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At a party-political campaign meeting in Cameron Highlands in support of the UMNO candidate, PAS president Hadi Awang insisted that it was the religious duty of Muslims to vote only for Muslims so that they could bring an “Islamic voice” to parliament. He urged Muslim voters to trust only Muslims to represent them because non-Muslims apparently have no concept of sin and heavenly reward. Presumably, that makes them unfit to sit in parliament.

Hadi, of course, is a bitter foe of the DAP (although he was happy to embrace them when it suited him). His comments, however, speak to wider issues on race and religion in Malaysia and cannot be allowed to let stand.

Where was the Islamic voice?

In the first place, if an “Islamic voice” in parliament is needed, Hadi and his cohort of Islamist politicians are hardly the ones to represent it.

For years Hadi and the whole bunch of PAS and UMNO members of parliament aided and abetted the cover-up of the 1MDB scandal, the biggest scandal in our history. Billions of ringgits of taxpayers’ money, money belonging to the voters of Cameron Highlands, Muslim and non-Muslim, were looted and squandered on high living, debauchery and partying all over the world. Expensive champagne, paid for with taxpayer funds, was flowing in distant playgrounds while the voters in Cameron Highlands had to struggle to earn a decent living.

Where was the “Islamic voice” of Hadi when all this was going on? Instead of speaking up for the voters and defending their rights in parliament, Hadi was defending the kleptocrats and dismissing the 1MDB scandal as fake news.

A concept of sin without integrity

As a multiracial, non-religious political party, the DAP, of course, takes no position on concepts of sin and heavenly reward. Nevertheless, the DAP has a far better track record when it comes to integrity, justice and public service than religiously-inclined parties like UMNO and PAS. Indeed, it was this commitment to integrity, justice and public service that led the DAP on a long and lonely quest to expose the 1MDB scandal while UMNO and PAS were doing their best to cover it up or look the other way.

Of what use is a concept of sin and heavenly reward if it does not lead to integrity, honesty and respect for truth here on earth? UMNO was rejected by the people because it came to be seen as a highly corrupt party that was more interested in earthly rewards than heavenly ones. Did the millions in cash and jewellery found in Najib’s house reveal nothing to Hadi? Even now, as the new Pakatan government uncovers scandal after scandal, PAS keeps insisting that UMNO is the right party to represent the people simply because it is a Muslim one.

Is Hadi so blinded by his disdain for non-Malays and non-Muslims that he’d rather have a corrupt and discredited Malay-Muslim party in power than a clean and honest coalition of Muslims and non-Muslims in office?

And let’s not forget that the biggest victims of UMNO’s abuse of power and the conniving silence of PAS were the Malays themselves. Even cherished institutions like Tabong Haji, LTAT and FELDA that were set up specifically to help Malay-Muslims were mismanaged or plundered by UMNO cronies. Nothing was sacred to them. All the talk about “bangsa, agama and negara” was simply a cover to enrich themselves. 


Amazingly, after suggesting that non-Muslims were not fit to represent the citizens of Cameron Highlands in parliament, Hadi had the audacity to appeal to non-Muslims to support the UMNO candidate because UMNO “has already proven that it respects their rights.”

Is Hadi delusional? Has he forgotten that under UMNO our democratic space was vastly reduced, our economy was mismanaged, our sovereignty was endangered through unsustainable levels of debt, and the country itself became the world’s biggest kleptocracy?

Hadi himself has persistently advocated a kind of religious apartheid state where non-Muslims would be barred from holding high office, reduced to “dhimmitude” in their own country and subject to a form of Sharia law that is so harsh that even Muslim countries shy away from it.

Hadi has done nothing to earn our trust and everything to earn our disgust. He’s the last person that anyone should listen to when it comes to casting their vote. If anything, voters can’t go wrong rejecting any candidate that Hadi endorses.

Hiding behind religion

At the end of the day, our nation’s interests are surely better served by people with integrity and a proven track record of public service rather than by people who may have a concept of sin but are utterly lacking in integrity and a commitment to good governance and respect for diversity. Better non-religious politicians committed to serving the people than hypocritical ones hiding behind religion.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 22nd January 2019]