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A ‘unity’ government in a country divided?

PIC Credits : The Star

By Imran Ariff (Free Malaysia Today)

Anwar Ibrahim was quick to brand his government a “unity government” in recognition of (or perhaps to justify) Pakatan Harapan’s unlikely cooperation with Barisan Nasional, which had for years sworn it would never work with the PKR leader or his DAP allies.

On the surface, fine. The government can call itself whatever it likes, and the term “unity government” is certainly far better than the awkward “Keluarga Malaysia” branding which Anwar’s predecessor tried to make a thing.

However, one cannot talk about the virtues of unity solely in the context of the Cabinet’s composition. And with Malaysia looking as fractured as ever, Anwar and friends have their work cut out for them.

It was only a matter of weeks ago that muftis from Selangor and Penang – figures who are supposed to be respected as religious leaders – advocated for withholding potentially life saving HIV prevention medication from the LGBTQ community.

And just days ago, Dewan Negara president Rais Yatim mooted the development of a ‘Malay World’ in the capital akin to Little India in Brickfields or Chinatown near Petaling Street.

It’s a similar argument to that of mens’ rights activists or white supremacists when International Women’s Day or Black History Month comes around. “What about us?” they exclaim as if they haven’t lived for years in systems designed to help them succeed at the expense of marginalised groups.

As for those muftis, well, I’m sure they know the Quran far better than I do or ever will. As any of my former classmates could tell you, I paid only cursory attention during Agama classes, so I must have missed the part about loving and caring for others only if they’re straight. If that makes me a heathen, then I guess I’ll take my chances in hell. Seems like it would be more fun down there anyway.

Then we had the directive from Johor’s religious council that Muslims cannot participate in “rituals” of other religions, vague instructions that seem only to exist to draw a firm line between other faiths and Islam. Should we retire the Gregorian calendar 2,023 years after the birth of Jesus Christ in favour of the Islamic version?

The weaponisation of race and religion has formed the bedrock of Malaysian politics for decades, nearly since the country’s inception. A country doesn’t end up with parties that name themselves with racial terms if putting communities against one another wasn’t an effective tactic.

History was made when Pakatan Harapan grabbed the reins of power for a second time, forming the first government not led by a Malay-centric outfit. The coalition’s success proves that much of the country is tired of the racial undercurrents that permeate much of Malaysian life. Not all of it, however, showcased by the recent resurgence of PAS, but enough to finally relegate race-based parties to the back seat.

For Anwar’s government to live up to its billing, “unity” cannot merely mean mending fences with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Umno.

There needs to be a concerted effort to not just speak out against division, but actively combat it. Anwar banged the drum of “reformasi” for years and to waste the opportunity he now has to achieve it would be nothing short of a disappointment.

Otherwise, he’d be better off calling his bloc Barisan Nasional 2.0. I’m sure his new allies would be thrilled.


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