THE Nut Graph started posting six questions to 222 Members of Parliament (MP) in January 2010 for its MP Watch: Eye on Parliament project. The project — a likely first of its kind in Malaysia — aims to record MPs’ positions on key issues of democracy as well as provide MPs a platform for voters to know them better.
One of the six questions asked was: “Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?”
Chinese-language online news portal Merdeka Review analysed the MPs responses to this question, according to party lines, in two parts. The first part, published on 11 June 2010, looked at how Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs responded to the question. Part two, published several days later, focused on the replies from Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs.
The Nut Graph translates part one, written by Merdeka Review journalists Chan Wei See and Tan Pek Wan, with some modification below.
Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad caused nationwide controversy when he declared on 29 Sept 2001 that Malaysia was an Islamic state. DAP even launched a campaign called “No to 929” in 2002 to reiterate that Malaysia was secular.
However, after the 8 March 2008 general election, some DAP leaders, like their PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) counterparts, tried to avoid the issue when responding to MP Watch.
When asked if Malaysia was a secular or Islamic state, top PR leaders’ responses were vague and elusive. Many PR MPs evaded directly answering the question. Others claimed it was unnecessary to differentiate if Malaysia were a secular or Islamic state.
DAP leaders who championed the “No to 929” campaign, such as Tanjong MP Chow Kon Yeow and Bukit Mertajam MP Chong Eng, did not answer the question directly. Chong Eng said: “If by a secular state we mean that the government or the country is atheist and has no respect for religion, then obviously we are not a secular state and we can never be one.”
Despite that, other DAP elected representatives clearly stated that Malaysia was a secular country according to the Federal Constitution.
These MPs included: Charles Santiago (Klang), Karpal Singh (Bukit Gelugor), M Kulasegaran (Ipoh Barat), Tan Kok Wai (Cheras), Teresa Kok (Seputeh), Teo Nie Ching (Serdang), Fong Kui Lun (Bukit Bintang) and Tony Pua (Petaling Jaya Utara).
Petaling Jaya Selatan MP Hee Loy Sian from PKR also agreed that “Malaysia should be a secular state”. At the same time, however, many PKR parliamentarians did not make public their stand on the issue.
Ambiguous responses were drawn from PKR de facto leader and Permatang Pauh MP Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, strategic director and Batu MP Chua Tian Chang, Selangor Menteri Besar and Bandar Tun Razak MP Tan Sri Abd Khalid Ibrahim, vice-president and Subang MP R Sivarasa, vice-president Gombak MP Azmin Ali, and Kelana Jaya MP Loh Gwo-Burne. These MPs did not state whether Malaysia was a secular or Islamic state. Some only noted that the Federal Constitution describes Islam as the country’s official religion.
Khalid’s response was: “There is much debate about this. I am not interested to debate this here. But I am always interested to help Malaysia [to] be free of corruption; to have fair and just economic distribution and a fair judiciary; to have transparency and accountability in its state administration; and a better human rights policy. These are all virtues demanded in an Islamic state.”
Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar said that no one could clearly classify Malaysia. She added that the term “secular” or “Islamic” has been abused by BN, particularly Umno politicians.
“How can anyone categorically state what Malaysia falls under? I am confident in the PR’s stance to uphold the Federal Constitution. We are not changing Islam as the religion of the federation, or anything else related to Malay [Malaysian] rights, despite what [some] would like to allege against us,” she said.
Apart from DAP and PKR parliamentarians, Kuala Selangor MP Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, who is perceived to be from the more liberal faction within PAS, also did not make clear his stand. He said it was up to the electorate to decide democratically whether the country should be secular or Islamic.
PAS vice-president and Kubang Kerian MP Salahuddin Ayub said it should be decided in a referendum, so that citizens could choose for themselves.
Another PKR-turned-independent MP Zahrain Mohamed Hashim echoed Salahuddin: “I believe in freedom and democracy. So to me, if the majority in Malaysia wants an Islamic state, so be it. If the majority wants a secular state, so be it…So, it’s up to the rakyat. It’s not what I want or what I wish. The people should decide how they want the country to be.”
No response from Hadi Awang and Kit Siang
DAP elected representatives who did not reply to MP Watch include DAP parliamentary leader and Ipoh Timur MP Lim Kit Siang, Penang chief minister and Bagan MP Lim Guan Eng, Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo, Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong, Taiping MP Nga Kor Ming, and Bandar Kuching MP Chong Chieng Jen.
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