The huge public response to the May Day rally in Kuala Lumpur must have sent shivers down the spine of the powers that be, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
Like their counterparts in most countries of the world, Malaysian workers celebrated Labour Day on the first of May, some of them by being physically present in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, reminding employers and the government of the need for better pay and working benefits.
Tens of thousands of Malaysians flocked to the massive Workers’ Day street protest against the Goods and Services Tax (GST) (which will be implemented in April 2015) around Dataran Merdeka, the original planned venue, which was cordoned off. Workers, politicians and concerned Malaysians are worried that the GST will be an added burden, particularly for the working class and the poor, who are already reeling from an inflationary onslaught.
The huge public response to the May Day rally in Kuala Lumpur must have sent shivers down the spine of the powers that be. The large turnout prompted Chief Secretary to the government Dr Ali Hamsa to warn civil servants found participating in the recent anti-GST rally that they would face stern action, including sacking. Ali’s action, however, was seen by his critics as a mere bullying tactic against the powerless.
Not to be outdone, Social Affairs and Culture adviser to the government Rais Yatim insisted that firm action should be taken against university students involved in the rally. Even the Pahang Mufti was moved to get into the act, pontificating that Muslims should support the GST.
Knocking on heaven’s door
Hudud, as we all are aware, has become a raging controversy of late. The private members’ bills on hudud have received criticism from non-Malay communities and also sections of the Malay community.
It has also created something of a rift within the Pakatan Rakyat (PR), particularly between Pas and the secular Democratic Action Party (DAP) arising from Pas’ bid to introduce hudud in Kelantan. An open and bitter spat has emerged between the two partners in the opposition PR, which is cause for great concern among political observers and Malaysians who are already troubled by the flawed democracy in the country.
The DAP maintains that hudud has never been part of the coalition pact and will have little impact as far as wooing Malay-Muslim voters. Certainly, the hudud bid has caused serious concerns among the non-Malay communities and to a lesser degree certain groups of Malays.
Still stung by the recent ‘Allah’ controversy, critics of the bills fear that, if implemented, hudud might somehow also affect their rights as well as the overall justice system in the country.
For instance, a group of lawyers felt that Pas’ plan to introduce hudud is unconstitutional. The Malaysian Medical Association, whose members are made up of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, has already raised the alarm over the Kelantan state government’s call to doctors to help implement its hudud system, which the MMA deems to be an affront to its Hippocratic Oath.
In response, the Islamic Medical Association argued that it is incumbent upon doctors to provide support for the implementation of hudud, an assurance that the Islamic Renaissance Front on the other deemed unethical for the noble profession.
Certain Islamist groups have warned non-Muslims to stay off the issue of hudud. This warning however cuts no ice with concerned groups from the non-Muslim communities who demanded a say on hudud, which they feel would have an impact on their lives.
What it means to be visited by Obama
US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Malaysia is seen by certain quarters as having achieved considerable success – a plus for the Najib administration.
But Obama’s reminder that Malaysia cannot attain greater heights of success if the minorities of non-Muslim communities are denied their rights dampened the Najib administration’s misplaced elation.
Obama’s comments were greeted with silence by many Umno Baru members and supporters. The few who were affected by Obama’s statement claimed that Obama had meddled with Malaysia’s domestic affairs while others refuted the president’s criticism of Malaysia. Unlike the usually loud Utusan Malaysia, which kept mum over this matter, the raucous and rabid Perkasa did not disappoint its members and supporters when it raised the predictable question, “What more do non-Muslims want?”
Other critics of the Obama administration, however, felt that his visit to Malaysia was primarily aimed at coaxing the Malaysian government into agreeing to the terms of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), which are stacked against the interests of ordinary Malaysians. Many fear that the signing of the TPPA would lead to, for instance, the prices of medicines rising dramatically to serve the interests of Big Pharma. Some of these critical views were picked up by the online media.
Mustafa K Anuar
7 May 2014