MARCH 15 — G25 Malaysia observes the recent political developments with growing concern that the country is sliding towards the polarisation of its politics based on race and religion. Although religion is a major social and politically sensitive issue in several Muslim majority countries, the May 2018 political change, along with the emergence of the middle and moderate society, have sparked hopes that Malaysia would be able to move past extreme identity-based politics.

The events in the past few months, however, appear to indicate that politics will remain the same in Malaysia, with the “Ketuanan” syndrome dominating all policy discussions. Ethno-centric discourses also point to the scourge of nepotism, as was evident in the recent Semenyih by-elections.

The political manipulation in our country is evident in the knee jerk reaction to the Women’s March last week. To appease the conservative groups, the police is launching an investigation on the organisers of the march. The main demands of the organisers are about women's rights, but the LGBT issue has been blown out of proportion to justify the police investigation. This will certainly leave a big question mark as to whether we are really in #MalaysiaBaharu.

G25 hopes that the institutional reforms that have been promised in the Pakatan Harapan election manifesto will materialise soon. This will provide a measure of hope that the country will be able to deal with the issues of race and religion openly. It will also give comfort that however big the political differences, the voices of reason and moderation will have a place at the legislative, judicial and administrative levels of government.

The experience in mature democracies demonstrates that strong and independent institutions are key structures in fostering a vibrant democracy which transcends political barriers and cultivates a consensus on the major policy issues. Free and open dialogue between the people and the government will allow moderate views to be heard.

Malaysia needs to show tolerance towards the institutions representing the public conscience. The institutions of the media, academia, civil society and NGOs should be encouraged and empowered to play a constructive role in providing feedback on the sensitive issues affecting race relations.

The government needs to remove the restrictive laws so that the journalists, intellectual community, and social activists can speak up freely without fear. By confronting the extremist agenda through open discussion, Malaysia will be better placed to find the solutions for our national unity, peace, and stability.

Time is of the essence. We G25 call upon the government to focus its attention on putting all the major institutional reforms into place in the next one year as this is most important to assure the people that whatever happens in politics, we will have a good government to keep the country running smoothly, with the people feeling secure and safe about the future.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.