PUTRAJAYA, Jan 27 — Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today welcomed Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) call for a bipartisan dialogue on national issues and said the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition should take up the offer.
He said the proposal — mooted by opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim yesterday — was a proactive move on the part of the federal opposition as the country faces growing uneasiness over various hot button issues of late.
“This has never happened before. This shows their (opposition’s) openness to programmes that need to be carried out together by the ruling government and opposition,” Ahmad Zahid said at a press conference after his ministry’s monthly gathering here.
“This proposal should be taken up by leaders in Umno and BN,” he added.
Yesterday at a youth dialogue, Anwar repeated PR’s call for a bipartisan dialogue seeking a national consensus on various issues that have driven a wedge in racial and religious relations in the country.
He said that issues such as the ongoing dispute over the use of the word “Allah” and the rising cost of living, end up being used by “desperate NGOs and politicians” to “hijack” the nation and tear apart society.
“We cannot go on at this rate. We need national consensus on the ‘Allah’ issue, on corruption, the economy, the rising cost of living, on racial and religious tensions,” the Permatang Pauh MP said.
Ahmad Zahid, however, said today that it is best left to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to take the lead in deciding how BN will respond to the dialogue offer.
“In terms of party to party (talks), we leave it to the wisdom of the PM who is also the BN chairman and Umno president.
“It is up to the PM on whether it will be discussed in the cabinet meeting or any other meetings,” he said.
Temperatures have escalated of late, with religious tensions flaring up again following a January 2 raid by the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) on a bible distributor in Petaling Jaya, where over 300 copies of Malay and Iban language bibles were confiscated for containing the word “Allah”.
Last week, protesters at an Umno-organised rally were reported to have held up banners threatening a recurrence of the deadly May 13, 1969 racial riots over an alleged slight by an opposition lawmaker against Najib.
On a separate issue, Ahmad Zahid today called for calm from all parties over a recent spate of banners put up in Penang depicting Jesus Christ as the son of “Allah”.
“I hope that leaders of NGOs, be it Muslim or Christian, to be calm. Don’t make this out to be such a big issue that it ends up becoming a real problem.
“I urge any individuals, or associations or groups not to carry out such provocation. What is important is to create religious harmony,” he said.
Yesterday, banners that read, “Allah is Great, Jesus is the son of Allah” were found put up at several churches in Penang.
No one has so far come forward claiming responsibility for the banners, which sparked a flurry of police reports from church groups and political parties in the island state.