Every time I engage in a discussion of the political developments in Malaysia, I cannot help but feel unsatisfied when it’s over. This feeling of discontent had made me at one point, shun any conversations about the arguments for and/or against the incumbent party and the ruling coalition that has stayed in power ever since Malaysia’s independence. There are many issues that I agree with, but there are also many others with which I do not. That being said, someone close to me once gave this statement that echoed in my thoughts recently which led me to write this, it goes as follows, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”.
The uprising of the opposition is healthy for any democratic society which would, in an ideal environment, create more accountability and restrict the conducts of leaders to the general will of the public. However, as I see it, politics in Malaysia is dangerously fragile and unhealthy, which goes against the conventional political wisdom. The reason, from my observation, is that parties have been using religion as a political weapon to give them a competitive edge for either challenging for power or achieving the status quo. In a country where Malays make up the bulk of the population and whereby most of the Malays are Muslims, a religious issue also becomes a racial one. It is almost safe to say that whichever candidate or party that can protect the rights of the Malays (thereby protecting the rights of Muslims) will hold office, which makes sense when the median voter will be a Malay (given that they are the majority in the country). As the opposition is spreading its influence, there is a rise in the tensions between the Malays and non-Malays (specifically, the Chinese and Indians).
Bearing in mind that a Malay will be the median voter (the voter that counts, the one that makes up the majority, imagine him/her to be in the 50+1 percentile of the population), both the ruling party and the opposition are eager to claim protection of the Malays’ rights where the former does so with more endeavour than the latter, sometimes resorting to bribery and intimidation to get their message across (acknowledging the fact that it does happen in the opposition as well). Because Islam is currently the main tool being used, Muslims naturally will be divided, and hence the Malays, one calling for equal treatment of the non-Malays as they too are citizens of Malaysia, another calling for Malay supremacy. The fuel of race based agenda is being spilt across the nation at an increasing rate as both coalitions go head to head in the pursuit of power, it only takes a spark from this racial friction to burn emotions at high enough temperatures that would mirror the infamous 13th May events. Any observer who has enough conversations with fellow Malaysians can foresee this happening unless the current trend is put to a halt. How do we go about doing this? What follows is my proposal as a solution to the problem.
Some sectors claim that democracy is incompatible with Islam and it is a concept that the Jews have created to divide and conquer the Muslims, while other sectors claim that the principles within the system are in harmony with the teachings of Islam. I position myself in the middle of these claims as both have valid points to be taken into consideration. Since Islam is the official religion of the state, I believe it should be made supreme and independent of political affiliations and bickering. Where in the USA the executive power is vested in the President and the legislative power in the Congress and the latter proposes and makes the law for the former to implement, this strikingly resembles the political practice during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) whereby the affairs of all the people were consulted with him and his companions for them to take into consideration. After his demise and due to the increasing population of both the Muslims and non-Muslims, the consultation were between the people and his companions which they would afterwards consult among themselves, in effect this truly represented the will of the people guided by the boundaries set by the Shariah.
In the current system and constitutional structure that we are currently in, it would be a far-fetched claim that we would be able to practice that which was during those times. Hence there is a need not to pursue the Caliphate system per se, but a modified one under democratic principles which would not only serve the interests of Muslims and Islam (which if practiced in the right way will protect the interests of non-Muslims as well) but also protect international relations which will have a detrimental effect on the economy should we choose to ignore it in this globalization era.
What I am proposing is for the consultative council (or Shura) have an elevated status in the system which would comprise of scholars that are well versed and credible to give out assessments and judgements on any aspects pertaining to the religion (we already have a ‘fatwa council’ that could represent this). Since Muslims believe that Islam is the word of God, it should be the ultimate source of knowledge and all others, including the many fields of sciences, are to be the branches of knowledge under Islam, rather than the other way round or viewed separately. There should be at least one member of the council in every state, so that through their respective departments/ministry, the people would have a link with the representatives to share their views and concerns which they would later on be able to discuss with the other members of the consultative body. How to elect these members is outside of the scope of this article and it is the hope that those readers would be able to further develop this idea to free itself from corruptive intentions and purposes.
Where do democratic principles play a role? As I have outlined the abovementioned, it should be made clear now that with such a consultative body/council protecting and serving the interests of Islam, the religion is made free from political agendas and thus not allowing it to be used as a means to divide the Muslims against themselves, and against non-Muslims. Political parties will then have to use socioeconomic policies to position themselves on the political spectrum and this will be the decisive factor of Malaysians choosing who they believe via the policies proposed, are better equipped pushing the country forward with economic growth and social equity. Once appointed, any policy the elected party comes up with to be implemented, must first be approved by the Shura whether it is in line with the Shariah and whether the public’s interests (maslahah) are taken care of. Only after the approval can the ruling party decide to use the bureaucrats to implement their preferred policies. And for the voters, they can use retrospective voting by looking at the state of the economy and society as a whole to decide whether or not the incumbent deserves to stay in power.
If Islam was made supreme and the consultative council’s power was to be elevated, not only will the rights of the Muslims be protected, the rights and concerns of the Malays would too. Divisiveness and racial problems would not be immediately solved, but it is a step towards that direction.
I acknowledge the fact that there are many details and technicalities yet to be covered, this is merely an idea developed with the sincere intentions of uniting Malaysians, and at the same time protecting the ‘Deen’. I have said it before, if I am unable to change the world, it is my hope that my short time here in this life would spark the minds of those who will.