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Abdullah’s somnambulant governance – another example which is also pertinent to the problem of increasing religious polarization in Malaysia, worst under any Prime Minister

Media Statement         
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Parliament, Friday): On Wednesday, I asked in Parliament whether the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was crafting a new form of governance – somnambulant governance. Oxford Dictionary defines “somnambulism” as “sleepwalking”.

I posed this question when Abdullah’s public response to the proposal by the Malaysian Indian Youth Council (MIYC) for the establishment of a department for Non-Muslim Affairs to handle sensitive issues pertaining to religion resulted in two extraordinary developments:

Firstly, producing three different newspaper headlines the next day – which the government was setting up such a department, to the government studying the proposal and an outright dismissal of the proposal as “not necessary”.

Secondly, his “on-the-run” Cabinet appointments of MCA President Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting as Minister for Buddhist Affairs, MIC President Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu as Minister for Hindu Affairs and President of United Pasokmomogun Murut Organisation (UPKO) as Minister for Christian Affairs – which rate as the most highly-kept secret of the Abdullah administration as it is not only the 26 million Malaysians and the various religious organizations directly involved who are not aware of such Cabinet appointments.

I had congratulated one of the Ministerial trios on Wednesday for his additional Cabinet responsibilities but he was as embarrassed as he did not know how to react to the Prime Minister’s announcement when he knew nothing about it!

I will give another example of Abdullah’s somnambulant governance which is also pertinent to the problem of increasing religious polarization in Malaysia, worst under any Prime Minister in the 50-year history of the nation.

Seven months ago, I had written a blog “Strange, stranger and strangest” on the sudden cancellation of the International Muslim-Christian dialogue – the unique annual series of Building Bridges Conference organized by Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury which brings together Christian and Muslim scholars of international reputation in a seminar examining major themes of current interest and importance from a religious perspective.

I had raised in Parliament the last-minute cancellation of the Building Bridges 2007 Conference in Kuala Lumpur from May 7-11 in Parliament on May 10, 2007 during the debate on the interim report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and National Service, describing it as “a big blow to our international reputation as a successful and model multi-religious nation”.

I had said during the debate in Parliament:

“The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi goes to international forums to preach the virtues of inter-religious dialogue but at home, the government is not prepared to allow an international inter-religious conference to be held.

“In the country, we also do not encourage the holding of inter-religious dialogue involving Muslim and non-Muslim religions, limiting inter-religious dialogue more and more only among the non-Muslim faiths themselves.

“This will not contribute to inter-religious understanding and national integration.

“Malaysia is a multi-religious nation but religion had never been a flashpoint of division, disunity and discord in our society until the recent years.”

The Prime Minister then broke his silence and said that the international Building Bridges Muslim-Christian dialogue had not been cancelled but postponed because he had to attend to some urgent matters that coincided with the seminar which was scheduled for May 7-11, 2007.

He said he did not want the inter-religious conference to proceed without him.

Abdullah said: “I have an important role to play in the conference and I don’t want it to be held when I am not around.” The government would have to find another suitable date for the international inter-religious dialogue.

This provoked my “Strange, Stranger and Strangest” blog for the following grounds:

Strange because when news first broke in London Times on May 10, 2007 that there had been a “last-minute cancellation” of Building Bridges Conference in Malaysia, nobody knew its reason despite numerous attempts by various persons and bodies responsible for organizing it to seek explanation from the authorities. The international Muslim-Christian dialogue was cancelled with just a short two-week notice although it was mooted a year ago causing great disruptions as many international participants had finalized their flight arrangements.

Stranger because when I raised the last-minute cancellation in Parliament on the very same day, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Maximus Ongkili could not respond as he knew nothing about it although he is a member of the Cabinet.

Strangest because no date has yet been fixed for the “postponed” international Muslim-Christian dialogue – which was really unthinkable, raising questions about the Prime Minister’s seriousness in “walking the talk” to promote inter-religious dialogue in international forums.

Now the truth is out and the cat is out of the bag. The last-minute abortion of the Building Bridges Conference 2007 in Kuala Lumpur was no “postponement” but “cancellation” – as the 2007 Building Bridges Conference was held in Singapore on December 6, 2007 where the Archbishop of Canterbury was the keynote speaker who gave a lecture on why social cohesion needs religion.

The Building Bridges Conference 2007, which follows from similar seminars in London, Qatar, Sarajevo and Washington, was hosted by the Department of Malay Studies, the Religion Research Cluster, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and the University Scholars Programme all based at the National University of Singapore.

The Prime Minister should explain why he could not find the time in the whole of 2007 to fit the Building Bridges Conference into his schedule so that he could participate in the inter-faith dialogue in Malaysia.

Or has the prestigious international Muslim-Christian dialogue been banned without having to use the dirty word “ban” altogether – a manifestation of somnambulant governance?


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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