Once again Malaysian politics toil itself in the rhetoric of Sedition, as I read the recent comment by YB Lim Kit Siang in The Malaysian Insider as he questioned the PM on why Home Minister YB Hishamuddin H.Onn was not charged with sedition for inciting racial sentiment when he justified the cow-head protest in Shah Alam while Malaysiakini is facing charges for displaying the cow-head protest clip. Although the statement carries mixed signals and sarcasm, it does in some sense raise a big concern over the current state of political debate in Malaysia that seems to overlook the importance having a principle stand and human rights concepts when Sedition Act and its tendency comes to play to ones own advantage.
It should be noted that the comment made by YB Hishamuddin Hussein Onn is without a doubt “un-Ministerial” - an act unbecoming of a government leader. Despite such comments being established as clear cut wrong, the consequences of the wrong have to be qualified in the correct context.. The remaining question here is regarding the fact that although the comment made by the Minister is unbecoming – does it deserve to be called for a criminal action and in the current concern, to be punished with a draconian law like the Sedition Act?
If one were to look at the comment made by the Home Minister carefully in terms of accountability and its consequences, the startling effect of his statement points out clearly to a strong demand for his resignation as his comment falls as stated above un-Ministerial and unbecoming of a government leader. This effect is arrived and measured by not dismissing the concern of the Minister’s comment carrying the dangerous signal that the State is backing a violent and insensitive act hence legitimizing bigotry and violence. In my opinion the concern although real in nature and warrants condemnation and response, it does not in totality carry the same weight as a crime as it lacks the ingredient of actual involvement and direct incitement that warrants legal punishment. It remains a political offence that needs to be considered and be punished politically.
Hence, the call to invoke the Sedition Act although spicing up the political contest and exposes selective prosecution, in a way also gives legitimacy to the draconian act and sustaining the culture of legal punishment to all matter sensitive and controversial. The worrying part here is that freedom of speech was made to border criminalization at a political cost and remains binding to the rest of the country.
This is not the first time the DAP Leader invoked the Sedition Act or Seditious Tendency as in December 2008, the leader in a Parliamentary statement claimed that Mukhriz had committed a seditious offence in questioning one of the four sensitive issues entrenched in the Constitution and said he can be disqualified as an MP upon conviction.
YB Lim Kit Siang is not the only one in the DAP party who have invoked the Sedition Act or Seditious Tendency in before. This is also not the first time we are reading a statement of a DAP leader invoking the Sedition Act in their political attacks as it has been one too many a time as of late. To justify my concern, one has to look into the many comments made by DAP MP Tony Pua during the Ahmad Ismail saga and of late against Utusan Malaysia on a few occasions. It is however very ironic for a DAP leader to legitimise the Sedition Act although in my understanding it is DAP that has long suffered the sting of the Sedition Act as we recall the Sedition charge over YAB Lim Guan Eng, M.Manogaran and Karpal Singh to name a few. It seems that Sedition Act and Seditious tendency claim have become a contest between UMNO and DAP as both are in a race to invoke Sedition in their political contest..
It is time for political parties to assume the primary role in opposing draconian laws beyond political interest and resist the temptation of leveraging on the wording of such laws in order to give a political knockout jab over their political opponent, or to score political points.
Yes, insensitive comments and racial remarks must not be a matter that we should tolerate but let us also take note of the social change that is taking place in Malaysia. There may be a legitimate concern behind Tony Pua’s paranoia but let us re-visits Utusan Malaysia entries on a daily basis- one would expect a racial riot or communal clash happening on a daily basis. In addition to a few highly sensitive episodes ranging from the Ahmad Ismail to the Hindraf mass rally, one would have envisioned the similar effects as well. But again, the actual turn of events were indeed of the opposite. This is a sign that the country in a broader sense is moving away from the communal issues and racial sentiments and merging into a new thinking of new politics based on meritocracy and good governance. The last General Election is also another relevant marker to be added here.
The challenge today is indeed to move away from the ghost of the bloody past and embrace this new form of politics. It is however unfortunate to learn that political parties like the DAP are also showing tendencies of invoking the Sedition Act over sensitive comments just to strengthen its political assault and prolong the current culture of criminalizing controversial statements and BN’s perception of the Malaysian public as not being able to deal with and counter such matters politically and socially. The DAP must also remember that the continuation of criminalization of controversial statements will only continue to undermine the party’s effort to tackle and debate the many cross-cultural and religious issues as per the party’s demographics and stand risking its image as being purely to serve the interest of a particular communal interest in isolation.
As for racist remarks and thinking, let us not only look into the option of criminalization and the furthering of racial paranoia. I recall a story told by my good friend Rahmat Haron of the last days of Adolf Hitler and his bunker community. A story of how, the Nazi party’s massive popularity dwindled and faded to the four corners of Hitler’s closest allies and his bunker community, as they spent the remainder of their lives with only themselves to further the agenda while Germany and the entire European continent began to embrace a new form of thinking and agenda.
The story has similar reference to the racist regime and bigots as sooner or later all the Utusan news and politicians’ keris wielding antics will only be saluted by their closest allies and family and friends in a coconut shell. Let’s put our faith in the new emerging society and those who are not traditionally our supporters. Its time to embrace the new method of empowering and organizing alternative views and multi racial political response as well as public empowerment to deal with sensitive and controversial statements and gestures and put the contest of criminalizing controversial statements and the addictive act of highlighting seditious tendency. The public put a big expectation over Pakatan Rakyat to bring about change and reform and something different from the traditional UMNO type of response to controversies. And for sure draconian laws must be denounced and condemned beyond its coincidental advantages that follow.