|Li Fook Gao|
Before I go for some serious hitting, consider the following: Smoking is legal, but some shops ban smokers. So did they violate the Federal constitution for not allowing patrons to smoke there?
Shop owners argue that smoking causes pollution to other customers, therefore they ban it. Critics say they should not as it is a violation of human rights. They even rubbish claims of smoking being linked to lung cancer because the disease is also caused by other factors. They point out that many other shops do not ban smoking and there should be no exception. They claim people have freedom to emit smoke whenever and wherever they want. They somewhat suggest that non-smokers have the choice of whether to inhale the second hand smoke or simply hold their breath. For them, those who ban smoking are 'extremists'.
It took me a while before writing this piece. Should I be blunt or polite in hitting some senses back to a section of non-Muslims, especially the Chinese community, with regards to the PAS-led Kelantan state government's decision to consolidate its 20-year ban on gambling?
The ban on gambling activities has always been there, since before the existence of Pakatan Rakyat. So why did it now make it into news headlines?
And some even went to the extent of urging PAS to reconsider the ban, or "risk not marching to Putrajaya".
And because of one non-issue that has been propelled into something big, it has become convenient to heap all the problems faced by PR on PAS. This is confounded by the fact that PAS had just lost four by-elections in a row. One may even add that they have lost every general election for the last 50 years! But does this mean the party's consistency and principled stand should be thrown away?
These same 'turbaned people' who some call 'hardliners' are the same people who have continued to oppose the government through thick and thin, way before non-Muslims suddenly woke up from their 50 years of blind support for BN, which in turn encouraged UMNO's metamorphosis into a monster.
Why do the Chinese support Pakatan Rakyat?
They hate MCA and Gerakan for not having the ball to reprimand their big brother UMNO who continues to make decisions against the wishes of the Chinese community.
Sustaining Chinese support
DAP has tried to keep this factor in mind, to sustain this hatred against MCA and Gerakan and thereby consolidate Chinese support for the opposition, often by openly reprimanding the Malay-dominated PAS on any issue.
They do it publicly to prove to MCA, Gerakan and the Chinese community that they will not kow-tow to anyone, gaining applause from the Chinese. This washing of dirty linen in public goes a long way towards getting political mileage among MCA and Gerakan's vote bank.
When reprimanded by its Malay partners, DAP leaders have often been quick to justify their action as a sign of their courage to speak out. Never mind that more harm has been done to PAS, whose win will be crucial in determining whether or not PR gets to go to Putrajaya.
It appears that a section of the Chinese politicians are taking advantage by repeatedly asking PAS to change, change, and change in order to suit their personal habits and lifestyle. These politicians knew too well that doing the same to UMNO would invite threats.
Hence, many agree that PAS has been heading to the middle in their cooperation within Pakatan Rakyat.
Three years after the 2008 general elections, the Malays' protest vote against UMNO seem to be reverting back to Barisan Nasional. As a result, PAS's grip on its traditional vote bank is fast losing.
To assure the non-Muslims, PAS adapts the slogan "PAS for All", telling them that Islam is fair to all races, unlike UMNO-BN's 1Malaysia/Ketuanan Melayu irony. PAS has always come to DAP’s rescue in times the latter finds itself at the mercy of UMNO ulama. In all this, PAS has taken the huge risk of further losing Malay support to UMNO's propaganda.
PAS has continously emphasised it commitment in Pakatan Rakyat, but to expect it to dump their Islamic ideology is to overstep the boundary.
Holding PAS to ransom
The recent brouhaha created over the ban on lottery in Kelantan serves as a good example of how some non-Muslims tried to hold PAS to ransom for upholding something a principle which they held way before non-Muslims understood the monster that was BN.
Some ill-informed observers even go to the extent of attributing PAS's recent losses in Merlimau and Kerdau to its ban on gambling in Kelantan, completely ignorant of the fact that such a policy has kept BN at bay for the past 20 years.
Ther term 'hardline' is subjective. DAP can also be called 'hardline' from the Muslim point of view, and this can also be the reason why Malays, whose vote is ever crucial, are actually ditching Pakatan Rakyat.
Support comes with understanding. Just because you voted for a certain party, it does not mean the party should be held to ransom. It is this kind of understanding that has kept both DAP and PAS alive for decades despite the odds stacked against them.
Heavily beaten in 1999 (DAP) and 2004 (PAS), both parties held on, and then in 2008, Malaysians suddenly looked for them upon realising who they had been voting for in the last half-a-century.
No party can claim credit over their gains in 2008, though credit is due to Anwar Ibrahim who managed to pull the opposition together.
While PR's component parties are still intact, it must be remembered that protest votes are no longer such nowadays, what with the way PR handled itself in public.
Prior to 2008, Kelantan was the only opposition state in Malaysia. Gambling was, and still is, banned, but some shops sold them illegally. It would now seem that DAP had eaten the bait by UMNO and MCA by making a fuss about the ban.
The current controversy stems from anti anti-PAS blogger from Kelantan who reported that lottery tickets were still being sold illegally in Kota Bharu, a claim highlighted by UMNO in the state assembly, and for which PAS decided to take action to enforce the law.
Then came MCA, screaming about their gambling rights in the dailies they control, baiting DAP to jump into the fire. And jump the DAP did. After all, the 'courage' to speak up has been the deciding factor for Chinese support.
Instead of countering the attack, PAS reacted by calling on a meeting among top PR leadership to look for an amicable solution. Even then, Selangor DAP issued a warning to PAS, giving the cliched excuse that “If PAS pushes this further, it’s not going to help them win more Malay votes and it might cost them non-Malay votes.”
In other words, it means: “You are going to lose Malay votes anyway, but don’t kill our Chinese votes too!”. Again, never mind about PAS’s support base which is crucial for the march to Putrajaya.
UMNO would soon be going to town crying “PAS kuda DAP” to tell unsuspecting Malays that unlike UMNO, which controls everything in BN, PAS and Anwar could not even weigh in on small matters such as this. Such propaganda have worked really well recently.
It takes only a 5-10 percent swing in Malay votes to present Kelantan and even Penang, that fort of DAP, to BN in the next general election.
As far as support for the opposition is concern, Kelantan has proved time and again. It would be silly to now ask for the state government to bend its policies when it had been managed well both economically and politically by PAS, keeping BN at bay for two decades.
In the gambling issue, some DAP leaders appear to have stepped into uncharted waters. It is therefore no suprise that many Muslim supporters of Pakatan Rakyat find it unacceptable.
DAP should not get too big-headed either. The Chinese support for PR was not merely due to their effort. It has more to do with UMNO's actions. One can also argue that sustaining Chinese support has been due to PAS's movement towards the middle, not DAP's 'hardline' modus operandi.
By the same logic, one can also conclude that PR's dwindling Malay support has been mainly due to DAP’s hardline policy rather than PAS's softening of its 'hardline' stance on many issues.
No matter how flawed, both arguments may augur well with the Malays.
If one follows the debates on cyberspace, one gets the impression that gambling is so ingrained in the Chinese psyche that by just banning it will make them vote for UMNO!
If that is the case, then go ahead, vote and gamble. And while at it, gamble your future away too.
To oppose the eradication of a universally-recognised social ill is not justified. The story of the smokers' right to pollute and spread diseases is just one example of how small minds are at work.
Having said that, the realities in Malaysia are such that change must come gradually, creeping throughsocial and communal structures. A nationwide ban on gambling may be unwise, as much as it is unwise for Kelantan not to ban gambling now.
If Chinese opposition leaders insist on maintaining UMNO-BN’s legacy of the gambling industry for eternity, will not the same argument justify the perpetuation of the NEP. Why not, if majority of the Malays want such an unjust policy to continue, it can be argued.
One must know to pick one's battle. One can't have the cake and eat it too. Our Muslim brothers in PR must also breathe easier by staying in the coalition. For those who chide PAS for focusing on what they term "petty issues" instead of corruption, then pray, why then do you make a big fuss out of it?
If such an issue could drive you to punch your fist in the air crying "injustice", then it is anybody's guess who is being petty.