KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 — Even as the government is flexing its muscle against individuals who dare question the status quo, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah assured Malaysians today that no issue is “too sensitive” to be discussed. Speaking to reporters after the first “Masa Depan Malaysia” (Malaysia’s future) round of discussion among 30 civil societies, the former education minister encouraged Malaysians to speak up to discuss and ask the “hard questions” in order for Malaysia to move forward.“Some of the those issues which are considered sensitive and taboo to some people, they were raising it in a very casual manner but still polite. “And people can accept it, so I get this feeling that there really is no such thing as sensitive issues that cannot be discussed because it can be discussed in a very civil manner, in a very casual manner,” he said.
The series of discussions are organised by the Global Movement of Moderate (GMM), of which Saifuddin is the chief executive officer, and by Akademi Belia. The participants had requested that their discussions not be reported for fear of retribution, to which Saifuddin, as the moderator agreed, to encourage participants to speak their minds. Twenty individuals from organisations including Persatuan Hak Asasi Manusia Malaysia (Proham), Sisters in Islam (SIS), Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) and youth-led groups such as Universiti Terbuka Anak Muda Utama, Sekolah Undang-undang Rakyat, Mahasiswa Progressive, Sudut Kiri, Buku Jalanan, Youth Today and Think Lab, spoke on various issues including on the current state of the education system, the need to understand the Federal Constitution, inequality and unity.
“There is the need for us to ask the hard questions because if we want to plan for our future, we need to ask what we want, what we did correctly and how we can expand on that. “Secondly, the effort to define the true goals of the country; for example, we want to be a great nation but what does it take? That will further be discussed,” Saifuddin said. He also brought up the need to understand foreign policies as Malaysia takes on the role as ASEAN chair next year, and the government’s intention to sit on the United Nation’s Security Council for 2015/2016. “There is also the need to expand the public sphere to give a chance for fresh discourse, participatory democracy etcetera,” the former Umno supreme council member added.
Saifuddin, who is known to be the voice of moderation within Umno, lamented the fact that the existence and the usage of the Sedition Act are hindering free reporting on important discourse needed in the country. “We are unfortunately living a country where we still have the Sedition Act and sometimes, people tend to misinterpret [it]. “I know journalists will report based on what you hear and what you see but leaders may not understand it and then some people will get into trouble for what he or she said with good intention. “That’s why some people are not very comfortable, so they requested if possible, what was said inside is not quoted,” he explained. The Masa Depan Malaysia series is expected to wind up at the end of this year and the recommendations would be submitted to the government.