There is a total lack of firm leadership in the management of the recent religious issue. After the court judgement was passed, a minister was quoted to say that government could not do much if people wanted to demonstrate, and that statement, whether correctly quoted or not, had given an impression that some of the top leaders of the country are encouraging people to show their emotions.
If the leadership has instead tried to calm people ‘s sentiments down and explained to their people that the generic term has been used by the natives of East Malaysia for many many years even before Merdeka, things might not have come to this state. The ground perception is that only when the first church was burned, the leadership started to realise the seriousness of the situation, and tried to calm emotions down.
UMNO messed up the whole issue and missed the boat, while PAS has taken the middle ground, even though there is a segment within PAS feeling very uneasy about their party stand. Apparently, one of the reasonings that PAS leaders used to address their supporters’ unease and disagreement is that the means justify the end result, which is to win GE13 and form the next Federal government , and with that they thought they could have a better chance to realise their ultimate aim of a Islamic State.
If PAS can move to the middle ground, why could not UMNo do so, especially when it is advocating 1Malaysia?
I think there are a lot of politicking within that party. The more conservative group is trying to use this issue to garner support while the more liberal group is afraid that they might lose support if they are seen to be too liberal.(What goes round really comes around; it was not too long ago that the exTop leader was pushed out in another power play, and now the top leader must be feeling the heat, too).
I think the position of their top leader is also not as strong as what people might have thought. But for the sake of the country, he should have taken a risk and gone ahead and be firm on this issue, revert back to status quo before the ban of the term, and call for the setting of a interfaith council to discuss the differences among the different faith.
The whole issue smacked of confusion and poor management. Now that there are strong feelings in both sides, it is virtually impossible for the issues to be resolved.
Whatever the Appeal Court decision, it would not please all sides.
With this issue, what little goodwill that the government has gained back has been all lost, and instead, it is now trying to use this issue to harness support from the more conservative Malays.
I hope there will be cooler heads on both sides, and that there must be a continuing dialogue between the various groups, MINUS the politicians. The best setting is an Interfaith Council where frank discussions could be held.
We must also not forget that under the 20 points Agreement, Clause No 1. stated that “while there was no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia there should be no State religion in North Borneo, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to North Borneo”. (Read the 20 points agreement here).
With this row, I see a lot of uncertainties have crept in the political arena, and the possibilities of realignment of political forces are now higher than ever.. Some of the more moderate and multiracial parties within BN would have done better in such an realignment if they are neutral and remain outside of the framework of BN.
I hope all sides would tread carefully and do not politicise this issue further and do not fan emotions further.
We need leaders to exert leadership on this aspect, and rein in their more extreme supporters on this issue. After all, a leader is supposed to lead, and not be led or swayed by the very supporters that they should be leading.