I said that even if by the next general election, and this was a big IF, the Barisan Alternative succeeds in debunking the baseless fears of all the non-Malays about the erosion of their cultural and religious rights, the Barisan Alternative cannot be assured that it was on safe and secure ground to win non-Malay electoral support.
This is because by the next election, the Barisan Alternative and in particular the DAP must be able to counter a new set of political attacks by the Barisan Nasional painting PAS as representing a political Islam which is obscurantist, extremist, fanatical, oppressive against women and minorities, incompatible with democracy, human rights, political tolerance, cultural pluralism, development and modernisation.
When I spoke at the Melaka PAS forum, I made the error of timing in postulating that this is a challenge the Barisan Alternative would have to overcome by the next general election in three or four years times. In actual fact, this is a problem the Barisan Alternative must address urgently and immediately and the cost of the failure to address this challenge will be very high.
The Barisan Nasional government has subordinated its national responsibilities with its obsession to politicise the Al-Ma置nah arms heists and killings to squeeze every ounce of partisan advantage, gravely polarising Malaysians along ethnic and religious lines and arousing non-Muslim fears.
The Barisan Nasional痴 obsession to politicise the Al-Ma置nah atrocities has reaped political dividends against the Barisan Alternative, especially with statement by the Prime Minister on July 11, 2000 that the killing of the two non-Muslim rather than the Muslim hostages by the Al-Ma置nah group was deliberate, that non-Muslims in the country could be assured of protection against persecution if they continue to support the present government, and the outrageous untruth: "Some non-Muslims want to play with fire...they are saying they can support this kind of people, and not get hurt. If you support the wrong kind of idea, you will get hurt."
The Al-Ma置nah atrocities, which had been condemned by DAP and the Barisan Alternative, however, would not have plunged the Barisan Alternative into its worst crisis since the November general election last year if there had not been controversies affecting PAS both preceding and subsequent to the Al-Ma置nah murders creating a political atmosphere unacceptable to non-Muslims and liberal Muslims.
These controversies pre- and post- Al-Ma置nah atrocities have also sidelined the plaudits won by the Terengganu PAS state government for the various measures it introduced during the early days of power, such as the abolition of the bridge toll, abolition of assessment tax and quit rent for residential land, the five-day week and the establishment of the hisbah portfolio to deal with public complaints about public maladministration.
The controversies preceding the Al-Ma置nah atrocities include issues such as the tudung, karaoke, segregation of sexes at supermarkets, JAIS arrests in Selangor and concerts while controversies subsequent to the arms heists and killings were the unisex saloon ban and the ban on women from taking part in the national Quran recital competition.
Barisan Alternative leaders must give serious consideration to the sentiments
expressed by a letter to yesterday痴 Malaysiakini, which said:
"As a citizen, I am concerned about what I perceive as corruption, favouritism and nepotism in high circles, prejudices and the denial of basic human rights. But between PAS and Umno, I must confess that I feel more comfortable with the latter.
"Though Umno may have corrupt practices, it does preach moderation and tolerance and does not curb all rights while PAS, I am afraid, will just go overboard and impose its interpretations of Islam, some of which are to my mind rather terrible (such as the death penalty for apostasy) and extreme, on others. To be sure, Umno is no saint but I think I'll be more comfortable with the devil than with a fanatic."
At the second Malaysia-Australia Conference in Canberra, an UMNO participant said that PAS would become a real threat to UMNO if it could show that it is liberal, tolerant and open-minded and allay the fears of Malaysians like the letter-writer that it is obscurantist, extremist and fanatical. However, the opposite has happened in the eight months since the last general election, with one controversy after another raising poignant questions about PAS commitment to the empowerment of women and minorities and its compatibility to human rights and cultural pluralism.
Although PAS can argue that certain measures it has introduced affect Muslims only and should be the sole concern of the Muslim community, it is not possible to maintain such a watertight compartmentalisation of the different religious communities in a plural society like Malaysia and non-Malay and non-Muslim communities are fully entitled to draw adverse inferences and perceptions about the politics of PAS from these incidents.
The Barisan Alternative will never become a tenable and viable alternative to Barisan National if it cannot meet the aspirations of Malaysians for an open, fair and tolerant plural society, especially as over 40 per cent of the Malaysian population are non-Muslims and the majority of Muslims support the ideas of liberal Islam which upholds justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
This is why I said in my media statement of 25th July 2000 that Barisan Alternative leaders from the various opposition parties will have to address this scenario urgently. Barisan Nasional leaders, however, must ask themselves whether they are acting in the national interest when they are prepared to undermine international confidence in Malaysia痴 economy and polity just to score political points against the Barisan Alternative by irresponsibly politicising the Al-Ma置nah issue.