It is not difficult to understand why the SDP organized the Malay Forum last weekend received the overwhelming response that it did. The Malay-Muslim community have had to put up with all sorts of discriminatory policies for far too long with too little being done about it by PAP-appointed leaders.
Malay Singaporeans are being led by three categories of leaders. At the top are the PAP anointed personalities who claim to lead the community. Unfortunately, many of them have concluded that their priority is to serve the interests of the PAP rather than that of the community.
So when the crunch comes it is a foregone conclusion as to where their loyalty lies.
Next in line are the community leaders, most of whom occupy positions with the blessing of the PAP. Their role is basically social in nature. They spend most of their time looking after the welfare needs of the community and indulge in never-ending fund raising activities.
They are in fact taking over a large portion of the government’s responsibility to look after the needs of the poor and underprivileged within the community. Of course, they steer clear of politics.
The last category comprises religious leaders, many of whom earn their positions by providing spiritual guidance through religious classes conducted at mosques and madrasahs.
By and large they are apolitical though attempts have been made from time to time to get some of them to support the authorities. In any case, they are kept on a tight leash by the government-appointed Muslim Religious Council.
As can be seen there is a clear void when it comes to real political leadership. The community simply has no alternative. Perhaps they see the SDP as a party that can provide them with the platform and the alternative that they had longed for all this while.
So they came to see for themselves whether or not the party which has a reputation for championing the rights of our citizen can be counted on to take up the grievances of the community.
The audience was made up of many young and educated Malays who admitted that it was the first time they had attended an opposition organized forum. Even officials from Mendaki, the Malay Muslim self-help organization, and the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) were in the audience.
The non-Malays in the audience who stood up to speak, voiced their agreement with the SDP's position that the Malay problem should not be the sole concern of the Malays and it is best resolved at the national level with input from the other races.
Many went away impressed with the SDP’s ability to conduct a forum on issues considered sensitive in a very professional and dignified manner. The feedback, especially from the Malay-Muslim public, as well as those online were mainly positive.
It is their hope that this initiative would not be a one-off event. Many want to know what is the next step and whether the SDP would be doing a follow-up to find solutions to the many problems that had been brought up.
It is tragic that the government controlled Berita Harian, the only Malay-language newspaper in Singapore, blacked out the news on this historic SDP forum. The reporter was there but cited "editorial decision” for the report not published. This is nothing short of scandalous.
Nonetheless, the SDP will proceed to deliberate on the issues with the aim of finding workable solutions. Wherever possible we will try to get input from, and the cooperation of, qualified individuals and organizations. We shall present our proposals at another forum which we hope to organize at the beginning of next year.
Jufrie Mahmood is Chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party
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