Whipping up anxiety and anger through RUU355

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Najib and Hadi at a rally for the Rohingya inside the Titiwangsa indoor stadium: Najib will unashamedly use Pas to corner the voters in the rural hinterlands - Photograph: themalaymailonline.com

Religion should not be turned into a political football for the expediency of certain politicians and their respective political parties, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

The tabling of the controversial private bill RUU 355 in Parliament by Pas president Abdul Hadi Awang on 6 April 2017 predictably raised eyebrows especially over the way it was done.

Not only was the bill prioritised over other government bills of the day which, going by Malaysian experience, is abnormal; the extremely ‘punitive’ bill was tabled only to have the debate barred by the intervention of the speaker and then deferred to the next parliamentary sitting. This incident, which irked many concerned Malaysians, says a lot about the speaker’s independence – or lack thereof.

Incidentally, a new and expensive road to home does not seem to have helped to improve the democratic standing of the speaker.

The fact that this was the third time the bill was delayed makes some people wonder whether this is a protracted attempt to tease the Malay-Muslim constituencies of both Umno Baru and Pas. The respective parties’ purported intent to deepen Islamisation of Malaysian society could be a strategy aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Malay-Muslim voters ahead of an impending general election.

Some quarters have argued that this political teasing by both Umno Baru and Pas was meant to make the exasperated and angry opposition politicians appear to be ghastly anti-Islam. This is at a time when even questioning the introduction of hudud into Malaysian society may result in one being labelled by certain religious quarters as anti-Islam.

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Parliament should be the place to discuss and debate issues of social and national import such as RUU355, which has deep socio-political implications. There should be enough time allotted for the people’s representatives discuss such issues with prudence, precision and care. Disallowing certain members of Parliament from engaging in certain debates, as in the case of the tabling of RUU355 tabling, is undemocratic to say the least.

Cramming and rushing parliamentary debates late into the night and even into the wee hours of the morning, as was done in the recent past, is tantamount to ridiculing the integrity of august House. Parliament should be a place where serious debates must take place before a well thought-out law is instituted. Laws that are crafted out of a rushed discussion will have a serious impact on society as a whole, especially if it involves an element of injustice.

That is why, for instance, the provocative idea of marrying off a rape victim with the rapist, as brazenly suggested by former Sharia court judge and Tasek Gelugor MP Shabudin Yahaya, deserved the critical responses it sparked within and outside Parliament. A serious debate would have ensured that problematic, if not imbecile, ideas could be screened before they can be taken seriously by certain MPs and their supporters.

Such an outrageous idea is a serious setback to the advancement of women after years of struggle for gender and social justice and human rights by the Malaysian women’s movement. It is the kind of sexist suggestion that would be a horrendous slur on the sterling work of women’s advocates such as the late Elizabeth Sarojini Devaraj.

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Coming back to the RUU355 saga – religion should not be turned into a political football for the expediency of certain politicians and their respective political parties. And Parliament should not be a convenient stage or platform for this outrageous game of political football.

Mustafa K Anuar
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
12 April 2017

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