Race Relations Act

Disclaimer: This entry is purely speculative as the law isn’t available for public scrutiny yet.

I do not want to speculate over law that is not yet publicly available in writing. However, it does not bode well for our Race Relations Bill if, according to TheStar article, it is designed as one of the two laws to replace the Internal Security Act.

I applaud the minister for saying that, “Malaysia’s Race Relations Bill would be similar to the British law, including in barring discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality and ethnicity in employment, provision of goods and services, education and public functions.” However, parts of the law would be void in so many ways due to Article 153 of our Consti, which enshrines racial discrimination.

  1. It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article.
  2. Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, but subject to the provisions of Article 40 and of this Article, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall exercise his functions under this Constitution and federal law in such manner as may be necessary to safeguard the special provision of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and to ensure the reservation for Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak of such proportion as he may deem reasonable of positions in the public service (other than the public service of a State) and of scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the Federal Government and, when any permit or licence for the operation of any trade or business is required by federal law, then, subject to the provisions of that law and this Article, of such permits and licences.

What I am unable to fathom though, is how the law would be able to replace the ISA. I am afraid that the government is being short-sighted again, and drafting a narrowly focused law that is designed to only tackle one situation or scenario only – that of people inciting racial tensions.

I’m beginning to appreciate how law can be constructive and destructive. My hope is that the law will be designed to promote inter-racial relations but from the way things have been going in Malaysia, it does not seem likely to happen. The law will most likely be used against people who incite racial tensions instead of promoting further integration.

You see, the law could be made to encourage the races to come together such as providing tax incentives for inter-racial marriages, further education opportunities for children of mixed parentage, housing discounts for mixed families, etc. However, I highly doubt that this is ever going to see the light of day.

I’m guessing that the law will seek to regulate behaviour. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there will now be a list of banned words that are considered derogatory and would constitute a race crime if uttered. I wouldn’t even be surprised to find religious elements creeping into the law as we have troubles separating the two in Malaysia.

I’d like to be hopeful but I’m too jaded to be so.

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Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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