Rainbow chase that ends nowhere

Kenneth Cheng Chee Kin

With the opposition ready to pounce at the first chance to play the religion card, the government cannot be seen to be tolerant of the LBGT lifestyle. – EPA pic, May 28, 2023.

WE were told that among the credentials of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was the global recognition he had earned, which would lift Malaysia onto the international stage.

And here he is making international headlines once again as the leader of a government that confiscates watches.

The raids on Swatch has made news on international media such as The Guardian, Aljazeera, and Reuters.

Observers might have been surprised that a government led by a pro-reform prime minister could have taken such a sharp right turn but the reality is that this is an administration that has a trust deficit with a large part of rural Malays.

It is not unexpected that the government should not be able to protect the the LGBT movement, to which many Malaysians remain steadfastly opposed.

With Perikatan Nasional ready to pounce at any chance to play the religion card, the government will surely face a political backlash if it should speak of empathy and tolerance for the LGBT community.  

However, the government is also making a huge mistake if it thinks that seizing Pride watches will gain it favour with the Malays and help it to win the elections in six states.

The crackdown on Pride merchandise may not have the desired effect of shoring up Malay support or the government’s Islamic credentials.

At best, the raids are seen as a signal to the conservatives that the government will not tolerate the LGBT lifestyle. But this form of appeasement is also counterproductive to a government that has professed to be progressive.

At worst, by demonising the sexual minorities, Anwar’s government is at risk of being perceived as intolerant and illiberal among by the Pakatan Harapan supporters who have consistently delivered the votes.

There is a Chinese saying that you cannot satisfy both your brother and sister-in-law and this is the precarious situation that the government has gotten itself into.

PH is now caught between realising its reform promise, which had secured for the coalition the strongholds of Penang and Selangor, and trying to win the votes of the rural Malays that it needs for stablity. 

It is clear which way the government has chosen to go, and it is to the detriment of the progressive supporters of PH.

Anwar must not forget that his first statement as prime minister was to promise Malaysians that no one would be marginalised on his watch. It was a speech that hearted many people who had been dispirited by political instability and the cost-of-living crisis.

The prime minister must be reminded that LGBT folk are also Malaysians and that they are marginalised and used as punching bags for political purposes.

Malaysians have contrasting opinions about the LGBT ideology, which remains a political hot potato. Nevertheless, a person’s private lifestyle should not be subject to a state crackdown and demonisation.

We have seen that the crackdown on Pride watches is indirectly fuelling further discrimination with PN lawmakers calling LGBT people mentally ill.

Again, the government is caught in an awkward position. It cannot disprove this patently false theory and has no choice but to remain silent.

Most of all, the government must realise that it cannot appease everyone and that only weak leaders would try to do that.

It has been more than six months since Anwar has taken charge but the government has yet to offer an overarching economic or reform policy..

The adminstration has also failed to pass or amend any major laws to speak of.

Instead, the only headlines we are seeing are mostly for good Malay and Muslim optics that Anwar is desperate for.

This is not the mark of a convincing and formidable government.

And no number of raids on lifestyle merchandises will win it new votes. – May 28, 2023.

* Kenneth Cheng has always been interested in the interplay between human rights and government but more importantly he is a father of two cats, Tangyuan and Toufu. When he is not attending to his feline matters, he is most likely reading books about politics and human rights or playing video games. He is a firm believer in the dictum “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.