By Tan Poh Kheng
The Perlis state assembly last week passed the amendment to Section 117(b) of the Administration of the Religion of Islam Enactment 2006, following which MCA’s Titi Tinggi assemblyman Khaw Hock Kong became the target of public wrath.
MCA has always been against this motion, but the party’s sole representative in the state assembly chose to walk out during the critical moment instead of decisively casting the “nay” vote.
There are only two non-Muslim reps in the 15-seat Perlis assembly. Even if these two reps were to vote against the amendment, they were not going to change the decision in any way, but at least a “nay” vote would reflect MCA’s attitude and stand on this issue.
Walking out of the assembly is a passive and irresponsible way of protesting.
The MCA central committee later accepted Khaw’s explanation on the walkout, however, they still felt he had not acted as per the party’s instruction to clearly express the party’s stand.
As a result, MCA had come under attack and subsequently issued a stern written warning to Khaw.
Disciplinary action is the best way for MCA to answer to party members as well as the local Chinese community, and this whole thing should come to a close now. Nevertheless, the incident has brought out two connotations.
Firstly, MCA had only instructed Khaw to clearly express the party’s opposition to the amendment but not to cast a “nay” vote.
Secondly, MCA thought a walkout protest should have been good enough to reflect MCA’s stand on the issue.
As an elected rep from MCA, what made it so difficult for Khaw to cast a “nay” vote on an unfair bill that would infringe on the rights of non-Muslims in the state?
If he had been instructed by the party to stage a walkout protest, did it mean MCA was undecided or wavering over the issue pertaining to the rights of the Chinese community, such that it could not make a firm decision?
The argument that Khaw was English educated and would therefore interpret “walkout” as “against”, was meant to whitewash the blunder and ended up being totally unconvincing.
An English educated state assemblyman should have been able to tell the difference between “walkout” or “abstention” and “against”. He should have known that there were only three options when casting a vote in the state assembly, namely “yea”, “nay” or abstention.
Walking out during the crucial moment of voting is in its essence giving up the right to vote, and therefore, it is an abstention.
In politics, an “abstention” is yet another way of voting in the assembly, indicating that the rep is unwilling to cast either a “yea” or “nay” vote, and is therefore remaining neutral. Abuse of the abstention vote is perceived as a pretext to evade responsibility.
On the international front, especially as seen in the United Nations (UN), if a country abstains from voting, it should not be interpreted as the country being against a motion. It could be because the time is not yet ripe for the country to formally express its stand on a particular issue, or that it has some reservations and has therefore opted to stay neutral.
For the past 25 years, the UN general assembly had been passing the motion to urge the United States to lift trade sanctions on Cuba with a landslide “yea” vote, and for all those years the US had been casting a “nay” vote, which is a veto that ensures the motion was not passed regardless of the majority voting in favour.
However, on Oct 26, the US chose to abstain on such a vote for the first time during this year’s general assembly, signaling Washington’s implied “approval” of lifting the sanctions on Cuba and its readiness to restore diplomatic ties with the Caribbean island state.
From here we can see that abstention cannot fully reflect MCA’s opposition to the Islamic bill, and this passive form of expression has sunken MCA deeper into the dilemma.
Tan Poh Kheng writes for Sin Chew Daily. -FMT