Gauging Anwar’s promises for Selangor


KW Mak, The Nut Graph

THE nation’s fixation is currently on the upcoming Kajang by-election. It’s not hard to believe that the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) wants its candidate Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to be the next menteri besar (MB) of Selangor, no matter the evasive denials. Only Anwar, it would seem, is capable of addressing any religious or racial issue that is purportedly being orchestrated by the Barisan Nasional (BN) in the state.

At a glance, Anwar, who is opposition leader at the federal level, appears to be the right person to tackle the “Allah” issue. He has reassured the Christian community that the issue is unworthy of debate because the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims is a non-issue. He has also intimated that there is a need to amend the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988. This was the law that the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) relied on to raid the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) and to confiscate more than 300 bibles at the start of the year.

The question is, how will we know whether a Selangor PR government under Anwar will be more effective than under Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s current administration? And what lessons can we be aware of with regards to how the state is currently being run?

Real solution needed

When Anwar spoke at the Church of the Holy Family in Kajang on 16 Feb 2014, the congregation cheered for him and welcomed his remarks on the “Allah” issue. However, Anwar’s remarks alone should not lull citizens into believing that the issue will be solved even if he is made the next MB.

The fact is, until and unless the PR state government declares explicitly that it will be amending or even repealing the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment, Anwar’s words are mere rhetoric. Not only that, Anwar has yet to stipulate what kind of timeframe he would be committing to, if he was elected, towards finding a real solution to a very real problem.

Bear in mind, any amendment or repeal of any state law can only be effected by the state legislature which the PR controls with a comfortable majority. Hence, apart from Anwar’s indirect suggestion that the enactment needs to be amended, we also need to hear from him what kind of concrete steps will be taken that would lead to the enactment being debated in the legislature. For example, he would need to explain what kind of reports and studies, to be made publicly accessible, will be provided to all state assemblypersons to enable a robust debate in the state assembly.

Until and unless Anwar can speak in such concrete terms, his campaign is merely relying on his undeniable charisma and rapport as a political orator. And citizens would do well to remember that clever rhetoric alone isn’t enough to bring about real solutions to thorny problems.

No implemention

It’s really left to be seen whether Selangor, under Anwar’s leadership, will have the political courage and clout to amend a faulty law that has led to rights abuses in the state. Of course, one other course of action the ruling coalition could take is to assure Christians that the law will not be implemented. For that reassurance to work, the Selangor government would have to actively prevent the law from being enforced, which would result in inconsistencies. Unfortunately, such inconsistencies between what the law says and how it is enforced isn’t something new in Selangor.

While I was a Petaling Jaya city councillor from 2008 to 2012, I was privy to decisions that called for enforcement officers not to implement the law. For example, when it was rumoured that the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) would close down the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC), I explained why DUMC could be shut down and why MBPJ wouldn’t enforce it anyway.