Hey! What happened to the Pematang Pauh Declaration?

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As the 'bizzarometer' drops well below zero and the tenor of Malaysian politics shifts once again, all we have seen and heard over the past few weeks would give the impression that this country was made up of only Malay-Muslims.

The headlines have been dominated by the concerns of this single community more than anything else, and instead of focusing on politics and economics as adults are wont to do, we have instead been talking about bikinis and swimming pools, who has been sleeping with who (and what, and where, and when) and whether rape victims should be punished if they cannot produce their rapists and witnesses in court (a rather obscure and incomprehensible requirement, taking into consideration the fact that few rapists would hang around the scene of the crime and few 'morally upright witnesses' would stand and watch a woman being raped without coming to her aid in the first place.)

Yet not too long ago, in a country not too far away, we were all talking about this thing called 'reformasi'. There was much ado about the need for reform, to break free from the simple dichotomies of conventional Malaysian politics, about the need to confront old prejudices and outdated stereotypes.

Most importantly, there was talk of the need to create  And inspired by the Asian traditions, which all encourage renewal for the individual and for society; And acknowledging that Malaysia is in the grip of a terrible crisis and requires recourse to its inner strengths in order to rise again, We the citizens of Malaysia of all cultural and religious backgrounds are determined to launch a movement for comprehensive reform:

A reform movement shining with a light radiating from aspiring and pure hearts; from the awareness that man is truly noble and free, with rights and responsibilities, that it is a sacrilege to abuse and denigrate any man or woman, to bind and restrict any man or woman without following the due process of just laws;

A reform movement to establish justice for all, the weak and strong, the rich and poor, to preserve the institutions and processes of law from the defilement of graft and abuse of power;

A reform movement to sanctify the power of the people through democratic means, for democracy is an imperative: man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary;

A reform movement that champions economic justice, one that advocates fairness in economic growth and distribution so that the rich do not get richer at the expense of the poor, for the world has enough for everyone, but too little to satisfy everyone's greed;

A reform movement to eradicate graft and abuse of power, to strip the opulent and greedy clique of their power to manipulate the market;

A reform movement to reinforce a dynamic cultural identity, where faith in our noble cultural traditions is intact, but there is openness to all that is good in all traditions;

A reform movement to launch the Malaysian nation into the information age and the borderless world, encouraging wisdom, self-assurance and openness towards a global friendship based on the principles of truth and justice.

We launch this reform movement as a peaceful movement, in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution and in observance of the principles of the rule of law. The hour has come. Unite for Reformasi.

Permatang Pauh, 1998.

Dr FARISH A NOOR is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist. 'The Other Malaysia' tries to unearth aspects of Malaysia's history and culture that have been erased or relegated to the margins in order to remind us that there remains another Malaysia that is often forgotten.

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