KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia can have better liberal political governance if the negative connotation associated with the term liberalism is eradicated.

Panelists from the public forum titled, “Is Malaysia Ready For A Liberal Political Party?” unanimously agreed that there is some misconception about the notion of liberalism in Malaysia.

“I’m a bit surprised that the word ‘liberal’ is controversial in Malaysia”, said Liberal International president, Dr. Juli Minoves.

Minoves added that many have this misconception that liberalism connotes going against one’s religious principles and values.

In fact, he said one can be a firm believer of faith and yet still be subscribed to the notion of liberal governance.

Malaysia was formed based on the premise of liberalism agreed upon our forefathers.

“If we look at the history of Malaysia and the Proclamation of Independence, it was clear that the formation of Malaysia was fundamentally based on principles of liberty and justice.

“Liberalism is the core of these principles which was later translated into the Rukun Negara and was then reinforced in Vision 2020,” said the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) CEO, Wan Saiful.

Malaysia is on the path of creating a liberal and progressive society under the different government initiatives.

The think-tank CEO said, “this is not an alien concept but something that is being forgotten. The UMNO government has urged for the creation of a liberal society in Malaysia and was even published in Utusan Malaysia somewhere in the 90s.”

When asked about the challenges and the approaches that can be taken to address this misconception, Wan Saiful said the stumbling block for those working under the liberalism framework is the misinterpretation of the term.

He said that many wrongly associate liberalism with religious pluralism and that has presented a problem in itself with the rise of another label –liberal Islamists.

“This is not the liberalism that was championed by Tunku Abdul Rahman and UMNO in the early days. The major challenge is in redefining the term liberalism in the context upheld by Tunku and UMNO.

“The current UMNO party has gone astray and they should get back on the right track,” Wan Saiful added.

Former CEO of PAS Research Centre, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said the onus is on the proponents of liberalism.

“The word liberalism in this country is seen in a bad light and that is unfortunate. If the word is synonymous to reasoning and being tolerant then it would be different.

“Among Muslims especially there is this implied understanding that the word connotes to going against Islamic principles.

“For as long as this negative connotation of liberalism is involved, it is difficult to see the light at the end of the day,” he added.

As a firm Islamist democrat, Dzulkefly said he would not compromise his ideologies but he would defend another person’s rights even if he does not believe in it.

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