This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on January 16, 2023 - January 22, 2023
Into the new year and two months after the 15th general election, the political heat has not subsided. We now have a rumoured follow-up to the Sheraton Move that toppled the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government just 22 months after the 14th GE. Some say the London Move, the plan to topple the present unity government, is too far-fetched and baseless, but in Malaysian politics, history seems to point out that anything is possible.
In Sabah, where political dramas never end, the state is embroiled in another political imbroglio. Political parties that are now part of the unity government at the federal level are involved in a power struggle to replace the current Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor. There is a cease-fire and calmness right now but, without the anti-hopping law in place at the state level, and Sabah being Sabah, no one is discounting that the status quo will not remain.
PAS, fresh from its best-ever GE performance, is confident that its Perikatan Nasional (PN)-led green wave will continue to march forward within the next six months, in which time six state elections must be held. In Seberang Jaya, Penang, in a show of strength, one of its members of parliament (MPs) has started public “patrolling” over the sale of beer in a mall.
He wanted the promoters to conceal the sale of beer at the central atrium of the mall, to respect the sensitivities of the Muslims in his constituency. That is a bit awkward because good practising Muslims just do not drink liquor and the religion forbids Muslims from consuming alcohol, and beer can only be sold to non-Muslims. Why be afraid, then?
Overall, many Malaysians — after the highly toxic level of politicking in the last GE, where race and religious issues were extensively played up to stir distrust and divisiveness among the races — just want politicians to move on from engaging in fruitless political manoeuvring. Just concentrate on becoming a good working MP or state assemblyman. If there is a battle to be fought, sort it out in the next GE.
Right now, the majority of Malaysians want politicians to prioritise stability, which is very much needed to strengthen the domestic economy, which is likely to be affected by a global recession this year. This is so that the benefits of a stronger and well-managed economy can trickle down to the people, notably those with lower incomes. For the politicians, is this too difficult?
Amid these concerns, however, some positive narratives have emerged. One — which the royalty strongly promote — is a Malaysia that should move back to the centre, where moderation is key to national unity, which in turn, will provide much-needed political stability.
As I write this article, the bastion of Malay supremacy and interest, Umno, which is holding its general assembly, is talking about going back to the path of moderation. Even its brand of “Malay first”, which is shunned by non-Malays, is no longer strong enough to even entice far-right Malay-Muslim voters.
Members are told extremism is not the way forward and that Malaysia’s DNA as a nation is moderation. Umno cannot allow the nation’s future to be dictated by rightists or leftists.
For a party that was humbled in the last election but opted to be part of the present unity government — which the Malay-Muslim-dominated PN rejected — this is the right move.
While Umno will have a party election within the next six months, where a contest for the top two posts could risk a split in the party that could sway support away from the unity government, it is good to hear vibes from a competing faction that a change in party leadership will not lead to the withdrawal of support for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
It is also a welcome fact that in the first Friday sermon of the year (delivered on Jan 6), at least in Selangor, where I live, the message was equally comforting. In the sermon titled “Unification and the unity of the ummah”, the imam said, “In the context of Malaysia’s plural society, unity of the ummah is seen as a comprehensive unification regardless of religious, racial and cultural background.
“In societal living, we cannot escape from interacting and mingling with the community and society that is multi-ethnic and multi-religion. Moreover, it is the moral and personal responsibility of every Muslim to give da’wah (calling to Islam … and if I may add, to show the compassionate side of Islam) and promote good relationships with non-Muslims.”
The imam quoted Verse 13 of surah Al-Hujuraat: “O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes so that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble among you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is knowing and acquainted.”
It went on to say the formation of the first Islamic state in Madinah proved that Islam was successful in governing a plural society and that it brought strength to the city. Differences in religion, belief, skin colour, tribe, customs and culture were all managed with wisdom by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the Charter of Madinah.
A saying of the Prophet that I often quote to my non-Muslim friends to show the importance of tolerance in Islam and the Muslim community is the prophet’s last sermon over Mount Arafah.
Here, he reminded mankind and Muslims not to discriminate and that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve. “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or a black person over a white person, except based on personal piety and righteousness.”
The Friday sermon also mentioned that ideological differences must be handled with appropriateness and maturity so that there will be no animosity and racial tension within the local community.
“Similarly, in solidifying the unity of diverse ethnicities in our nation, the scenario of narrow-minded racial mentality must be scrapped and avoided from the framework of a pluralistic society in Malaysia. This is because this situation is detrimental to the country and future generations.”
It further added that “the foundation of stability and prosperity of the country needs to be sown so that nation-building will be spared from division, which can lead to weakness in national governance. Therefore, community leaders [if I may add, politicians too] must find the best ingredients in continuing to highlight the agenda of togetherness and unity of the people.
“If not, the nation will become chaotic, ruined and destroyed if unity and unification of the ummah do not become a reality.”
This unity narrative must not be lost. The government today is a unity government to which the Malay rulers have given their blessing. The latest reminder came from the Raja of Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail: “No party should add fuel to the fire or make the situation worse, especially when a racial issue arises that can destroy the spirit of unity in the country.”
The message is clear and the important stakeholders of the nation have spoken. For the responsible majority, let us bring Malaysia back to the middle path of moderation.
Azam Aris is editor emeritus at The Edge Malaysia
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