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Despite political intrigue and defecting MPs, Rakyat must build on democratic gains

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The Rakyat of new Malaysia have understood they have the power to bring about change through the ballot box. We must ensure that democracy is kept alive, despite all the political intrigue, writes Henry Loh.

We are at the time of the year when many will be celebrating – travelling, enjoying meals together or just simply having fun. It is the end-of-year holiday period and it is common to come across phrases like “t’is the season to be jolly”.

But alas for the family, friends and close colleagues of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, there is little reason to celebrate. This brave firefighter succumbed to the grave injuries he sustained after allegedly being beaten up in the line of duty.

Aliran extends its deepest condolences to the family of firefighter Adib and joins others in praying that his senseless death will not be in vain. We urge the relevant authorities to ensure that the perpetrators of this horrific crime are duly charged and brought to justice.

The question many are asking is, why did the Seafield temple fracas escalate to the level that it did with physical altercations and vehicles and motorcycles overturned and set ablaze?

There is no place for such violence in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia. To an external observer, it would seem that, purely out of anger, mob rule took over and all reasoning and rational thinking was simply thrown out of the window.

I cannot think of any religion that condones violence of any sort, and hence all rational, fair-minded, peace-loving Malaysians should stand resolutely in speaking out against violence, even in the name of defending a religious belief or, in this case, a place of worship.

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Hate crimes are despicable, and Malaysians should also stand up and condemn the killing of a transgender woman who was beaten to death by a group of men at a hotel in Port Klang on 12 December. As highlighted by Majidah Hashim of Sisters in Islam, Malaysians need to get rid of such debilitating anger and learn to replace it with mutual respect and compassion.

A harsh reality faced by our country today is the deep-rootedness of ethnicity and religion as determining factors in the politics of the country. For example, the current government was ready to sign and ratify the United Nation’s International Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and made an announcement accordingly.

But Umno and Pas were was able to capitalise on the misguided notion that the convention would take away the special position of the Malays as enshrined in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution and impinge on Islam as the official religion of the country. Through social media campaigning and grassroots networking, their protest rally on 8 December was able to draw an estimated crowd of between 50,000 to 70,000, almost exclusively Malay.

Umno must have been rather pleased with the rally, sensing a reversal of fortunes of sorts since regime change at the 9 May general election. But this new-found optimism turned out to be rather short-lived: Zahid and other leaders did not foresee that more Umno MPs would leave the party.

Despite the ruling coalition losing in the general election, Umno, with 54 MPs, had remained the party with the largest number of seats in the 222-seat Parliament. But, at the point of writing, with all these fresh defections, Umno’s tally of seats has dropped to 38.

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Under these circumstances, Anil Netto points to an interesting fact that PKR, with 50 seats in Parliament, is now the party with the largest number of seats, followed by DAP, with 42 seats. Both these parties are officially multi-ethnic.

This is an interesting development, and Anil has gone so far as to suggest that, to save itself from implosion, Umno should seriously consider opening its doors to other ethnic groups in line with its founding president Onn Jaafar’s proposal in 1951.

The wave of defections is a cause for concern. Some of those who defected from Umno have indicated they would like to join the Bersatu party. Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said that defectors who wish to join Bersatu must first remain Independent for a while and fulfil other criteria before they can be admitted.

JD Lovrenciear has proposed five conditions that Bersatu should impose on former Umno MPs trying to join its fold. For some background and divergent views on whether anti-defection laws should be legislated, have a look at these articles here and here.

Amid all the intrigue within Umno, the internal party struggle of rival camps in PKR, and the alleged inter-party clamour for dominance between PKR and Bersatu in the ruling coalition, we the Rakyat should not allow our country’s leaders to lose sight of the reform agenda.

Civil society must play its role to keep up the pressure on the government to carry out the reforms promised in the Pakatan Harapan manifesto. A clear separation of powers among the various branches of government is essential if we are to enjoy good governance with proper checks and balances in place.

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Yes, it has been just seven months since Regime Change, but already some small alarm bells are going off, and these are early warning signs that should not be ignored.

The Rakyat of new Malaysia have experienced and understood that they have the power to bring about change through the ballot box. We must sustain and nurture this strength by ensuring that democracy is kept alive.

Hidup Malaysia! Hidup Rakyat!

Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
22 December 2018

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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