On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Silent NGOs cause for concern

The first controversy was Nik  Aziz's directive to state government officers
not to employ beautiful women, lest their beauty affect the productivity of
their male  colleagues.

Second, the Islamic party is still 
adamant that women should not 
contest the general election under 
the party banner, purportedly to 
protect their safety and dignity.

Nik Aziz subsequently backtracked on this, following an outcry, and said no
decision had been  made yet on whether
his party  would field women candidates
in  the coming general election.

The two activists, who now belong to two political parties in the  opposition front, have found that it  was not politically correct to criticise an

Never mind if deep in their  hearts these
once-respected activists are outraged at Nik Aziz's  stand but political expediency  must come first.

The original struggles and principles have given way to narrow  political agenda, allowing beliefs  to be compromised as a result.

Over the past one year, Malaysians must have noticed how NGO  leaders have given up their rights  of expression after joining the reformasi

Instead of strengthening democracy through their articulation and  action as educators, they have become
partisan politicians.

Although many of these NGO  leaders were
anti-establishment in  the past, they
had, at least, spoken  up against issues
raised by the Opposition if they felt strongly about  them.

Presenting their views through 
non-communal perspectives, they 
had won the admiration of many 
middle-class Malaysians.

Whether it is about environment  or women
issues, these NGO leaders had helped to educate the Malaysian public.

Their intellectual views contributed to the move towards creating  a civil society where there is wider  people participation in governance.

Many of these activists, who are 
university lecturers, presented 
their arguments with well-researched material and information, proving
they were a class  above the politicians
who depended much on their rhethoric skills.

The mushrooming of NGOs over  the last
decade was a result of rising political consciousness and the  willingness of the Mahathir administration to
allow greater dissent.

But there is a disturbing trend  lately.
Many of these advocates of  human rights
seem ready to forego  their principles to
achieve their  political ambitions.

Without being partisan to party 
politics, they should by right be 
able to probe and evaluate social 
questions with an open mind.

Their participation in opposition 
politics have, however, caused 
them to lose all that objectivity and 

Even the statement by PAS president Datuk Fadzil Noor, to close  down pro-government media if the  party comes to power, has not met  with NGO response.

At least DAP leaders like national party chairman Dr Chen Man  Hin and Wanita chief Dr Onn Hong  Geok have put their stand on record.

There are other muted response  to issues
such as PAS' attempts to  table a private
member's Bill on  death for apostasy and
the setting  up of an Islamic state.
Earlier this  year, PAS deputy president
Abdul  Hadi Awang said PAS would
close  down the Kuala Lumpur Stock
Exchange if it formed the next Federal Government.

PAS is also adopting a more communal approach in many issues,  judging from recent reports in the  party organ, Harakah.

On one of its front-page reports,  the
party accused Prime Minister  Datuk Seri
Dr Mahathir Mohamad  of insulting the

In another report, new PAS  member Datuk
Kamaruddin Jaafar called for support of PAS because “there is only one
Malay  party in Barisan Nasional against  13 other non-Malay component  parties.''

The implication here is the opposition pact has three predominantly-Malay
parties  PAS, Parti  Keadilan Nasional and Parti Rakyat
Malaysia  against the DAP,  a Chinese-majority party.

The use of such communal approaches does not augur well for  Malaysians.

PAS appears to have given up on 
non-Malay support, in making such 
advances, but it must understand 
that democracy isn't just about 
winning elections.

The bigger stake is the stability  of
this multi-racial and multi-religious country, which PAS seems to  have difficulty grappling with.

Our NGO leaders must continue  with their
advocacy of a wide  range of issues
affecting Malaysians. They must continue to demand for public accountability
and  more freedom of expression.

It is the job of NGO leaders to  make
sure that powerful politicians do not trample on our rights,  irrespective of the politicians'  ideologies.

But we have reached a point  where the
positive efforts of the  Government are
ignored and even  challenged while NGO
leaders  keep silent on the wrong-doings
of  the Opposition.

Their recent practice of selective concerns must be questioned  by right-thinking Malaysians.

However, it is interesting to note  that
for the first time many NGO  leaders are
expected to test their  popularity by
stepping into the  election arena.

For a long time, these leaders  have
claimed to represent the people though they serve in organisations with only a
handful of members.

The general election will tell  whether
they have the support of  the