Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Can PAS help bring about change?

The writer is optimistic that PAS can bring about the positive change that is badly needed in Malaysia.
 A few days ago, someone sent me an anonymous e-mail appeal addressed to voters. According to the appeal, the coming (general) election, more so than others, is a vital one because we are at a crossroads.

If we get it right we will prosper; if we get it wrong, we will suffer as we have seen in our neighbouring countries. I cannot agree more with these sentiments. In the last three years, I have written about the socio-economic and political crossroads that the country is at, but that has been to a general audience.

I am glad that I now have the opportunity to share my thoughts on this subject with a PAS audience. This is the first time that I am addressing PAS supporters and this is also probably the first opportunity PAS has had to interact with someone like me.

Let me begin by posing a question. The question that I and many other Malaysians want to ask PAS is, how will PAS help the country and ordinary Malaysians take the right road to a brighter and harmonious future? Which is the road that PAS and its leaders want Malaysians to follow?

Let me tell you which will be the wrong road. The wrong road is one which aims at setting up a religious state. The wrong road is the one which seeks to “Arabise” our country or wants to “out-Islamicise” Umno.

The fact is that we are a multi-religious and multi-racial country with a constitution based on the principle that Malaysia is a secular state and with Article 3 providing for Islam as the religion of the federation. This is a principle that all Malaysians accept and no party should undermine in any way.

The great majority of Malaysians – if a referendum is taken right now – will reject the establishment of a religious state. It is not only Malaysians who are not in favour of a religious state. This is the same everywhere in the world – whether in Asia, Europe, Africa or the American continent. Even in the Middle East which is the heartland of Islam, the clamour of the masses – especially the young – is not for an Islamic state. Allow me to read you this analysis of the “Arab Spring” or what is happening in the Middle East today:

“Numerous factors have led to the protests, including the 2009 Iranian protests, dictatorship or absolute monarchy, human rights violations, government corruption, economic decline, unemployment, extreme poverty, and a number of demographic structural factors, such as a large percentage of educated but dissatisfied youth within the population. The catalysts for the revolts in all Northern African and Persian Gulf countries have been the concentration of wealth in the hands of autocrats in power for decades, insufficient transparency of its redistribution, corruption, and especially the refusal of the youth to accept the status quo.”

Clearly the motivations for change are not for a religious state. They are about the elimination of bad governance.

The right road

From what I can see, the fight against corruption and injustice is also what is driving PAS and its supporters in Malaysia. Affirmation of this can be seen in the mission statement of PAS which refers to the need for a clean and virtuous government.

This is also apparent from the preamble to the PAS constitution which provides the reason for the party’s mission. Page One of the PAS constitution 2011 reads:

“Bahawa dengan sesungguhnya adalah diisytiharkan, demi untuk menyempurnakan taqwa kepada Allah dan kebaktian kepada sesama manusia, yang dijadikan bagi menegakkan al amru bil ma’ruf wan nahyu ‘anil mungkar dalam kehidupan bermasyarakat dan bernegara, maka inilah diisyiharkan sebuah pertubuhan yang dinamakan ‘Parti Islam Semalaysia’.”

(Therefore verily it is hereby proclaimed that to be pious to God, and to do good works among mankind and in establishing virtue [truth] and forbidding evil [falsehood] in the society and nation, the organisation named Parti Islam Malaysia is established.)

It is important that PAS supporters realise that no religion has a monopoly on truth or goodness; and that a similar focus on a clean and virtuous government is emphasised by all other religions, and perhaps even more, by secular faiths and value systems.

As to the right road ahead, the direction is clear from the last election and it should be continued for the coming election.

In the last (general) election, PAS teamed up with PKR and the DAP to reject the road that the Barisan Nasional (BN) has taken the country down. That election saw the Pakatan Rakyat – against all odds – win unprecedented support from the public.

The Pakatan coalition in Perak in particular – under the outstanding leadership of Nizar (Jamaluddin) – provided hope to all Perakians that the state would enter a new era of corruption and crony-free development in which racial and religious fairness and moderation would not be given lip service but would be prioritised and implemented in the policies and programmes of the state government.

In the first year of the Pakatan state government in Perak between March 2008 and Feb 2009 – before the BN coup d’etat – many people-friendly and non-discriminatory actions and initiatives were undertaken by the Pakatan state government.

Historical injustice

In particular, Nizar’s administration’s grant of freehold title to Perak landowners – many of them non-Malay new village landholders – deserves a place in our history books.

This initiative was intended to correct a major historical injustice which was blatantly ignored, if not perpetrated by BN state governments for the past 50 years.

From what I understand, as many as 7,000 lot owners in 134 new villages and 102,000 lot owners in 349 planned villages in Perak (Malays and non-Malays) would have been allowed to convert their land titles from leasehold to freehold.

The thumbs-up to this wise and brave initiative is best reflected in the words of former MCA secretary-general and housing and local government Ting Chew Peh who was quoted by a Chinese newspaper as saying: “Upon hearing the good news, my townsmen, relatives and friends applauded till their hands hurt! One who wins the hearts of the people wins the world. Pakatan Rakyat has brought the house down this time.”

Let me also refresh your memory that almost every act of the Perak Pakatan administration was criticised by the Malaysian mainstream press, especially by Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian, which embarked on a campaign of hate and poison.

Nizar’s administration was also hounded by constant accusations of selling out to the non-Malays.

These dirty tricks and political spinning have not only continued but have got worse.

Increasingly racial and religious extremist sentiments are coming to the forefront which all of us, especially PAS, need to condemn more vigorously if our country’s social fabric is not to be torn apart.

When Nizar was first appointed as menteri besar, many non-Malays, including I, were apprehensive of PAS but as time went by, Nizar won the approval of the non-Malays.

Up to the challenge

During that period of uncertainty, I wrote an article to appeal to the Perak Sultan to dissolve the State Legislative Assembly so that the people could vote again to choose the government of their own choosing.

Although the Sultan has the right to dissolve the state assembly he did not do it. Allow me to reproduce the relevant excerpt of my article on this issue which is especially pertinent in view of the coming election:

“To safeguard the interest of the country and the institution of the monarchy, the voice and will of the rakyat must be respected. It has to be called on to be heard – in one way or another – because though the wheels of justice grind slowly, they grind exactingly.

“To the letter of the law a government must be answerable, and the one standing above politics must be accountable as well. In my humble opinion, Perak will regain its shine and the people’s trust when the Sultan accedes to the dissolution of the state assembly.”

Finally, I am optimistic that PAS with its progressive and multi-racially and multi-religiously oriented leaders such as Nizar is up to the challenge of working with fellow Malaysians of all races and religions to bring about the positive change that is badly needed in Malaysia.

To show my confidence in PAS, I would like to make a donation of RM100,000 to the party to be used to support its work in the coming election.

This was a speeched delivered by Koon Yew Yin, a successful investor and businessman, at the PAS fundraising gathering in Ipoh last week. This article was first published in the Centre for Public Initiatives website.


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