Something must be done to curb the ethnic “champions” and hotheads relishing a confrontation, says P Ramakrishnan.
UMNO Youth is at it again. In what must be perceived as conduct unbecoming, some 50 Kelana Jaya UMNO Youth members took the law into their hands and visited the Kelana Jaya MP, Loh Seng Kok at his service centre – six days after Loh’s speech in Parliament on 15 March 2006. Armed with a protest letter and video cameras, they came in an intimidating manner at 9.30 pm in the cloak of darkness to deliver their ‘ultimatum’ and record this brief encounter with their MP.
They were apparently piqued with the MP for making some comments and raising certain points in his speech that touched on the concerns of the non-Muslims. They were not in any mood to listen to Loh’s explanation. Their leader, Kelana Jaya divisional chief Abdul Hamid Samad bluntly told him, “We don’t want to hear any explanation now, this is our letter, you read and answer it.”
They purportedly threatened to “take action” if the MP failed to respond to their letter within several days, without specifying what form of action they had in mind.
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The brusque manner in which the message was conveyed, and coming at night as Abdul Hamid did accompanied by his supporters, was meant to put fear into Loh – that was very obvious. Otherwise, there was no reason to conduct their affairs at that hour.
Much ado over what?
Now, what issues did Loh raise in Parliament to rile them? According to reports, Loh had claimed that the syllabus of history textbooks completely ignored the contributions of non-bumiputeras and only emphasised Islamic civilization.
He further stated that “the fight against the Japanese Occupation during World War II is portrayed as only the effort of the Malays but ignored the role of Chinese and Indian Malaysians.”
He complained about the prayer recital guidelines that are being drafted by the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) “without consultation, reference or discussion with representatives of other religions.”
He felt that since the guidelines would be imposed “on everyone and every government and private agency” during official and semi-official functions, the unilateral drafting of these guidelines went “against the principle of respect, understanding, discussion and transparency promoted by the government and its leaders.”
Loh urged the government not to ignore the provision of allocations and basic facilities for non-Muslim places of worship. He revealed that the Registrar of Societies (ROS) was yet another problem the non-Muslim community had to contend with. He claimed that the ROS revoked registration of places of worship without strong reasons.
He cited an example of a church that was recently de-registered by the ROS due to confusion regarding its membership, failing to publicly display meeting notices and accepting university students as church members without prior consent from the university’s vice-chancellor. Clearly, these are flimsy grounds to deregister a place of worship.
In view of this, Loh suggested that a religious department be set up to help resolve “religious misunderstandings”. He said that the proposed department would be seen as a step towards recognising other religions and upholding the spirit of religious freedom enshrined in the federal constitution.
We do not want to go into the merits or demerits of the points raised by the Member of Parlament, Loh Seng Kok. What we are concerned about is the right of an elected representative to speak his mind in Parliament. That right, as we see it, is being challenged by UMNO Youth.
The reaction of UMNO Youth is really disturbing. Viewed from recent happenings, UMNO’s behaviour seems to suggest that a Parliamentarian has no right to raise issues that affect his community, neither do Cabinet Ministers have the right to hand in a memorandum to the Prime Minister. It is this denial of democratic space that seems to spell doom for fundamental rights under the Barisan government.
When we view this situation dispassionately, we wonder why UMNO Youth would take objection to Loh’s views especially when the Speaker of Parliament did not find anything wrong or objectionable with Loh’s speech? He was not pulled up by the Speaker for what was said during the course of his speech.
Further, there are avenues to discipline a Parliamentarian for abusing his privilege in Parliament. Loh was not referred to the Parliamentary Rights and Privileges Committee for any breach of discipline or decorum.
Obviously, he was not offensive in word or deed; he was not heckled by anyone and nobody asked for any clarification.
So we could conclude that what Loh raised was not “sensitive” or false as it had upset the Barisan MPs – except for an odd MP, Mohamed Aziz of Sri Gading, who took objection, arguing that Loh’s words could be interpreted in a ‘dangerous’ way.
Parliament is overwhelmingly dominated by MPs from UMNO. Besides, the Barisan MPs won 90 per cent of the seats in the last election. Except for that one MP, nobody else crossed swords with Loh or challenged his point of view.
On that basis alone, the Kelana Jaya UMNO Youth’s action is invalidated. They don’t have a case to confront Loh or demand an explanation from him. We are therefore curious to know on what grounds the Kelana Jaya UMNO Youth division can claim that Loh’s speech had hurt the feelings of Malay Malaysians enough to warrant their confrontation with a Member of Parliament at night? What was it that upset them? Indeed, we don’t know!
Instead of behaving like rough-necks, Kelana Jaya UMNO Youth could have, on the other hand, contributed positively if they had countered Loh’s speech point by point to disprove his claim. That would have been an acceptable, democratic response. But they had acted senselessly without providing any proof that Loh’s claims were baseless and without substance.
Their unwarranted, undemocratic reaction challenges the fundamental right of an MP to raise issues in Parliament and speak his mind without fear or favour. This is not acceptable in a democracy. It only shows the shallowness of the mind and reveals a total lack of understanding of the workings of a Parliamentary democracy.
It is rather unfortunate – even regrettable – that the Kelana Jaya division was not ticked off by UMNO or the government for acting brashly. And because this was not done, these agitators get the impression that their deplorable conduct is endorsed and even encouraged by the leadership. The general public perceives this non-action by the government as not only condoning thuggery but also reflecting fear of taking disciplinary action against recalcitrant members whose support they need to remain in power.
This was very evident when an UMNO Youth mob stormed the Second Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor (APCET II) on 9 November 1996 and wrecked this important conference. Hundreds of unruly ruffians linked to the ruling coalition smashed their way into a peaceful legally constituted meeting in the Malaysian capital. That mob was led by UMNO Youth and a subsequent revelation implicated a Deputy Minister from UMNO who actually gave orders to stop that conference. (For details refer to AM Vol 16 (1996): No 9 – BIG BLUNDER: Crackdown on APCET II shatters Malaysia’s image)
Then we had another episode that took place on 18 August 2000 when some 300 UMNO Youth members demonstrated in front of the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (SCAH) in Kuala Lumpur over Suqiu’s 17-point Election Appeal. On this occasion, the noisy, provocative demonstrators even threatened to burn down the SCAH. (For details, refer to AM Vol 20 (2000): No 7 – NO To Racial Politics.)
It is normally a small minority who inflame emotions and instigate others to take offence where there was none. Even though there may be no justification, it does not stop these hot-heads who obviously relish a confrontation. These are nothing but mindless and meaningless gutter reactions, guaranteed to project them as “champions” of their race.
When the government does not come down hard on these hotheads, it in fact allows small fires to be lit and for bush-fires to sprout out now and then. If nothing is done to scotch this menace, ethnic unity could be further undermined.