The role of civil society in bringing about social and political change through peaceful means has been recognised as an important part of the democratic process throughout the world.
However, in Malaysia this recognition is sadly lacking. On top of it all, there is a concerted effort being made by certain agencies both within and outside the government to defile those civil society organisations that have progressive views, especially on matters of race, religion, human rights and constitutional freedoms.
Because their views are different, they have been described as liberal and proWestern, with threats of being charged under the Sedition Act.
The experience in advanced countries shows that the achievements of civil society organisations or CSOs in bringing about political and social change to protect public interests does not come on a silver platter from the ruling party, the kindness of the governments or the generosity of big businesses.
Rather, the changes come from the public pressure initiated by CSOs to force those in the corridors of power in the government and the corporate world to empathise with the changing values in society.
As public demand for change permeates through the electorate, political parties have no choice but to incorporate the aspirations of the people into their election promises and treat the CSOs as equal partners in improving life for everybody.
Today, their civil society has become the ears, eyes and voice of ordinary people and is respected for its vigilance against the excesses of the rich and powerful.
The government should embrace the CSOs fighting for free and fair elections, human rights and equal treatment for Muslim women’s rights. In addition, reforms in the administration of Islam as well as in governance among public institutions for achieving higher integrity, transparency and accountability among ministers and civil servants must be part of the advocacy for change.
A clean government is good for the image of Islam and should therefore be given the most urgent attention by the political parties and the religious communities instead of interfering with the private life of Muslims.
The spirit of one nation is eroded when Muslims are told to distance themselves from other cultures and traditions for fear of becoming influenced by nonMuslims.
Our political leaders and religious authorities deliberately choose not to acknowledge the reservoir of goodwill that exists towards fellow human beings irrespective of race and religion, both in and outside Malaysia as seen in the large amount of charity and emergency aid given to Muslims suffering from regional conflicts or natural disasters in all parts of the world. The ulama and muftis want us to believe their message that Islam is under siege everywhere and therefore Malays must fortify themselves with fatwas and shariah laws to protect the religion from infidels.
Civil society organisations in Malaysia like G25 have emerged as voices for moderation as they see their efforts as crucial for the defence of our constitutional rights – the rights that form the basis of democracy.
The integrity of the constitution in upholding the rule of law is absolutely essential for maintaining the country’s image as a progressive country in all its dimensions – socially, politically and economically.
As stated in the New Economic Policy and the Rukunegara when they were introduced 45 years ago under the wise leadership of then prime minister Tun Abdul Razak and his deputy Tun Dr Ismail, our progress as a multicultural country depends on tolerance and respect for the cultures and traditions of the various races which make up the population.
As a country highly dependent on trade and foreign investment as well as foreign tourists, Malaysia must maintain a sensible approach in the management of its social, economic and political development so that the people and our business community have confidence in the future of the country.
As we have seen in recent months, confidence is everything. Inflows and outflows of investment funds are sensitive to the confidence factor. Malaysia should not allow itself to be like other Muslim countries which have suffered from religious extremism, and as the political squabbles over religion become intolerable, the most talented and skilful citizens leave the country to find better places to live in and work, causing a massive drain on their home countries’ resources.
The end result of the outmigration of skills and capital is economic stagnation and poverty for the majority of the population that remains behind. This is the sad reality in several Muslim countries.
As our past leaders warned us long ago, such a situation of economic meltdown will be disastrous for national unity, peace and stability. and must never be allowed to happen here.
We are indeed fortunate that our government is mindful of the need for rapid development and has launched various transformation programmes to get the country on the path of change towards economic and social stability.
It’s encouraging to see that the results are coming through and making the country resilient against the external challenges. These good transformational results hopefully will not be derailed by the shortsighted politics of race and religion.
Based on the recent statements of the prime minister, he is conscious of the need for realistic policies in ruling the country. The role of civil society organisations like G25 is to help him and his ministers realise their ambitions of making Malaysia a model country for the Muslim world.
I hope that as we welcome the New Year, we will give our support to the civil society organisations in their efforts to make this a happy and prosperous country for all Malaysians. May I wish all my fellow country men and women of all races the best for 2016.
The Malaysian Insider
The Malay Mail