FEBRUARY 17 — Dear YB,
You probably have a million things going on, dealing with constituents who have seemingly endless problems, party politics and figuring out how to retain your seat in the next general election.
The last thing you want is a hot potato like PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s private member’s Bill to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, or Act 355, landing in your lap.
But it will likely be tabled in Parliament next month and you’ll be forced to deal with it. How shall you vote then?
If you’re a Muslim, you may feel obliged to vote “Yes”, even if you privately think that it’s not really necessary to increase the scope of Shariah punishments. After all, no one has shown any statistics on the trend of Shariah offences over the past several years, nor has Hadi proven how harsher punishments can deter religious offences.
If you’re not a Muslim, you may be hesitant to vote “No” because your allies from another party support the Bill. So you prefer to skip Parliament on the day of the vote and abstain from voting. That way, no one can attack you for supporting or rejecting the Bill.
Who cares if your absence increases the likelihood of the passage of the Bill? At least your skin is safe.
Voting “Yes” or staying silent, however, is a betrayal of the people’s trust in you as their representative.
Thousands of Malaysians across race and religion voted you in because they believed that you were the best candidate to represent their interests and to push for better policies and governance.
Your personal faith should have nothing to do with your decision on how to vote on Hadi’s Bill because you are not casting a vote as an individual; you are voting as a representative of the people in your constituency.
Even if your constituency is majority Malay-Muslim, it does not mean that your constituents are a homogenous lot who think alike and support Hadi’s Bill. Some Malay-Muslims do not support the Bill, but they’re silent because they fear stigma in the community and disapproval from their own families.
Your job is to ensure that Malaysian democracy does not end up as a tyranny of the majority.
I urge you not to be swept up in the wave of populism and religious fanaticism, but to stand your ground in doing the right thing.
Hadi’s supporters try to scare Malaysians into backing the Bill by using religion and claiming that going against it is tantamount to going against God.
They also use fallacious arguments to demonstrate support for the Bill, claiming that the majority of Malaysians agree with them. But they fail to place the issue in a wider context, where Malaysians are likely to be far more concerned with things like the rising cost of living, education and crime, rather than whether a Muslim is drinking beer or riding a motorcycle with someone of the opposite sex.
Hadi’s Bill is an unjust law.
What religious offence can possibly merit a 30-year jail sentence, 100 lashes of the rotan or an RM100,000 fine, as Hadi’s Bill proposes? How can a victimless crime be equivalent to culpable homicide not amounting to murder that is also punishable with 30 years imprisonment?
Moral and religious offences cannot be treated like actual crimes that harm other people. If anything, we should be fighting to abolish jail terms for Shariah offences, instead of enhancing the punishments.
This isn’t a “Muslim” issue because we do not live in silos. Non-Muslims and Muslims live and work together to develop this nation.
Putting people behind bars just for violating religious tenets means productive workers are taken off the workforce for several years. If they are injured from dozens of whippings, it places an extra burden on the public healthcare system.
More importantly, the public funds used to pay the salaries of religious officers, to feed the prisoners jailed for Shariah offences, to conduct whippings, come from both non-Muslim and Muslim taxpayers. Every ringgit that goes into enforcing Shariah legislation means money not spent on education, security or healthcare.
As a taxpayer, I have the right to talk about how I want my tax monies spent. And as a Member of Parliament, you should reject the allocation of resources for things that don’t benefit the country, like moral policing.
The poor and the working class, who are too busy trying to make a living, should be educated instead of being locked away for decades just for not practising their faith properly.
Will you be the one to give welfare aid to poor people when they go bankrupt after getting an RM100,000 fine, or when their spouse is jailed for years for some Shariah offence? Or will you shrug your shoulders and say the “government” (which means us, the taxpayers) will take care of it?
If you vote “Yes” or abstain from voting on Hadi’s Bill, you will be responsible for the resulting divisions and disunity in our country.
You will be responsible for the victimisation of the poor who do not know better.
You will be responsible for the expanding Islamisation of the country that affects non-Muslims, where our businesses are raided for violating over-reaching halal-related rules and we’re told that the way we dress is unacceptable in even places like hospitals.
And you will be responsible for the ultimate destruction of our way of life in a society when we used to embrace our diversity and saw good in each other.
So, I urge you to put aside your short-term interests and for once, do not behave like typical Malaysian politicians, but act as a people’s representative who speaks on our behalf.
Otherwise, be prepared to lose your seat in the next election.
Malaysians need representatives who dare to act in our interests, not cowardly politicians who sacrifice their principles for political expediency.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.