Challenging times ahead

We are living in challenging and uncertain times. A couple of major political parties seem to be joining hands to try and change the character of our Federal Constitution via a couple of private members’ bills.

Mar 26, 2015

By Anil Netto
We are living in challenging and uncertain times. A couple of major political parties seem to be joining hands to try and change the character of our Federal Constitution via a couple of private members’ bills.

Though it doesn’t look like these bills have the numbers needed for them to pass, the move has left many Malaysians concerned and uneasy.

As the number of arrests of opposition politicians and activists on sedition charges rises, the space for dissenting or differing views appears to be shrinking, and this doesn’t help.

At the same time, the emergence of intolerant ethno-religious sentiment is worrying, as seen most recently by the threats levelled against a radio presenter in reaction to a video on hudud.

But courageous voices have also emerged, notably, the father of the presenter, Professor Dr Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi. He was spot on in identifying the education system as the source of some of the problems we are witnessing today.

“If a simple point of view raised against such an issue as hudud, or even the issue of democracy and clean elections can produce outbursts of ( threats?) of murder, rape and burning people alive, what does it say about our country, its citizens and our leadership? Where did this culture come from?” he wrote in the Malaysian Insider.

He pointed to shortcomings in the education system: “What are we teaching in our secondary schools? More importantly, are our public universities producing people of such culture?”

The public concern, and the media attention on the private members’ bills have neatly diverted the public attention away from the other major issues that were being discussed. The heated debate on the state of the economy and the debt problems faced by the nation, the Federal governent, 1MDB and the hardships facing many ordinary households have been pushed to one side.

Many are bracing themselves for hard times ahead as the GST and the accompanying price hikes and inflationary pressure kick in.

Unfortunately, these issues have slipped off the media radar — at a time when debate is much needed — and instead, the focus has turned to the private members’ bills and the jostling for power.

Political parties like Pas, especially its conservative president Abdul Hadi Awang, have lost much of the goodwill that they had earned since 2008. They had touted the slogan ‘Pas for All’ to show a more inclusive side to the party. Winning many new friends, they made significant electoral inroads in states like Selangor.

But as the conservatives in the party leadership now try to assert themselves, the ‘Pas for All’ claim sounds increasingly hollow, leaving many voters betrayed, and Pakatan unity in tatters.

The move by the Pas conservatives leaves the more progressive and inclusive voices in the party facing an uphill struggle in the party elections in June, where a titanic battle for the soul of the party can be expected.

Politics aside, all sides should recall a survey by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research in July 2014 among voters in the peninsula. The survey found that only 25 per cent of total respondents believe the country is ready for the implementation of hudud laws. A more recent survey in Kelantan found that 84 per cent of voters wanted the government to prioritise the reconstruction of homes destroyed in the recent the floods, while just 7 per cent said the government should prioritise the enactment of hudud laws.

This is why the political parties behind the bills are taking a calculated risk in passing the enactment in Kelantan, and backing the private members’ bills in Parliament. It has left many voters now wondering what lies ahead.

We should not be too dismayed by recent developments. The Merdeka Centre surveys tell us that there is a relatively silent majority of Malaysians out there who have a more inclusive vision for the country.

We should join hands in solidarity with the people of goodwill from all faiths to build a Malaysia that respects basic rights, a nation we can all be proud of.

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