Malaysia needs a statutory Race and Religious Unity Council urgently
I have been wondering of late if the word “enablers” could well describe the political upheaval which Malaysians have gone through over the last few months. The dust has somewhat settled and I am thankful to God there was no violence. But there is a major change that we cannot ignore. From the 1Malaysia that was floated about for years, we have taken several steps backward into a nation that appears to have split down the middle.
I will not question the legitimacy of the government which I believe is a done deal, rightly or wrongly. I will not question the appointment of Cabinet ministers and their deputies, because every Prime Minister has the sole discretion on this. There are some “unholy” appointments as GLC heads but that too is the prerogative of the government in power.
Like some, I will refrain from analysing or arguing why this happened so swiftly. Or who is to be blamed or congratulated for this New Malaysia 2.0. One thing is obvious here and we should not pretend not to notice the elephant in the room.
The truth is that whatever happened was motivated by race and religion to a very great extent. It was aided by some non-kept election pledges by Pakatan Harapan and a few influential leaders within the coalition who may have turned rogue. We have to stop pretending it wasn’t, otherwise we will be in this denial mode for a long time and fail to see the real picture. Let’s take the bull by its horn, and stop it from causing more damage.
Just google stories during all the by-elections and you will know what I mean.
In my opinion, all that happened were made possible by the enablers in our nation. An enabler is one who makes it possible for another to persist in a self-destructive behaviour by providing excuses or misguided support. In this context, I am referring to the political jumping of ship which I would personally describe it as an act that should be stopped at any cost. It actually shows a weakness in one’s character. Whether it results in governments falling, is another issue. In fact, by the time this is published, the Warisan-led government in Sabah may have fallen.
We saw top leaders switching allegiance from one end to the other, in the name of saving the nation. They may have some reasons which they believe was right at that point of time and I will not delve into that.
I have a question here for all voters. Now, who are the ones who allow these to happen? In other words, who are the enablers? I think each and everyone has a hand here. We have become a nation of enablers, allowing elected representatives to turn around our democratic decisions. Some of us are applauding those who switched parties to enable an elected government to change. In fact, many are celebrating, while some are mourning. This is quite common I should say.
In our haste for political expediency, we have enabled two serious consequences that will change the nation’s direction to a great extent. First, we are split down the middle along racial and religious lines. Again, this is real and no one should attempt to sweep this under the carpet.
Second, we have created and condoned a political culture that seems to say that it’s okay to “betray” the people’s mandate and switch parties and make governments fall overnight. It is happening in the name of freedom of choice and association but some say it is the lure of money. Then again this is a wild allegation, no one has shown any solid evidence whatsoever so far.
As for the race and religious divide, the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government created the Ministry of Unity in an attempt to resolve this growing problem. I am willing to put aside my trust deficit in politicians and sincerely hope that there will be some real efforts to bridge this gap, which we must admit has widened because of the compulsive need by certain politicians for political power.
But let me remind the powers that be that this cannot be achieved by mere speeches or words that do not come from the heart. Neither can it be attained if the thrust continues to be racial or religious supremacy like now. Or some ill-defined man-made legislations. It has to be accompanied by deeds and a sincere wish to accept each other’s way of life, not mere tolerance. Because what we see today are decades of call for tolerance with no push for real acceptance.
This has resulted in a latent distrust in all Malaysians generally which lies asleep in our hearts but which is unleashed by insensitive and uncaring politicians who do not seem to care that some of their statements will stoke sentiments and anger in certain communities.
Perhaps, Unity Minister Dato Halimah Mohamed Sadique’s urgent task would be to push for an ordinance to create a statutory Race and Religious Unity Council comprising of leading figures from all races and religion and led by a highly respected and moderate figure. This Council should be in the forefront to draw up policies for a truly united nation.
For a start, can some politicians and insensitive Malaysians stop asking some of us to leave the country and go back to the land of our ancestors each time there is a political diatribe on race and religion? We actually have not heard this in recent times for some reason and I hope it remains.
For most Malaysians, this is their motherland and they do not know any other home. They are loyal citizens of Malaysia and they belong here and no other country. So a Council such as these could work towards keeping Malaysians united for a progressive nation.
And as for the second major problem of political frogs who have incidentally multiplied in this Leap Year, the government must find a permanent political solution to this if it wants to win the respect of all the voters. The lessons we learnt during the harrowing week of transition in February ought to be taken seriously and addressed effectively.
This, I am sure, can be addressed by the Government if it was sincere enough to legislate a stringent anti-hopping law. Whether any government in power will do this or not is another matter. Especially when their very position of power is determined by political frogs.
Any elected representative who wishes to quit the party which offered him or her the ticket should be made to lose the seat automatically if the government wishes to take elections seriously. Some young Malaysians are saying they have been discouraged from voting after witnessing the recent episode of falling governments. They are deeming it a “waste of time if their mandate is traded.”
You can’t blame them for feeling this way, can you? After witnessing the death of political honesty in real time, the government has a huge task to bring the confidence back to the ordinary Malaysians on the value of their vote. Otherwise, it will be the beginning of the demise of democracy sadly. And that is not a legacy which we should leave behind.
K. Parkaran is a freelance journalist and media advisor currently. He was the Deputy Editor in The Star and a Senior Producer with Aljazeera International before.