beerSEPTEMBER 22 ― Malaysians are increasingly being held ransom to demands by religious fundamentalists.

The Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) recent decision to cancel the Better Beer Festival 2017, after PAS called for a ban on the event, is only one such example after the seizure of paintbrushes made from pig bristles earlier this year that were allegedly not labeled and separated, and the religious authorities’ raid on a pork burger chain last year.

On Monday, KL mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz refused to comment on why the local council had cancelled the beer festival, saying only that it was a “sensitive issue”.

After MCA claimed it was informed the police had advised DBKL to reject the organisers’ application to hold the event for “public safety” reasons, the inspector-general of police issued a statement yesterday claiming that militants “might be planning to sabotage the festival as it goes against their struggle”.

The sudden change of narrative is extremely suspicious and only sounds like the government wanting to placate religious fundamentalists by cancelling the event, but disguising it as a national security issue so that they don't anger everyone else.

It was also disappointing to see the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Malay leadership’s silence on the ban of the beer festival, with only five Chinese Federal Territories MPs from DAP and PKR issuing a statement on the matter.

As much as PH occasionally tries to present itself as a more liberal and moderate coalition than BN (to selected audiences), the Opposition coalition comprising two Malay-Muslim parties, one predominantly Chinese party and one more-or-less multiracial party, more often than not, avoids making public its policy positions on matters related to Islam or the Bumiputera. Or even on their economic ideology, beyond wanting to repeal the goods and services tax (GST).

This is unfortunate, considering that PH is aiming to be Malaysia’s first alternative government in less than a year. And they wonder why young people don’t care to vote in elections.

If political parties across the spectrum want the youth to be invested in voting and in governance, then they must improve democracy by restoring local council elections, for instance, so that we have a greater say in how our cities are run. Local council issues have a greater impact on our daily lives than lawmaking at the state or federal level.

Young people can also train for politics by running for office at the local council level before they attempt to make policy at higher stages.

As a young Chinese woman, I feel that I have no political power whatsoever. The feeling of powerlessness is especially acute when both BN and PH show no interest in eradicating racial political structures and government policies for fear of alienating the Malay-Muslim vote.

If identity politics is here to stay because politicians are too cowardly to imagine a radically different Malaysia that promotes equality, then I will demand a Chinese mayor for Kuala Lumpur.

A non-Muslim Chinese mayor is unlikely to impose her or his religious beliefs on KL residents, or to succumb to the demands of religious fundamentalists. The KL local council constituency reportedly has an almost equal number of Malays (45.9 per cent) and Chinese (43.2 per cent). Indians comprise 10.3 per cent.

So reintroduce local council elections and give the Chinese a chance to be mayor of the capital. An elected (Chinese) mayor wouldn’t risk angering more than half of the KL population by cancelling a beer festival just to appease a few religious fundamentalists.

Of course, ordinarily, I would advocate restoring the third vote and to give any candidate a chance to be elected based on their vision and policies for KL, not their ethnicity or faith. But because political parties on both sides of the divide are becoming increasingly conservative (in terms of social issues) and ignoring the Chinese/ non-Muslim vote (one seems to have given up while the other takes it for granted), then I will act the selfish voter and demand for greater Chinese political power.

I demand for a KL mayor who will reduce state intervention in business and in social issues while promoting green policies at the same time, besides enhancing public safety and reducing crime. A mayor who will not mix religion with policymaking and dares to make a stand on secularism. 

If Malay parties from both BN and PH don’t have the courage to find such a candidate, then leave it to MCA and DAP for a Chinese one, since everyone seems content on retaining the broken system of lawmakers representing people of their own race.

I have had enough of being told to shut up on issues that supposedly don’t concern me, while the religious right and the State control my choice of beverage and any public events I choose to attend. The conservatives keep pushing and pushing, stripping away our liberties bit by bit.

Push us into a corner, and we will fight back.

The point about individual freedoms is about making our own decisions on what to eat or drink, who or how many people we have sex with, what to wear, what to say, who we hang out with, what we read etc.

If defenders of the beer festival ban really cared about public health, then they should advocate the closures of fast food chains. Malaysia is the most obese nation in South-east Asia. The condition of obesity and being overweight cost Malaysia between RM4.26 billion and RM8.53 billion last year, equivalent to 10 to 19 per cent of healthcare spending in the country.

Ban people from stuffing their faces with hamburgers and fried chicken. Snap mandatory bracelets on every Malaysian citizen that will give mini electroshocks if they do not take a minimum 10,000 steps (about 8 kilometres) a day. (I myself jog an average of 23.2 to 29 kilometres a week).

But since I believe in protecting personal liberties, I wouldn’t force my exercise routine on everyone else. People should be just as free to be a couch potato as a fitness junkie, to consume alcohol or to drink kale juice, or to eat chips or a boring salad.

The government should have absolutely no involvement in such personal habits, meaning that they should not ban any products or impose extra taxes (though they are free to launch education campaigns).