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Ban on “Allah” for non-Muslims and stop-work on world’s tallest Mazu statue – where are the moderates in Cabinet and government to lead the fight against fanatics so that extremism will not prevail?

Media Statement        
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Parliament, Saturday): In his speech at the Christmas high-tea organised by the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi made a stirring call to moderates to lead the fight against fanatics or extremism will prevail.

He said: “If the moderates do not speak up, they will allow the extremists to occupy centre stage. And then, extremism will be seen as the religious or national approach in our country.”

However, from the continued ban on the use of “Allah” for non-Muslims and the stop-work on the world’s tallest Mazu statue in Kudat, Malaysians are entitled to ask: Where are the moderates in Cabinet and government to lead the fight against fanatics so that extremism will not prevail?

How can the Cabinet justify the total ban on the use of the word “Allah”, by surreptitiously inserting as an unwritten condition for the renewal of the printing permit of the Catholic weekly Herald, when for 50 years through four previous Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Mahathir, the use of the word by Christians and Sikhs had not caused religious misunderstanding, tension or conflict?

It is the Cabinet decision to impose a total ban on the use of the word “Allah” for non-Muslim religions, trampling on the fundamental right of freedom of religion for non-Muslims, which is exacerbating inter-religious relations in plural Malaysia.

Why are there no moderates in the Cabinet to hold the middle-ground or have the extremists and fanatics now outnumber the moderates among the Ministers?

Last Sunday, DAP MP for Seputeh Teresa Kok and I made a special trip to Kudat to gain first-hand understanding of the genesis for the Mazu statue controversy, why there had been such a failure of good governance in all three tiers of governance, local, state and federal, in the mishandling of the issue making Malaysia an international laughing-stock.

I was very glad and relieved that the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who was also in Sabah on the same day, touched on the subject in Tuaran. Najib expressed the government’s hope that former Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat could settle the Mazu statue dispute amicably without going to court. I immediately welcomed Najib’s statement.

However, after the government “somersault” in the Herald issue, renewing the permit but coming out with an unwritten condition that it could not use the word “Allah” which also infringes on the freedom of religion of the Sikhs, I have no confidence that Najib’s Tuaran statement signified the triumph of the moderates over the extremists in Cabinet and government.

My negative vibrations have been fortified by one former Chief Minister attacking another former Chief Minister over the issue, when they should be standing united to hold the middle ground to uphold the constitutional right of Sabahans and Malaysians on freedom of religion by continuing with the construction of the 108-ft Mazu statue in Kudat.

Yesterday’s Daily Express reported an attack on Chong Kat Kiat by Datuk Yong Teck Lee (both former Sabah Chief Ministers), with the latter accusing the former of not being prudent as “to aggravate the situation and raise the political tension by making harsh and hostile statements (as reported in newspapers on Jan 1)."

The Daily Express report “Accept in good faith: Yong” reported:

Yong, also a former Chief Minister, said the continued attacks by Chong on the Government and its leaders had only made the situation worse. He said it was also interesting that Chong has linked the so-called "Sipadan incident" to the Mazu project.

He said by opening up another issue, Chong now says that the Mazu project was, after all, not just about the Mazu project and there was a wider dimension. "Was Sipadan the one and only issue? Or, was Sipadan, an after-thought? If any, what were the other issues that Chong had with the Government and the BN going back to a few years?" Yong asked.

He said these were questions which answers would shed more background on how the Mazu project has turned out today.

What was the cause of Yong’s attack on Chong? This was the Daily Express report “Najib fully aware I exhausted all means: Chong” on Chong’s response to Najib’s statement in Tuaran, explaining that he had no choice but to institute legal proceedings, viz:

"Not that I want to be nasty and go to court. The suit that I took is not simply for the sake of main main saja. I have no choice kerana saya kena paksa. I have no choice but to seek legal redress kerana the State Government through the Kudat Town Board (KTB) withdrew atau revoked the KTB's approval to the Mazu project under a specific provision of Section 15 of the Town Planning Ordinance.

"And under Section 16 of the same ordinance, whoever is aggrieved by the refusal of a permission or by the making of a prohibition must within 28 days from the date of receiving notice of the decision, appeal to the High Court against the decision by notice in writing," he told a press conference at his office at Alamesra here.

On another newspaper's heading "Govt Hopes Chong Will Settle Mazu Issue Amicably: DPM", Chong said it is not the Government's hopes but actually the hope of DPM.

"If it is the Government's hopes, sudah selesaibah. Betulkah? Ini ada salah print sikit. Patut the DPM hopes. But DPM is not wrong because he has been fully briefed by me."

Chong said since the letter of revocation was already issued to him on Nov. 15, 2007, it is imperative that he act accordingly.

"Sekiranya, saya tidak ambil tindakan, ertinya saya salah, (If I don't take action, it means I am wrong); ertinya I admitted something wrong with my project. That is why I am appealing to the court."

On Sunday, Najib said the issue of the Mazu statue can be resolved if the parties involved discuss it among themselves, instead of going through the courts.

Chong reiterated that he has been sabar (patient) for more one-and-a-half years. "If there is any BN leader in Malaysia who is really that patient, then Chong Kah Kiat is the man. If I wanted to be nasty, jahat, nakal, I would have taken the Government to court long time ago.

"I never did that. I have got letters and documents to prove how far and how wide I have gone through all this. You think I like to have this sort of problem? You think I like to give up my job?

"My message today is bukan saya seolah-olah main tunjuk lawa mau pergi court. Tidak, saya kena paksa kerana under Section 16, I only got 28 days to appeal against the decision.

"Kalau mau bincang, saya sudah bincang dengan banyak orang, KL and all this. Semua surat saya ada, semua dokumen saya ada. Not that saya tidak pernah buat perbincangan."

The former CM said he had not only been discussing but writing, pleading, begging everybody in the BN to see reason, to be rational and reasonable.

"I have already done everything within my means. What did I get in the end - a letter to cancel my project!

"For the record, I also met PM. PM came to LDP Congress on 11th Nov.

PM asked me to see him the following Wednesday. I went to his office. We had a very good meeting on 14th Nov, to be fair to Pak Lah. He was very good. Everything is done. But Pak Lah being a diplomat, you knowlah.

"After having successfully met the PM on 14th Nov, the State 'rewarded' me with a letter of revocation letter on 15th Nov, contrary to what PM told me. As a result of which, I have 28 days from the date I received (the letter) to go to court, failing which, that would mean I salah (wrong)."

On the Government's hope to bring the Mazu statue issue back to the negotiation table (instead of going through the court), Chong said it is not a question of negotiating.

"What is there to negotiate? It is a question of whether the Government's decision is right or wrong. Simple logic. If the decision (conveyed in a directive dated June 6, 2006 from the Local Government & Housing Ministry, ordering suspension of works on the project) and followed by a letter from the State Secretary on June 23, 2006 (ordering immediate stoppage of work) is correct and legal, why should the Government talk about compensation and relocating the site?" he asked.

"I know I am not wrong. I have all this while adhered to the law."

Answering a reporter on Federal leaders' stand, Chong said: "They have been very good and understanding, all I can say. I don't want to say much. But at the right time if I am forced to."

Asked why then did the State not give the approval, he replied:

"Personal... I have said that already. If you remember May 2006 Sipadan - that is how it started. Before Sipadan, my project is already completed (except for assembling the statue). It's all documented in the national and state papers. What was said, what was blasted, it's all thereÉall the statements from the State leadership including mine.

"Bulan satu buat kerja, bulan dua, bulan tiga, bulan empat, bulan lima buat kerja. All up already before this (Sipadan), in the open. Secara terbuka saya punya projek. Siap, sekarang mau assemble. After Sipadan, less than three weeks, my project was stoppedÉno one can run away from Sipadan. How otherwise can you explain?"

It is disgraceful and tragic that instead of the two former Sabah Chief Ministers standing on an united platform working for the completion of the world’s tallest Mazu statue at its original site in Kudat, as the 21 containers of granite carvings for the 108 ft Mazu statue had arrived and are lying idle in the Kota Kinablu port for the past 18 months, Yong Teck Lee is leading the attack on Chong Kah Kiat to oppose the Kudat Mazu project!

Is Yong Teck Lee with the moderates or the extremists in Sabah and Malaysia on the Kudat Mazu statue project?


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

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