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THE date was July 31, 2001. The time was 12.35pm. The occasion: The second reading of the Constitution (Amendment)(No.2) Bill 2001. 

The bill sought to amend, among others, Article 8 of the Federal Constitution by inserting the word “gender” into Article 8(2). 

On the amendment to Article 8(2), then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Rais Yatim spoke in his usual eloquent manner, as follows:

“Yang di-Pertua, the standing of women in the country has long been equal to that of men. Women in Malaysia have hugely contributed to the development of the country and community and in various other fields.

“The government is of the opinion that it is time the equal standing of female citizens and male citizens in this country is reflected and strengthened by amending Clause 2, Article 8 of the Federal Constitution to ban discrimination on the basis of gender.”

Twenty-one years ago, the government had showed its political will to amend Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution to bar gender discrimination in any law. 

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Now, while we agree with current Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar that amendments to the nation’s citizenship laws require several processes, it does not mean the processes would be arduous. 

We agree that Article 159(5) of the Federal Constitution states any amendment to the provisions of Part III on citizenship matters requires the consent of the Conference of Rulers. It is a safeguard that the framers of the constitution saw fit to entrust it with this uniquely Malaysian institution. 

Much has been written and said about the Conference of Rulers. The rulers themselves, past and present, have spoken of their constitutional role. Sultan Nazrin Shah would like to consider the Conference of Rulers as the fourth branch of the government after the executive, legislative and judiciary. In the words of His Highness, it is “a forum for eliciting and making known the views of the rulers, an instrument for them to exercise influence”.

In a paper by Sultan Nazrin at a public lecture organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore on July 24, 2004, the learned ruler – then crown prince of Perak – wrote: 

“[T]he people of Malaysia are Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, Ibans, Kadazans, and other tribal people including the aborigines. Malaysians in the main are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians. Fostering the allegiance of the people is a challenging task in the midst of all this plurality.

“Yet our inherent differences have been accommodated into a constitutional framework that not only recognises the traditional features of Malay society as the definitive culture but also reflects the social contract between our multi-ethnic communities.” 

Inspired by professor Harry Groves, who observed that the monarchy provides a “visible symbol of unity in a remarkably diverse nation”, Sultan Nazrin wrote further: 

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