Establish Dewan Rakyat committee to seek answers to Seafield temple fracas

Yayasan Perpaduan Malaysia (YPM) welcomes the announcement by Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin that Attorney-General Tommy Thomas will order an inquest to determine the cause of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim’s death after a post-mortem uncovered a “few clues.

An inquest has also become necessary since no one has been charged for Adib’s death which has been classified as murder.

As important as, and related to, Adib’s inquest is an honest and comprehensive investigation into the riot that occurred at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Seafield, Subang Jaya, on Nov 26, 2018. An independent investigation should establish the factors that led to the riot, the groups and individuals involved, their motives, the sequence of events that resulted in the loss of a life and the destruction of property, the role of the media, including the social media, and the response of the police and fire departments to the incident.

It is a pity that more than a month after the incident, the general public still does not know what actually transpired from the early hours of Nov 26. In the absence of an authoritative account, rumours, distortions and half-truths have gained currency. These, in turn, have shaped public perceptions which have impacted negatively upon ethnic relations in certain circles.

Some Malay-Muslim and Indian-Hindu groups have suggested the convening of a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate the Nov 26 riot. An RCI will take time to be set up and its inquiry may be long drawn. There is an alternative that is worth exploring.

The Dewan Rakyat can investigate the riot. This will require a resolution of the Dewan under Standing Order 88A which will enable the Dewan to establish a committee under the chairmanship of the speaker comprising members of Parliament chosen by the Dewan Rakyat itself. Though the Dewan Rakyat is in recess at the moment, it can be summoned to assemble for this specific purpose. The committee will have wide powers of investigation and will report to the Dewan when its findings are ready. Though the report will not amount to a verdict as such, its findings will carry considerable moral weight. They can be the basis for subsequent legal and judicial action.

It is important to carve out this new role for the Malaysian Parliament. The Dewan Rakyat, in particular, is the highest legislative body in the land and has an unparalleled place of honour in our system of governance. Moreover, it is, collectively speaking, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious institution. It is better qualified than most other institutions to play an effective role in resolving ethnic challenges in the country. The idea of a Dewan Rakyat committee to probe a specific issue which, unfortunately, has assumed a communal colouring will bring Parliament into the very crux of the management of ethnic relations.

As we reflect upon the temple riot, there are a few valuable lessons we can draw from the incident.

One, accurate information about the background to an incident, its evolution and its impact should be provided to the public immediately, preferably by a body in authority.

Two, the lies and distortions should be countered effectively and immediately. This may entail taking drastic action against irresponsible social media users.

Three, those who are in a position to shape public opinion, whether they are political leaders or social activists or media commentators, should adopt a national rather than a sectarian or parochial approach to the issue at hand.

Undoubtedly, in the temple incident, a number of individuals reacted to the issue from a sectarian perspective and as a result, exacerbated the situation.

Four, in finding a solution, the parties concerned should act fast without unnecessary delay. They should not drag their feet. When ethnic challenges are allowed to fester with no sight of a solution they tend to heighten the ethnic temperature.

Five, while the urgency of finding a solution cannot be emphasised enough, one should also ensure that it is just and fair to everyone, especially the principal ethnic actors involved. As a general guideline, one should adhere to the Malaysian Constitution and the aspirations and principles of the Rukunegara.

Chandra Muzaffar is the former chairman of the Board of Trustees of YPM

Suresh Kumar Govind is the new chairman of the Board of Trustees of YPM.

The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily reflect those of FMT