Private member’s bills to amend law on citizenship a clear message to govt

PENGERANG lawmaker Azalina Othman Said and four Pakatan Harapan (PH) MPs have each submitted a notice to table a private member’s bill to the Dewan Rakyat, seeking to give Malaysian women the same rights as men to pass on their citizenship to foreign-born children. 

The bill proposes to amend clause (1)(b) and clause (1)(c) of Part II of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution by seeking to insert the word “or mother” after the word “father” in each clause.

If amended, the clauses will read as follow (the amendments in bold):

Part II

[Article 14(1)(b)]


1. Subject to the provisions of Part III of this Constitution, the following persons born on or after Malaysia Day are citizens by operation of law, that is to say:

(a) …

(b) every person born outside the Federation whose father or mother is at the time of the birth a citizen and either was born in the Federation or is at the time of the birth in the service of the Federation or of a State; and

(c) every person born outside the Federation whose father or mother is at the time of the birth a citizen and whose birth is, within one year of its occurrence or within such longer period as the Federal Government may in any particular case allow, registered at a consulate of the Federation or, if it occurs in Brunei or in a territory prescribed for this purpose by order of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, registered with the Federal Government; and …

A similar amendment was moved in Singapore in 2004 to do away with the discrimination against mothers in article 122 of the republic’s constitution so that a person born outside Singapore shall be a citizen of Singapore by descent if, at the time of his birth, where the person is born on or after the date of commencement of the amendments, either his father or mother is a citizen of Singapore, by birth, registration or descent. (Emphasis added)

Amendments to the republic’s constitution require a two-third majority of the members of parliament (MP), which is generally similar under the Federal Constitution. However, article 159(5) of the Federal Constitution requires that amendments to Part III (on citizenship) shall have the consent of the Conference of Rulers.

This is an additional safeguard which the framers of the Federal Constitution saw fit to entrust it with the Conference of Rulers, a uniquely Malaysian institution. Where consent is required of the Conference of Rulers under the Federal Constitution, the Conference of Rulers is entitled to be first consulted as article 38(2) allows the Conference to deliberate on questions of national policy (citizenship may be so considered) and any other matter that it thinks fit.

The private member’s bills are drafted and submitted with good intentions. However, government business will always take precedence over them or any private member’s items on the order paper in any parliamentary session, even though they are intended to advance the interest of citizens.

Private member’s bills or motions often get obstructed by the government as well by the latter adding its own bills or motions to the order paper. The government’s support is therefore needed for a private member’s bill or motion to move up the order paper.

This has been done before. On May 26, 2016, Marang MP Abdul Hadi Awang’s private member’s bill (Hadi’s bill) which sought to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 was fast-tracked from item no. 15 – the last item – to no. 1 in the order paper. It was, however, deferred at Hadi’s request. Azalina, then minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said the prime minister and his deputy, as leader of the House and Barisan Nasional’s (BN) chef whip respectively, instructed Hadi’s bill to be moved up the order paper.

Hadi’s bill appeared again in the order paper in October that year. Two months later in December, then prime minister Najib Razak announced that the government would take over Hadi’s bill. 

Three months later in March 2017, however, Najib announced that the government would not table the bill in parliament and it would remain a private member’s bill following the decision made based on consensus during a BN supreme council meeting. 

It is unlikely that the private member’s bills of Azalina and the four PH parliamentarians would be fast-tracked or even adopted by the government because that would mean turning the bills into a government bill which, if passed, would still require the consent of the Conference of Rulers.

Unless the government has consulted the Conference of Rulers, it is very unlikely that the former would take over the bills.

Be that as it may, the message that the bills send is clear: the amendments to the Federal Constitution to give Malaysian mothers the same rights as Malaysian fathers to pass on their citizenship to foreign-born children are as simple as inserting two words – “or mother” – to each of clause 1(b) and clause 1(a) of Part II of the Second Schedule.

Adopt the bill, if you like, and present it to the Conference of Rulers. – September 20, 2022.

* Hafiz Hassan reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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