Lambasting ‘ultra liberals’, Rafizi says Wan Azizah can’t talk about child marriage all day long

Rafizi insists PKR wants to ban child marriage and the issue was only a question of 'process'. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Rafizi insists PKR wants to ban child marriage and the issue was only a question of 'process'. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 — Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was merely trying to provide context to the high-profile child bride case in Kelantan and cannot solely expend her attention on that topic, Rafizi Ramli has said in response to critics he dubbed “ultra liberals”.

Rafizi said, if anything, the deputy prime minister and women’s minister gave too many details to provide context for the case of a 41-year-old rubber trader taking an 11-year-old Thai girl as his third wife in Gua Musang, Kelantan.

“Just because she wears ‘tudung’, she's not your liberal champion, the social activists jump and imply as if she's a Malay conservative who supports underage marriage. That's not fair on her,” Rafizi told Malay Mail in an exclusive interview here.

The former Pandan MP insisted PKR wants to ban child marriage and the issue was only a question of “process”, such as the need to amend state Islamic enactments and other legislation.

“Once she made a decision and the process is ongoing, I wouldn't want my deputy prime minister to just talk about child marriage and chase everyone about child marriage every day, no matter what the ultra liberals want to hear.

“Because ultra liberals are not responsible for the poor; they just focus on the one issue,” said Rafizi.

He explained that Dr Wan Azizah also had to focus on other responsibilities, especially looking after the well being of the poor.

Dr Wan Azizah has been receiving flak from civil society over the way she handled the Kelantan child bride case as no action has been taken against the groom so far, who was merely fined RM1,800 for committing polygamy and marrying without court permission.

The women, family, and community development minister told Dewan Rakyat last week that an investigation by the Attorney-General’s Chambers would peruse all angles to build a “water tight” case.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya, an incumbent PKR central leadership council member who has continuously criticised Dr Wan Azizah over the child marriage case, said Tuesday that Malaysians wanted “answers” and “real action” to protect the 11-year-old victim.

Rafizi said Dr Wan Azizah, who was formerly PKR president before her husband Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim won uncontested in part polls, is instead in tune with the Malay majority’s way of thinking.

“But certainly to some extreme activists, her wearing ‘tudung’ and more Malay-looking in her outlook and appearance will always be seen as biased towards more Malay conservative.

“That's the difficulty that we always have to balance. PKR has to appeal to all,” he said.

Rafizi stressed that PKR had to bring everyone to the “moderate centre”.

“And the moderate centre behaves like Wan Azizah. The moderate centre does not behave like very vocal social activists who want outright political condemnation,” he added.

On other issues of race and religion, such as recognising the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) in Chinese independent high schools, Rafizi said engaging those who were against it was crucial.

“If it means sitting down and addressing those concerns on part of Malay groups who are not happy with it, we have to do it,” he said.

Rafizi said it was not that PKR was against “quick fixes”, but the party wanted to manage reactions from different people and avoid imposing a stand on issues that were sensitive to various ethnicities.

“Of all the parties, we know most because we have Malays, Chinese, Indians. It's very noisy in PKR,” he said.

Rafizi also said when push comes to shove, PKR could make a stand on issues as difficult as the right of non-Muslims to address god as “Allah”.

Pakatan Rakyat comprising PKR, DAP and PAS announced in 2014 that it had no problems with non-Muslims using the Arabic word as long as it was not misused.

“The issue of child marriage or UEC is smaller compared to the issue of the word ‘Allah’ last time,” said Rafizi.

“To basically put that issue (child marriage) as if it's the defining be all and end all of Keadilan or Wan Azizah when it comes to race and religion is blowing things out of proportion.”