AS the 14th General Election draws close, and the various political parties go all out to woo the voters, Malaysians should pay close attention to the manifestos of the actors, their present and past records, and the issues and concerns that are shaping the political milieu as they prepare to make some critical decisions about their own future.
Pakatan Harapan, a grouping of four political parties — Parti Keadilan Rakyat; Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia; DAP; and Parti Amanah Negara — announced its manifesto on Jan 6. While the 13-point manifesto contains some commendable elements, it is deafeningly silent on one of the greatest challenges that has always confronted our nation— the challenge of promoting unity within our multireligious and multicultural society.
In the last few years, this challenge has become even more pronounced with the decline of social interaction among people of different ethnic backgrounds, especially in Peninsular Malaysia, and the intensification of exclusive attitudes adopted by fringe groups in all communities which have had an adverse impact on the social fabric.
These exclusive attitudes assume many forms. Among them are the antics of certain vocal groups who claim to speak on behalf of Islam when in fact their pronouncements and actions undermine the universal essence of the religion and alienate the large non-Muslim population in the country, including those from Sabah and Sarawak.
Some of these exclusivists even argue that since Islam is the religion of the federation as provided for in Article 3 of the Malaysian Constitution, the syariah should supersede existing laws and their interpretation of certain Islamic precepts should be accepted by all without question.
Beyond espousing respect for the Constitution, the Pakatan Harapan manifesto does not take a clear stance against narrow interpretations of religion or religious authoritarianism.
By the same token, the manifesto appears to be oblivious to the danger posed by chauvinistic thinking that shows very little appreciation of the role of the Malay language as a channel for effective inter-ethnic interaction or the position of the Malay sultanates in shaping the nation’s character and identity.
In this regard, Pakatan Harapan has not even acknowledged the one document that was presented to the nation as its unifying ideology and its instrument for nation-building by the fourth Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Aug 31, 1970.
Recently, on Oct 10, the Conference of Rulers urged everyone — leaders, administrators and the people as a whole — to uphold the five goals and five principles of Rukun Negara.
It is significant that the rulers described Rukun Negara as the “guiding compass” for the nation. At a time like this, when divisive tendencies are getting stronger, a guiding compass that articulates inclusive goals and principles becomes imperative.
Our rulers realise this, which is why they reiterated their commitment to Rukun Negara in its entirety a few months ago.
The least that political parties like the component parties of Pakatan Harapan can do is endorse the clarion call of our Conference of Rulers.
If Pakatan Harapan had emphasised Rukun Negara, whose first goal is national unity, it would not only have shown that it was serious and sincere about one of Malaysia’s foremost challenges, but would have also demonstrated that it was crystal-clear about the direction we should take as a people.
It is a lucid articulation of national goals that the people demand and political parties should live up to this expectation if they intend to give hope to the rakyat.
DR CHANDRA MUZAFFAR
Board of Trustees chairman
Yayasan 1Malaysia, Petaling Jaya