Judge's Gavel. Photo: Chris Potter, Creative Commons Attribution License.
Judge’s Gavel. Photo: Chris Potter, Creative Commons Attribution License.

What is NUCC?

Launched by the Prime Minister on 25 November 2013, the National Unity Consultative Council was given the mandate to prepare a national blueprint for national unity and social cohesion. The newly-formed body was allowed the freedom to discuss sensitive topics such as the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims, housing issues and issues concerning Sabah and Sarawak. However, the council can only convene behind closed doors.

Who is in NUCC?

The organization is helmed by Tan Sri Samsudin Osman, who is also the chairperson of Employment Provident Funds (EPF). NUCC’s Deputy Chairperson is Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, former leader of the Democratic Action Party and social activist. It is comprised of twenty-eight others who are representatives of NGOs, academicians, community leaders and personalities from various backgrounds. Click here for the full list of the council members.

What have they done?

Since January to March 2014, the organization has organised eighteen “Unity Dialogues” across the country. The dialogues are intended as a platform for various opinions to be considered ahead of the formulation of the National Unity Blueprint.

How were the dialogues received?

The attendance of the dialogues was consistently good. Most notably, in Labuan, the dialogue drew full capacity. In Kota Kinabalu, former chief minister, Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee observed that the dialogue attracted encouraging turnout and participation, but lamented that the discussion did not focus on current issues.

Out of all the eighteen dialogues, the Malay-rights group, Perkasa, did not attend any of the session, citing that they “do not recognise the NUCC because some of their members have also joined Comango (Coalition of Malaysian NGOs)”.

So what is National Unity Blueprint?

National Unity Blueprint is a series of policy recommendations intended to improve social cohesion within the country. While it was initially slated to be disclosed on July 2014, it had to be postponed as the details of Unity Dialogues had yet to be sorted out. The blueprint includes Harmony bills which would replace the Sedition Act if approved by the Parliament.

Harmony Bills?

It is a collection of three separate bills, namely: The Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill, the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill, and the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill. The bills would establish a Commission of National Harmony and Reconciliation that would hear disputes on discrimination before judicial review, provide specific grounds on which people can be charged for hate speech, and also lay out protections from discrimination.

Wait, how are they different from Sedition Act?

Both still criminalise hate speech. However, proponents have argued that the new bills allows for greater freedom as it only criminalises speech that threatens or incites violence against any religious or racial community, unlike the Sedition Act, where speech may be criminalized if it “promotes ill-feeling”, “to bring into hatred or contempt” or “to raise discontent or dissatisfaction”.

Most notably, the new bills will do away with the restrictions against questioning the position and status of the Malay community and Islam.

When would it be made into a law?

The de facto Law Minister, Nancy Shukri had stated that the bills have to undergo rigorous and extensive examination, thus it would not be tabled for Parliamentary debate anytime this year.

Any criticism?

Some criticised the bills for recognising the LGBT community, atheism, and claimed that the bills would diminish the privileges of the ethnic Malay and disregard Islam as the official religion of Malaysia. Former Chief Justice, Tun Hamid Mohammed also accused the council of being pro-opposition.  Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive officer of Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) similarly called for the retraction of the three bills, citing that the lack of strategy has diminished the credibility of the NUCC.

How did NUCC respond to the criticisms?

The NUCC denied that the rights of Malays and the position of Islam will be marginalised and further emphasised that because of the diverse membership of the council, the bills are drafted as objectively as possible. In a press statement, Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the Chairman of NUCC’s Working Committee on Law and Policy pointed out that he was from PAS, while Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah was from UMNO, and other members were from civil society groups and the Bar Council.

Audi bin Ali