The nation is at a crossroads now: we are faced with a choice between going down a more conservative route to religion, which we could alter the long-accepted character of public life in the nation, or we could adopt a more enlightened approach to Islam.
The conservative approach took on a worrying turn with the tabling of Hadi’s bill in Parliament aided by an Umno deputy minister helping the private member’s bill to leapfrog over government matters. This happened at around the time when Swiss private bank BSI in Singapore was ordered to close and when the real owners of PetroSaudi were revealed in the foreign media. The effect of fast-tracking Hadi’s bill was to partially divert attention from the 1MDB scandal.
A more enlightened approach has been evident in Tunisia, where the Ennahda party is ditching political Islam and refashioning itself as a party of Muslim democrats. Among the three parties contesting in the two by-elections, it is Amanah which carries the most hope of adopting a more enlightened approach. This is why it must be bolstered by a strong showing in the two by-elections so that Malaysians will be presented with an alternative, more progressive approach to religion in public life.
So for me, this is where the significance in the by-elections in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar lies, quite apart from voters making it clear they reject what has transpired in the 1MDB scandal.
That said, the ‘alternative’ Pakatan development model pursued in a place by Penang has left many feeling uneasy. Think of the excessive high-end property development, the lack of protection for the hills and seas, and the fundamentally flawed Penang transport masterplan proposals.
Nonetheless, these two upcoming by-elections should be seen as a test whether Amanah would be encouraged to pursue a more enlightened and progressive alternative approach to Islam. A strong showing for the party will force Umno and Pas to reconsider their own conservative positions.
This is why it is essential for Amanah to put up a robust performance.