KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 21 (Bernama) -- Eight ministers -- four from MCA and one each from MIC, Gerakan, Parti Bersatu Sabah and Sarawak United People's Party -- Saturday withdrew the controversial joint memorandum which they submitted to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last Wednesday.
They are Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting (MCA), Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy (MCA), Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn (MCA), Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek (MCA), Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu (MIC), Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik (Gerakan), Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili (PBS) and Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui (SUPP).
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department and UPKO president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok was the only minister among the nine yet to decide whether to go along with his Cabinet colleagues when contacted in Kota Kinabalu Saturday night.
Asked whether he agreed to withdraw the memorandum, he said it contained a "combination of ideas" from points which had been discussed in the Cabinet.
"To my mind, it is an attempt by myself and my colleagues in the Cabinet to try to help in pointing out what are the possible things that had to be done in order to settle some of the isues that are involved.
"I think that is all contained in the memorandum and I don't think there is anything offensive in that."
Ong, who is also MCA president, said in a statement that MCA as well as the other Barisan Nasional (BN) component party leaders had no intention to put pressure on the government by submitting the memorandum.
"We assured the PM that we have no intention of putting pressure on the government but to reflect the view, appeal and concern of the non-Muslims. As advised by the PM, submitting the memo is procedurally inappropriate. Following his advice, we have withdrawn the memo," the statement said.
The party, he said, welcomed the Prime Minister's assurance that they would continue the discussion in the Cabinet as they had done earlier and provide their input on the issue of religious conversion.
"We agreed that there should be continued discussions on legal and constitutional issues which concern the rights of non-Muslims.
"We have full confidence in the wisdom of the PM in resolving the issues," he added in the statement signed by the party's four ministers.
Ong was among five ministers who met the Prime Minister at his residence in Putrajaya at 9am Saturday at their request following strong criticisms of the ministers' action by leaders of political parties and non-governmental organisations.
The other ministers were Chan, Dr Chua, Samy Vellu and Dr Lim.
Samy Vellu, the MIC president, said in a separate statement the party agreed to withdraw the memorandum.
"We value very much the advice and opinion of the Prime Minister and abide by his decision," he said.
He said the MIC welcomed Abdullah's advice to discuss the issue within the Cabinet, adding the party had full confidence in the Prime Minister's leadership in dealing with the issue.
Dr Lim, the Gerakan president, said in his statement that the memorandum was meant to give the Prime Minister input on the views and concerns of the non-Muslims.
"This is because the issues have actually been discussed in the Cabinet in the past weeks. Many views have been put forward. The Cabinet decided to defer the debate and discussions, and to refer to the Attorney-General to look at the legal aspects and make recommendations," he added.
Hence, Dr Lim said, the memorandum was meant to provide further input in a more systematic and specific manner, but confidentially and with good intention.
"It was not meant as putting pressure on the Prime Minister, and not at all as a threat to him.
"After discussion with the Prime Minister, we fully realised that this was inappropriate procedurally, especially now that it has become public knowledge and conveyed the wrong perception.
"Following the advice of the Prime Minister, we have decided to withdraw the memorandum. However, when the AG's recommendations are tabled in the Cabinet for discussion in the near future, we shall present our views and recommendations then," Dr Lim said.
Chin, when contacted by Bernama in Miri tonight, said he had also agreed to withdraw the memorandum with the understanding that the issues raised would be discussed in the next Cabinet meeting.
"In view of what PM said to the five ministers (at their meeting) today, it would be in order to withdraw the memo and I concur with the action," he said.
Chin said he had no intention to pressure the Prime Minister and the government but only to raise what was perceived by the non-Muslim ministers as being important and appropriate.
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday called for calm debate after non-Muslim ministers made an unprecedented call for greater protection for religious minorities' rights.
Badawi, who was handed a memorandum by the ministers, warned of possible political instability if the debate became too emotional.
"If the controversy can be contained, and it (is) discussed in an objective manner, and not being emotional, and not raising issues that can create racial and religious sensitivities, this can be considered healthy," he told reporters.
"It depends on how we react and how we speak. That is important. If we are too emotional, it will give rise to untoward situations and can effect our political stability," he added. The 10 ministers submitted the memo on Wednesday during the weekly cabinet meeting, asking for a review of laws and the constitution where they infringe on minorities' rights.
"The non-Muslim ministers are not happy with regards to the present situation, so we are expressing this sentiment to the prime minister," said plantation and commodities minister Peter Chin, one of the document's signatories.
Abdullah ruled out any change to the constitution, but said his government would undertake a review of laws.
The article "will not be amended but other laws relating to religious conversion will be looked at," he said.
He said he had been taken aback by the "strange" action which "had not happened before", and admonished the ministers.
"If there is a problem, they should have brought it up in the cabinet. I would like it done that way," he said.
"I don't know why they did that. Maybe they want to give a combined opinion," he added. The move follows the controversial Muslim burial of a well-known mountaineer M Moorthy despite his Hindu wife's protests, which sparked outrage among religious minorities.
Moorthy was found to have converted to Islam by a Shariah court in which his wife had no say, while a civil court refused to rule on the religious court's findings.
Religious minorities in mainly-Muslim Malaysia say non-Muslims are increasingly losing out in legal disputes to Muslims, whose matters are heard in Shariah courts in the country's dual legal system.
They have been campaigning for a review of laws and changes to an article in Malaysia's constitution, which says civil courts have no jurisdiction on matters under Shariah courts. Religion in the multi-ethnic country, where the majority ethnic Malays are Muslim, is a highly sensitive issue and tensions have been rising, with Muslim groups opposed to any change.
Some 400 people led by the Islamic conservative opposition Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) held a peaceful demonstration yesterday afternoon in Kuala Lumpur calling for the status quo to remain. - AFP
EARLIER STORY 2
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 (Bernama) -- Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Friday the action by nine non-Muslim Cabinet ministers in submitting a memorandum to the Prime Minister calling for a review of laws that affect the rights of non-Muslims was "improper" and "not nice".
"It is against the Cabinet system and unprecedented," he told reporters at the Malaysian-French Chamber of Commerce annual dinner here Friday night.
The memorandum, signed by nine of the 10 non-Muslim ministers, was handed to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Thursday.
The ministers were Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting (Housing and Local Government), Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy (Transport), Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn (Human Resources), Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek (Health), Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu (Works), Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik (Energy, Water and Communications), Datuk Peter Chin (Plantation Industries and Commodities), Tan Sri Bernard Dompok and Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili (Ministers in the Prime Minister's Department).
The exception was Tourism Minister Datuk Dr Leo Michael Toyad who was abroad.
Najib said he hoped everyone would let the Prime Minister make a correct and just decision after considering all views and without any pressure.
Najib, who is also Umno deputy president, said Umno stood firmly behind the Prime Minister whatever the decision he would make.
"This is a very sensitive issue, and it is not proper to act in this way. It should have been brought to the Cabinet to be discussed in the spirit of the Barisan Nasional family," he said.
Najib hoped the matter would not drag on because it could produce unpleasant reactions and might even cause anger in many people.
He advised the public to stay calm as "in the history of our nation, we have faced many issues regarding racial sensitivities. We already know the best way and to use the Cabinet to resolve complications through open discussions," he said.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz said the action by the non-Muslim ministers represented the views and thinking of non-Muslims regarding the issue.
"I think my colleagues in the Barisan Nasional presented constructive views, which can be a guide to the people who will review the laws.
"The memorandum is their input on what should be done," she told reporters after chairing a meeting of the Wanita Umno Exco today.
Rafidah, who is Wanita Umno chief, said the memorandum was not discussed at the meeting but the movement was concerned about the issue of conversion and supported a review to avoid conflicting jurisdiction.
"If there is inconsistency or misinterpretation and so on, if the procedure is not clear-cut, we should correct it so the public will not be confused and there is no incorrect interpretation," she added.
In PUTRAJAYA, Umno Youth said the non-Muslim ministers behaved as if they were not in the Cabinet.
"By right they should have used meetings of the Cabinet and the Barisan Nasional to voice their views," Youth Exco member Datuk Pirdaus Ismail told a news conference.
"As Cabinet ministers, they must uphold and abide by the principle of collective responsibility," he said.
Pirdaus said the culture of sending memorandum to the Prime Minister by ministers should not become a practice as such an action only belittled the ministers and the Cabinet and embarrassed the government.
It also showed disrespect to the Prime Minister, he added
EARLIER STORY 1
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 (Bernama) -- The 10 non-Muslim Cabinet ministers have submitted a joint memorandum to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi appealing to him to review the laws pertaining to religious conversion.
The memorandum, which details the related laws and recommendations, was signed by all the ministers, including Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting; Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik; Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.
The others are Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy; Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn; Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek; Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili; Tourism Minister Datuk Dr Leo Michael Toyad and Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui.
According to Dr Ongkili, the memorandum was submitted to the prime minister at the Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
"The proposal will be studied by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of law, Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, and the attorney-general. They will make the neccesary recommendations for further action," he told Bernama when contacted Thursday.
Dr Ongkili said this showed that the government was open and willing to consider public opinion related to the legal matter.
He did not reveal the contents of the proposal and its recomendations.
Several other ministers, when contacted by Bernama, confirmed that they signed the memorandum but declined to say anything, saying they were not in a position to comment on the matter.
The matter of religious conversion came to the fore following the death of Everest climber Sergeant M. Moorthy alias Muhamad Abdullah when his widow, S. Kaliammal, and the Federal Territory Religious Department got into a tussle over the right to bury him.
Moorthy, who died on Dec 20, was eventually buried by the religious department on Dec 28 following a Syariah High Court ruling that he was a Muslim and after the High Court decided that it had no jurisdiction to intervene in the case.
Subsequently, Abdullah said the issue of religious conversion had to be spelt out clearly in the constitution and other laws to prevent confusion among Malaysians.
He said, however, that any action to be taken on the matter should have to be done with care so as not to violate the beliefs of any community or offend the followers of any religion.