” it revised Article 10 – which safeguards freedom of speech – to empower Parliament to pass laws to restrict public discussion on four “sensitive” issues: citizenship; the national language and the languages of other communities; the special position and privileges of the Malays and natives of the Borneo states, and the legitimate interests of other communities; and the rulers’ sovereignty.

Before the Act, the Conference of Rulers’ consent was required only for amendments to provisions related to the rulers, and the special rights and privileges of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities.

As a result of the Act, consent was also required for other provisions, such as Article 10 (freedom of speech), Article 63 (privileges of Parliament), Article 72(privileges of the state legislative assembly) and Article 152 (national language).

Article 153 originally provided for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to be the guardian of the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities. It also empowered him to ensure that a reasonable proportion of opportunities was reserved for the Malays in public service, education, and for permits and licences.

The 1971 amendment allowed the natives of the Borneo states to have the same status as the Malays.

It also empowered the Agong to direct any institution of higher learning to reserve a reasonable proportion of places for the Malays and natives, should the number of places be less than the number of qualified candidates.

Source: Malaysia's Constitution Journal / The Sun.

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