The politics of Penanti

Translation by Shanon Shah (
AMONG the main concerns of the Malay-language press from the week of 20 to 26 April 2009 were the Penanti by-election, Islamic laws, and defending the monarchy.

On 20 April, Utusan Malaysia’s Hassan Mohd Noor said in his Selak column that the resignation of Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin as Penanti state assemblyperson was no surprise.
In his piece titled PRK (pilihanraya kecil): Pengundi Penanti menanti keputusan BN, Hassan said rumours about Fairus’s impending resignation started circulating in mid-2008.
Fairus “The rumours were strengthened when on 31 Aug 2008, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) adviser (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim admonished Fairus for hardly going to the ground to solve the rakyat’s problems,” he said.
In its 20 April editorial, Demokrasi tidak patut menyusahkan rakyat, Utusan Malaysia accused Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) of “not thinking about serving the rakyat” and “wanting to waste the rakyat’s money through by-elections”.
“PKR should not make fools of the rakyat with one by-election after another that they themselves have engineered,” said the paper. The paper seemed to lean towards endorsing the idea of the Barisan Nasional (BN) not contesting the seat.
“If the BN does not contest, this can be a step to ‘cool’ down the country’s political temperature,” it said.
Berita Harian’s Fazli Abdullah said in his analysis on the same day that Anwar had “lied to the voters in Penanti” when he promised the seat would not be vacated before the 13th general election.
In the piece titled BN mesti teguh hadapi muslihat PKR di Penanti, Fazli wrote: “Based on this scenario, it is clear PKR is facing internal problems that are really pressuring Anwar to the point the Penanti seat has now been vacated.”

Syariah not trivial

On 24 April, Berita Harian led its front page with the cabinet decision that if one spouse converted to another religion, the children would remain in the common religion at the time of marriage. On 25 April, Sinar Harian reported in Pertubuhan Peguam Syarie tolak keputusan Kabinet that more than 100 syariah lawyers associations were opposed to the cabinet decision.
“We disagree … because this violates the rights of the parties that have embraced Islam,” the paper reported Malaysian Syarie Lawyers Association president Mohamad Isa Salip as saying.
Meanwhile, on 22 April, Utusan Malaysia reported in its article Ako dihukum penjara on popular actor Ako Mustapha’s prison sentence and fine imposed by the Gombak Timur Syariah Court for the offence of khalwat. According to the report, Ako had appealed for a lighter sentence, citing that this was his first offence and he had not repeated it, and that he had repented.
However, the paper reported that judge Wan Mahyuddin Wan Muhammad’s judgment said the offence committed by Ako could be a bad influence on others if a severe punishment was not imposed.
“As a Muslim, the accused should give a good example to society either within or outside his acting career so that he does not tarnish the purity of Islam,” Wan Mahyuddin reportedly said.
The paper said after the judgment, Ako looked “depressed” and “shocked”, and said to the media, “I hope you’re all entertained.”
Meanwhile, in a 24 April news report, Kerajaan tunggu cadangan Jakim, Berita Harian quoted Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom as saying the government was awaiting feedback from the Islamic Department Malaysia (Jakim) on possible amendments to the syariah laws.
“Often in the punishments, only fines are imposed. Therefore, this becomes a factor that increases syariah crimes because society sees syariah law as too relaxed,” the minister reportedly said.
All these seemingly disparate issues appeared to be tied together in the Foundation for the Propagation of Islam (Yadim)’s Wacana Islam column in Utusan Malaysia. Opening the 24 April article, Satu Malaysia dalam konteks toleransi beragama, Yadim’s Mohd Shauki Abd Majid wrote: “Islam … is a torch that lights every corner of thought in society, regardless of race and religion.”
He went on to say: “Freedom of religion is not forbidden by Islam and is every individual’s right. Only what is different is that Islam does not allow its followers to change their religion because Islam itself is already complete and perfect.”
Defending the sultanate
In Berita Harian’s 21 April editorial, Tindakan tegas elak kes hina Raja daripada berleluasa, the paper was quick to praise Sultan Azlan Shah’s “rulers are above politics” stand.
“The administration system based on the Malay sultanate has existed for 600 years and succeeded in developing a glorious culture and civilisation,” said the paper. “Therefore, we welcome the authorities’ steps to take action against any citizen who insults the rulers just as what happened to certain individuals recently for insulting the Perak sultan.”
In Utusan Malaysia’s editorial on the same day, Belum terlewat untuk perbetulkan keadaan, the paper warned citizens not to assume that the constitutional monarch is merely a symbol without any power.
“Look at what is happening in Thailand now. Before, it was a peaceful country with a respected king. But now things have changed.”
The paper said the rakyat clearly would not accept the attitudes of newly elected representatives who feel that “they are never wrong and possess immunity”. These representatives went unnamed in the article.
“It is not too late for us to remedy the situation. The country is facing an economic crisis, therefore reduce extreme political activities,” the paper advised.
Utusan’s Awang Selamat, in his Bisik-Bisik column on 22 April, elaborated on Perak Regent Raja Dr Nazrin Shah’s concern about malicious publications on politics with unverified facts.
“The way to identify these books is easy,” said Awang. “They are usually published to coincide with certain political events; their contents are not based on fact and are occasionally downright slanderous.”
Awang did not identify any specific titles or authors to support his claim.