This is about RUU355. Its sponsors present the watered down Bill to increase Shariah punishment as a test of Islam’s strength in Malaysia, not as just a legislative amendment. It is primarily symbolic, but in Malaysia, political dynasties are crowned or dethroned over symbols.
Who falls in the cast of “everyone” dodging the fiery lead’s trajectory?
In the loose Semenanjung opposition coalition clubhouse, which includes Pribumi; the non-Muslims, because a non-vote avoids the nightmare scenario of the private member’s Bill passing with a palpable number of their side voting aye; and the Muslims, having the double whammy of having to choose which way to vote, and quickly thereafter feel their conscience beat them from inside over the vote — holding a religiosity lacking multicultural grace or championing secularism by excluding personal faith — thanks to a judging majority.
Umno leadership — which intends a manageable and moderate practice of Islam — expected to serve both the mushrooming “Malay is Muslim, Muslim is Malay” bursting with piety faction within the party; and eternal frenemy PAS, obligated to foil any concerted effort to dislodge a sixty-two-year-old government flirting with Muslim supremacy.
A vote would have shone the spotlight uncomfortably on 80 plus Umno parliamentarians.
Borneo members of the lower chamber, including Umno representatives, were spared the examination of whether more than 50 years of conditioning architected from Kuala Lumpur would trump their shared identity of being tolerant societies bereft of divisiveness so common in West Malaysia.
PAS, its private member’s Bill’s lengthiest adventure left to be savoured by them without the sickening feeling of enduring a Muslim majority Dewan Rakyat ending the ride.
No one loses too much face.
Till July then, when the Dewan resumes its session and the private member’s Bill resurfaces.
A referendum to determine
However, the debilitating effects of the prolonged ups and downs from the Bills, due to how it cuts too deep in the hearts of parliamentarians — manifested by the government allowing its MPs to not be under the cosh of the Whip and vote their conscience — answers why the current course is untenable.
Elected officials are expected by their voters — those in their constituencies, not just those who voted for them — to represent them.
With regular Bills, for example, they can vote to introduce new business environmental levy and then they over time change their minds and overturn the policy. It’s not permanent, and there is more interplay to rectify or pacify even if the representative got it wrong.
When it is an irreversible legislation, there is little legroom.
This is such which prevents revisits.
It is seemingly permanent — Iran did not slide back to bikinis 39 after the revolution — and choosing is a landmine of deep personal conflicts.
That much is clear from the articulation heard.
Second, choices borne out of faith rather than reason may betray constituents.
I may disagree with your judgement, but I can respect the manner you rationalised your position. And in a different battle, a different tune may ensue. Not in this case.
It has an even chance of being distasteful when it is formed purely from faith, because sir, we may not share those ethereal convictions.
The majority of MPs, as stated above, are Muslims, but all of them have non-Muslim constituents, and in several instances a majority not sharing their religious beliefs. The other MPs, will vote for secularist principles which are at odds with the Bill, and in turn will be at odds with substantial number of their voters, and in this instance, many of those constituencies are Muslim majority.
From that vantage point, just MPs voting, is patently unfair.
For those casting those votes are not operating under ordinary circumstances when it’s this Bill.
The equitable resolve is a referendum.
Every voter decides personally and directly about the proposition, and the result verifies where the country stands without intermediaries.
Any measurement without even terms would end up as tyranny, in this case through the ballot box.
So terms or qualifiers are necessary.
The first, and non-negotiable term, would be all registered voters, Muslims and Non-Muslims, vote.
This is not disingenuous. PAS forwarded a Bill to the Dewan Rakyat, which is the legislative body for all Malaysians not just some, and asked for a majority of all its members, Muslims and Non-Muslims, to support it.
A national referendum is the correct extension of the initial action, in spirit and constitutional consistency, without disadvantaging its sponsors.
Second, a fair canvasing period is an absolute must. Incumbents benefit when elections arrive unexpected and rushed. When voters are rammed into an election cycle, compounded by an unrelenting time-clock, then fear, anger and anxiety are set to dominate. Good decisions, these do not conjure.
Third, assure free will. The prime minister wanted his MPs to vote freely without fear or favour, even from him, and he should extend the same courtesy to his countrymen. People have to know, to have a different opinion is not undemocratic. Those inclined to religion before politics are welcome to insert sacrilege into their discussion of dissenters. But democracy, irrespective of other institutions, celebrates dissension.
In general elections or by-elections, competition among candidates, necessitate their representatives are present during the voting and counting.
In this one, a referendum, where ideas compete, more diverse agents have to be present to witness. The sponsors, all parties in parliament, parties outside and civil society representatives should have access. So the decision can be defended by all sections.
Are we that kind of country?
There is a growing feeling in me there’s dissonance between what voters desire in the absence of compulsion and what central actors with the loudest voices demand.
And a plain, yes/no referendum may cut through the layered reasons — why people choose what they choose on general election days regarding specific candidates from specific parties competing against each other, engendering extended distortions preventing people from appraising the exact effect of their votes.
A direct vote for a specific bill would cut away the suds and complex context. It is just a vote for that thing, nothing more, nothing less.
The people of Britain did not elect a number of people to then debate, discuss, negotiate and vote whether they leave Europe. The people of Britain themselves voted to stay or leave Britain.
Is it scary to proffer that much power to Malaysians? Can’t be a democracy if the intention is to protect Malaysians from their own democracy — or in big brother’s interpretation, their potential stupidity.
Perhaps if Malaysians can see their decisions are real, they will become real about their political obligations.
So indeed I have prophesised, similar to those from side-street a dime a dozen soothsayers, we’d learn so much about ourselves from such a referendum.
We all will. Fancy a referendum?
Praba Ganesan is chief executive at KUASA, an NGO using volunteerism to empower the 52 per cent. He believes it is time to get involved.
Source : @ Malay Mail Online