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After Johor prince’s comments, lawyers say Constitution silent on secession

KUALA LUMPUR — The Federal Constitution does not provide for the secession of any state from Malaysia but legal experts are torn over what this means, following a Johor royal’s suggestion that the state’s place in the federation was not immutable.

After Johor prince’s comments, lawyers say Constitution silent on secession

Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, seen here waving to supporters outside the Istana Bukit Serene in Johor Bahru. Photo: The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR — The Federal Constitution does not provide for the secession of any state from Malaysia but legal experts are torn over what this means, following a Johor royal’s suggestion that the state’s place in the federation was not immutable.

Constitutional law practitioner New Sin Yew also stressed that the Federal Constitution does not specifically address the topic of secession one way or another, and that constitutional amendments were not impossible.

“Secession (in this case) is more political than legal,” he told Malay Mail Online when asked to comment on Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Ibrahim’s recent remarks about the state’s right to secede from Malaysia.

“Because it is silent in the Federal Constitution, unlike in Sabah where it specifically mentions in the Malaysia Agreement that it (the state) cannot secede,” he said, referring to the 20-point memorandum signed between Malaya and Sabah for the formation of Malaysia in 1963.

The Johor crown prince had during an interview with local football portal FourthOfficial this week said that the state could choose to secede if it finds a breach to the terms agreed upon its membership of the Federation of Malaysia.

Mr Tunku Ismail also said that as the future Sultan of Johor, his responsibilities will always go to the state first and its people before Malaysia.

This is not the first time a member of the Johor royal family has mentioned secession, a topic that is classification as seditious was reinforced with recent amendments to the Sedition Act 1948.

Earlier this year, Mr Tunku Ismail’s younger brother, Mr Tunku Idris Sultan Ibrahim, caused controversy on social media when he posted a reminder that the Johor government had joined the Malay federation in 1946 on several conditions and that any violation of these meant that Johor could secede from Malaysia.

He had posted on his Instagram account what appeared to be an image of the original federal-state agreement in 1946 that listed the conditions as: Making Islam the religion of Johor; the Johor government’s absolute right over water and land issues; the Johor royal house’s right to have its own armed forces; and that the Johor state constitution may not be touched by the federation.

It is unclear what prompted the Johor prince to make the post.

Weighing in on Mr Tunku Ismail’s latest comments, constitutional lawyer Nizam Bashir echoed New’s point that there was no explicit mention of secession in the Constitution.

He said, however, that Singapore’s expulsion in 1965, just two years after Malaysia was formed, meant that the topic of member states separating from the federation was undefined.

Singapore was ejected by an Act of Parliament after 126 Malaysian lawmakers voted unanimously in favour of its removal from the federation.

“The decision to expel Singapore stands as a curious counterpoint to the idea that the Federation of Malaysia is indissoluble.

“There may also be other historical documents which have a bearing on the issue — specifically historical documents peculiar to the state in question such as the Federation of Malaya Order-in-Council, 1948,” said Mr Nizam, referring to the governing instrument of Malaysia before independence in 1957.

The lawyer added, however, that the government would do best to look into Mr Tunku Ismail’s reasons for mentioning secession.

“Either way, what is more crucial is for the federal government to appreciate the underlying reasons for His Highness’ remarks and address them as best as they can,” he said. MALAY MAIL ONLINE

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