PETALING JAYA: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) has not denied that a non-Malay novelist, pro-Pakatan Harapan writers and previously banned authors are among the candidates for the 14th National Laureate (Sasterawan Negara) award.
Sources had earlier told FMT that those shortlisted for the award included Sarawakian novelist Jong Chian Lai, Che Shamsudin Othman better known as Dinsman and Faizal Musa, who writes under the pen name Faisal Tehrani.
The other two are Kedah-born poet Azmah Nordin and painter Latif Mohidin.
“I cannot confirm the list of nominees, there are those who are there and those who are not. I cannot rule out the possibility of those names on the list,” DBP director-general Abang Sallehuddin Abang Shoekran told FMT.
Jong won the state-level award in 1994 but has not been active for years, and Dinsman and Faisal Tehrani are active social critics.
While Dinsman has openly shown his political loyalty to PH leaders through his writings, Faisal’s works have not gone well with religious authorities, with seven of his books banned by the previous administration for supposedly promoting Shia Islam.
Abang Sallehuddin said that this time around, there are more than five nominees and they come from various backgrounds.
In evaluating the nominees, he said several factors are taken into account – from their literary contributions to society and their impact, to the recognition their works have received both locally and abroad.
He said the evaluations will be done based on merit and forwarded to Education Minister Maszlee Malik as the head of the National Laureate evaluation panel head.
Maszlee will then present the list to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Even though the nominations are secret, Abang Sallehuddin said the evaluations are done transparently and fairly and according to the set criteria without consideration of gender or race.
“People often say the selection must be based on gender, that we must have a woman and that there has to be a Malay or non-Malay.
“We do not look at that, we evaluate based on merit.
“We will list the nominees according to ranking by merit from the first to the last choice,” he said, adding that the decision and announcement on the 14th National Laureate will be made before or after July.
Abang Sallehuddin said DBP will suggest that the names of the nominees be made public in future to show transparency.
“There is good and bad to this but I feel there is more good if we do this,” he said.
The last person to be named a National Laureate was Kedah-born Zurinah Hassan on Oct 13, 2015. She was the 13th recipient of the award.