THE nation’s fixation is currently on the upcoming Kajang by-election. It’s not hard to believe that the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) wants its candidate Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to be the next menteri besar (MB) of Selangor, no matter the evasive denials. Only Anwar, it would seem, is capable of addressing any religious or racial issue that is purportedly being orchestrated by the Barisan Nasional (BN) in the state.
At a glance, Anwar, who is opposition leader at the federal level, appears to be the right person to tackle the “Allah” issue. He has reassured the Christian community that the issue is unworthy of debate because the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims is a non-issue. He has also intimated that there is a need to amend the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988. This was the law that the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) relied on to raid the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) and to confiscate more than 300 bibles at the start of the year.
The question is, how will we know whether a Selangor PR government under Anwar will be more effective than under Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s current administration? And what lessons can we be aware of with regards to how the state is currently being run?
Real solution needed
When Anwar spoke at the Church of the Holy Family in Kajang on 16 Feb 2014, the congregation cheered for him and welcomed his remarks on the “Allah” issue. However, Anwar’s remarks alone should not lull citizens into believing that the issue will be solved even if he is made the next MB.
The fact is, until and unless the PR state government declares explicitly that it will be amending or even repealing the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment, Anwar’s words are mere rhetoric. Not only that, Anwar has yet to stipulate what kind of timeframe he would be committing to, if he was elected, towards finding a real solution to a very real problem.
Bear in mind, any amendment or repeal of any state law can only be effected by the state legislature which the PR controls with a comfortable majority. Hence, apart from Anwar’s indirect suggestion that the enactment needs to be amended, we also need to hear from him what kind of concrete steps will be taken that would lead to the enactment being debated in the legislature. For example, he would need to explain what kind of reports and studies, to be made publicly accessible, will be provided to all state assemblypersons to enable a robust debate in the state assembly.
Until and unless Anwar can speak in such concrete terms, his campaign is merely relying on his undeniable charisma and rapport as a political orator. And citizens would do well to remember that clever rhetoric alone isn’t enough to bring about real solutions to thorny problems.
It’s really left to be seen whether Selangor, under Anwar’s leadership, will have the political courage and clout to amend a faulty law that has led to rights abuses in the state. Of course, one other course of action the ruling coalition could take is to assure Christians that the law will not be implemented. For that reassurance to work, the Selangor government would have to actively prevent the law from being enforced, which would result in inconsistencies. Unfortunately, such inconsistencies between what the law says and how it is enforced isn’t something new in Selangor.
While I was a Petaling Jaya city councillor from 2008 to 2012, I was privy to decisions that called for enforcement officers not to implement the law. For example, when it was rumoured that the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) would close down the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC), I explained why DUMC could be shut down and why MBPJ wouldn’t enforce it anyway.
When Petaling Jaya neighbourhoods started putting up barricades on public roads, I again explained why this was illegal and potentially dangerous. And I also admitted that, due to the realities of rising crime, no action would be taken against those responsible for erecting security barricades.
Question of legitimacy
Clearly in certain cases, not implementing the law might be a good thing if it serves to protect citizens’ rights to freedom of religion and public safety. But then, when a government continuously and actively ignores enforcing the law, what sort of legitimacy does it have? Not enforcing the law may be a quick fix to a problem, and it provides no long-term solution. Imagine this – even if the PR does not want to enforce the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment, it can still be enforced, as was demonstrated by the Jais raid on BSM.
Additionally, should the BN come back into power in Selangor, it would very likely enforce the enactment since it was the BN which passed and gazetted the law in the first place.
Not enforcing the law can also lead to a myriad of other issues down the line. For instance, the only reason DUMC and numerous other religious groups resort to turning shop lots and factories into houses of worship is because development rules were not being enforced. Development rules actually mandate the allocation of land for the various religious groups to build their houses of worship. Yet, no new land has been allocated to the non-Muslim community in Selangor for a very long time.
To prevent more churches, temples and other houses of worship from being set up in factories and shop lots, development rules must first be strictly enforced. This would mean that no development projects can be approved unless land for non-Muslim places of worship are allocated. And while this freeze is in place, the state government could begin to identify areas that can be legally converted into places of worship for all the illegal churches and temples out there.
Of course, no one in government would freeze development just to deal with the numerous illegal churches and temples. Development is a huge source of income for the state government. Which just demonstrates the kind of quandary the state is now in for not enforcing development rules in the first place.
The PR’s choice
And so the PR currently has two choices in order to resolve the bible-seizure issue in the state. It can state that it will not enforce the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment. Presumably with Anwar’s leadership, the state will be able to better control Jais. That, of course, would be a Faustian bargain.
Or it could do what Anwar is alluding to – amend the law so that it cannot be used to deny the rights of non-Muslims. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee at this moment that that is what the PR intends to do even if Anwar is voted into the state assembly. Anwar may indicate all he wants on his campaign trail that that is what he may do. And until he is more definitive about what exactly he and the Selangor government will do, citizens should be aware that Anwar, like many other notable politicians, is highly skilled in sweet-talking.
Of course, it’s possible that the PR may have other options apart from these two. And if they do, citizens have a right to demand now what those options are. Without any definitive statement or plan of action from either Anwar or the PR in Selangor, we cannot know if either is sincere about providing a real solution to a real problem. After all, it could all just be about winning the votes in Kajang so that, as the PR has declared, the coalition is one step closer to Putrajaya.
KW Mak would like to see a debate between all Kajang candidates and hopes that debates will become a standard for all elections.