The Kedah Entertainment Ban: Whose Fault?

The recent Kedah Entertainment ban has led to fingers pointing at the component parties of both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. But whose fault is it really? Was it the legislators of the law? Or the enforcers of the law?

Recently, the Kedah state government under the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) administration had imposed a ban against entertainment outlets from operating during the Ramadhan month. Fortunately, under pressure from various political parties, the PAS-led state government has revoked the ban against non-Muslims from operating and visiting entertainment outlets during the Ramadhan month. Nonetheless, this issue has escalated to be a national issue.

What started as condemnation of the PAS-led state government, has now seen the tables being turned against MCA and Gerakan for agreeing and approving the relevant enactment which was used by PAS to impose the said ban. However, what the public was not informed of is what the actual law passed was, and what was actually stated in the relevant provision of the Kedah Entertainment Enactment 1997.

Before I move on, I must first declare my interest. I am a practising lawyer in Melaka and I am a member of the MCA. It is necessary for me to point out where I am coming from, because I expect words like “MCA’s running dog” (a direct translation from the Chinese language) and “MCA’s stooge” being hurled against me, as it has always been done on Twitter by those whom I term as “PR cybertroopers”. Yet, I also wish to highlight that the law being the law, there is no way for me to twist or spin it to fit my political inclination, and I am not sufficiently articulate to do the same. I am merely trying to state and interpret the law as it is, from my understanding of it literally.

As I am practising in Melaka, I have not had the privilege of going through the actual Gazette nor the actual enactment. However, based on my own research, I was able to obtain the relevant provision from the article of Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, who is the PAS Kedah Information Chief and also the Political Secretary to the Menteri Besar of Kedah, which was posted in his blog. The relevant provision is said to be found at Schedule C of the Enactment, at page 150 of the Gazette dated 12 February, 1998, of which the General Condition No. 8 reads as follows:

In Bahasa Malaysia:

“Jenis hiburan yang tersebut di atas tidak boleh diadakan pada bulan Ramadhan atau pada hari Jumaat (iaitu, antara jam 6 petang hari Khamis dan jam 2.30 petang hari Jumaat) kecuali izin bertulis daripada Pihak Berkuasa Negeri diperolehi.” (my emphasis added)

After being translated into English:-

“The types of entertainment stated above could not be held during the Ramadhan month or on Fridays (that is, between 6.00 p.m. of Thursdays and 2.30 p.m. of Fridays) except with the written approval of the State Authorities.” (my emphasis added)

Hence, reading the provision literally, there are two clear points that can be derived from it.

Firstly, it is apparent that entertainment outlets are not allowed to operate during the Ramadhan month and, in fact, on Fridays which are interpreted as being between 6.00 p.m. on Thursdays and 2.30 p.m. on Fridays. From this solely, surely DAP is right that both MCA and Gerakan were cognisant of the effect of such law against the non-Muslims, that is to say that the non-Muslims are also prohibited from operating and/or visiting entertainment outlets during the Ramadhan month and on Fridays.

However, as my senior at law school, young lawyer Syahredzan Johan tweeted to me recently, it appears that the law is a general one to regulate entertainment outlets, without any religious considerations nor based on any religious precepts.

This leads me to the second point which can be derived from the second part of the provision which, at the expense of repeating myself, reads: kecuali izin bertulis daripada Pihak Berkuasa Negeri diperolehi (in English — except with the written approval of the State Authorities). Given such provision, the State Authorities, the Kedah state government led by PAS in this case, has the power to impose any condition on any approval which may be granted for any entertainment outlet to operate during the Ramadhan month or on Fridays. As an example, the Kedah state government could impose upon the operator of any entertainment outlet to prohibit Muslims from visiting their outlet during the Ramadhan month. And this is exactly what they did after the pressure from the various political parties was asserted upon them (or as they say, after consultation with the businessmen?).

It is also at this second part of the provision where we find the root cause of why this whole issue had escalated to be a national issue. I personally apportion the blame on certain irresponsible political quarters that failed, refused and/or neglected, intentionally or otherwise, to inform the public of the power of the state government to allow entertainment outlets to operate during the Ramadhan month or on Fridays. The fact is that such approvals were granted during the BN administration, or perhaps part of it, but now that the PR/PAS has taken over the administration, they have refused to exercise their right under the law.

Yet, the Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara, YB Tony Pua, who had exchanged his thoughts with me on Twitter, refused to admit or acknowledge the fact that there is an exception under the law, and that there can be an exemption by the state government if, and only if, it so wishes to. The state government, however, chose to use this “secular” enactment to impose such religious precept — this is ‘not cool’ (using Syahredzan’s words)! It is thus unfair for certain politicians to accuse MCA and Gerakan for agreeing to and approving law which infringes upon the right and the way of life of the non-Muslims when the intention of the said enactment was not meant to be religious. It is only religious when the new state government chooses to enforce the law in such religious way!

Having said that, I do not blame the DAP leaders for not knowing the law and/or the policy sought to be imposed by the Kedah state government. It is unfair to blame them because they have no representative in the said state government prior to the implementation of the policy. Therefore, we should celebrate when they jumped onto the MCA and Gerakan bandwagon to condemn such an unfair policy in the interests of the people.

Likewise, there is no guarantee that the same will not happen should MCA fail to make it into any of the state governments, and to reflect and voice out the views of the non-Muslims, when such policies are planned and drafted by the respective state governments.

As I stand to be corrected, I rest my case.

Credit: I must register my heartfelt appreciation to my senior from law school and now learned friend in the Bar, Syahredzan Johan, for his willingness to spare some time off his busy schedule to read, edit and comment on this article. However, the opinions in this post are completely mine unless otherwise stated.

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Eric Choo is a young lawyer practising in Melaka and the current Legal Bureau Chief of MCA Jasin, Melaka. He tweets at @choows and describes himself as an idealist who wish to see his country progress as one without being divided by ethnicity, race or religion. He believes and hopes that such change can come from MCA. He encourages young men and women who thinks alike to come on board to this journey of political transformation, regardless of your political inclination.

Posted on 20 July 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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