Conservatives or progressives? Which side to choose?

All of a sudden Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has turned “religious”. In his policy speech at the third annual general meeting of Bersatu, the party president said that it was “God’s will” that Bersatu and the two other Malay-based parties, Umno and PAS, came together to form Prihatin Nasional. The same point was echoed by his Senior Minister Azmin Ali in an interview he gave to The Star last Sunday.

Well, I could have explained to both of them the reason why these parties came together without bringing God into the picture! The answer is simply birds of a feather flock together. Umno was thrown out of government in the last general elections. PAS, by virtue of its extreme Islamic beliefs, is marginalised. Bersatu is a minority party leading the government. All three saw in Muhyiddin’s misadventure an opportunity to get into the government and coming from a common background found it convenient to band together.

What has God got to do with this? This is base greed for power. The fact that the Bersatu leaders expressed their religious sentiments is not the issue of contention here. What is of concern is that they refuse to see their actions as plain basic human nature and are hiding behind this notion of “God’s will” because then they don’t have to assume responsibility for undertaking an unconstitutional coup.

Muhyiddin, of course, is playing to the gallery as appealing to Muslim-Malay characteristics and unity resonate with his Malay support base. That is a political ploy and it should be seen for what it really is — cleverly crafted words aimed at winning support and deflecting attention from the legitimacy of the PN government.

It also shows the direction in which the Prime Minister is leading the PN government — a step towards conservatism.  Like it or not the PN is a conservative coalition. Its parties range from the less conservative — like Umno — to the far-right radically Islamic — like PAS. Bersatu is somewhere in between. PN upholds the conservative agenda of race, religion and royalty and, under the PN leadership, we can expect these to be reinforced and strengthened.

If the PN government were conservative but respects the parliamentary democracy we practice and abides by it, it can be accepted as an alternative coalition but up to now, we don’t see it upholding the constitution.  Instead, it is apparent that it is bypassing the Dewan Rakyat or, at least, diminishing its relevance to legitimising a government.

Already, we are witnessing more and more conservative positions being expressed in the public domain with little dissent. The PN government was aided to function without legitimacy from the Dewan Rakyat. The previously elected Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat was dismissed and replaced with an unelected Speaker ignoring questions on the constitutionality of the decision.

A PN MP freely puts down other religions in the Dewan Rakyat such as the comment that the Christian Bible is altered and just recently the same PAS MP made the ridiculous call to term the US a “terrorist country”. Such comments are akin to hate speech and should never be uttered but the PAS MP gets away with it.

In Kedah, a Hindu temple is demolished for being “illegal” when its history shows it was built with approval. According to coalition partner MIC, the Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor (PAS assemblyman) made a unilateral decision without consulting with the MIC as agreed upon under a prior arrangement. MIC deputy president and Human Resources Minister M Saravanan said that Sanusi had broken his promise.

Should that surprise anyone? When dealing with a conservative coalition or an ultra radically Islamic party one can expect multi-culturalism and the progressive policies of peaceful and respectful co-existence and modernization to take a backseat to religious, race and royal priorities.

Clearly, knowingly or unknowingly, the PN government is pushing forward a conservative agenda. Allowing this coalition to govern will inevitably lead to a course backwards not forwards.

That’s the sole reason why PN allies such as the MIC, MCA and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) need to rethink their participation in this coalition. Will a conservative agenda protect their interests or sacrifice them in the name of race, religion and royalty?

There are also liberals and progressives in PN. If the conservatives who carry the majority of the votes become stronger — they will if they continue to stay in power — will the voices of the liberals and progressives be heard or drowned?

MIC, MCA and PBS and the non-conservatives within PN need to understand that the issue before the Dewan Rakyat with regard to Budget 2021 isn’t about partisan politics. It is an issue of voting for conservatism or progress. The former would mean strengthening the institutions of race, religion and royalty on which the PN came to power which consequently would lead to the weakening of parliamentary democracy in the country.

If they favour progress, then they should choose a course of action which upholds parliamentary democracy which would take this nation forwards, not backwards. They need to keep this in mind when they make a final vote after the third reading of Budget 2021 in the current Dewan Rakyat session.

If the Opposition will unite as a single bloc and stand up for a division vote after the third reading of the Budget, who knows, it may inspire the liberals and progressives in the PN to vote with them. It will be a vote for progress, not regress, cutting across party lines.

The Budget may be defeated and cause the fall of the PN government because MPs chose parliamentary democracy over the parochial agenda of race, religion and royalty.


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