The recent Kedah Entertainment ban has led to fingers pointing at the component parties of both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. But whose fault is it really? Was it the legislators of the law? Or the enforcers of the law?

Recently, the Kedah state government under the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) administration had imposed a ban against entertainment outlets from operating during the Ramadhan month. Fortunately, under pressure from various political parties, the PAS-led state government has revoked the ban against non-Muslims from operating and visiting entertainment outlets during the Ramadhan month. Nonetheless, this issue has escalated to be a national issue.

What started as condemnation of the PAS-led state government, has now seen the tables being turned against MCA and Gerakan for agreeing and approving the relevant enactment which was used by PAS to impose the said ban. However, what the public was not informed of is what the actual law passed was, and what was actually stated in the relevant provision of the Kedah Entertainment Enactment 1997.

Before I move on, I must first declare my interest. I am a practising lawyer in Melaka and I am a member of the MCA. It is necessary for me to point out where I am coming from, because I expect words like “MCA’s running dog” (a direct translation from the Chinese language) and “MCA’s stooge” being hurled against me, as it has always been done on Twitter by those whom I term as “PR cybertroopers”. Yet, I also wish to highlight that the law being the law, there is no way for me to twist or spin it to fit my political inclination, and I am not sufficiently articulate to do the same. I am merely trying to state and interpret the law as it is, from my understanding of it literally.

As I am practising in Melaka, I have not had the privilege of going through the actual Gazette nor the actual enactment. However, based on my own research, I was able to obtain the relevant provision from the article of Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, who is the PAS Kedah Information Chief and also the Political Secretary to the Menteri Besar of Kedah, which was posted in his blog. The relevant provision is said to be found at Schedule C of the Enactment, at page 150 of the Gazette dated 12 February, 1998, of which the General Condition No. 8 reads as follows:

In Bahasa Malaysia:

“Jenis hiburan yang tersebut di atas tidak boleh diadakan pada bulan Ramadhan atau pada hari Jumaat (iaitu, antara jam 6 petang hari Khamis dan jam 2.30 petang hari Jumaat) kecuali izin bertulis daripada Pihak Berkuasa Negeri diperolehi.” (my emphasis added)

After being translated into English:-

“The types of entertainment stated above could not be held during the Ramadhan month or on Fridays (that is, between 6.00 p.m. of Thursdays and 2.30 p.m. of Fridays) except with the written approval of the State Authorities.” (my emphasis added)

Hence, reading the provision literally, there are two clear points that can be derived from it.

Firstly, it is apparent that entertainment outlets are not allowed to operate during the Ramadhan month and, in fact, on Fridays which are interpreted as being between 6.00 p.m. on Thursdays and 2.30 p.m. on Fridays. From this solely, surely DAP is right that both MCA and Gerakan were cognisant of the effect of such law against the non-Muslims, that is to say that the non-Muslims are also prohibited from operating and/or visiting entertainment outlets during the Ramadhan month and on Fridays.

However, as my senior at law school, young lawyer Syahredzan Johan tweeted to me recently, it appears that the law is a general one to regulate entertainment outlets, without any religious considerations nor based on any religious precepts.

This leads me to the second point which can be derived from the second part of the provision which, at the expense of repeating myself, reads: kecuali izin bertulis daripada Pihak Berkuasa Negeri diperolehi (in English — except with the written approval of the State Authorities). Given such provision, the State Authorities, the Kedah state government led by PAS in this case, has the power to impose any condition on any approval which may be granted for any entertainment outlet to operate during the Ramadhan month or on Fridays. As an example, the Kedah state government could impose upon the operator of any entertainment outlet to prohibit Muslims from visiting their outlet during the Ramadhan month. And this is exactly what they did after the pressure from the various political parties was asserted upon them (or as they say, after consultation with the businessmen?).

It is also at this second part of the provision where we find the root cause of why this whole issue had escalated to be a national issue. I personally apportion the blame on certain irresponsible political quarters that failed, refused and/or neglected, intentionally or otherwise, to inform the public of the power of the state government to allow entertainment outlets to operate during the Ramadhan month or on Fridays. The fact is that such approvals were granted during the BN administration, or perhaps part of it, but now that the PR/PAS has taken over the administration, they have refused to exercise their right under the law.

Yet, the Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara, YB Tony Pua, who had exchanged his thoughts with me on Twitter, refused to admit or acknowledge the fact that there is an exception under the law, and that there can be an exemption by the state government if, and only if, it so wishes to. The state government, however, chose to use this “secular” enactment to impose such religious precept — this is ‘not cool’ (using Syahredzan’s words)! It is thus unfair for certain politicians to accuse MCA and Gerakan for agreeing to and approving law which infringes upon the right and the way of life of the non-Muslims when the intention of the said enactment was not meant to be religious. It is only religious when the new state government chooses to enforce the law in such religious way!

Having said that, I do not blame the DAP leaders for not knowing the law and/or the policy sought to be imposed by the Kedah state government. It is unfair to blame them because they have no representative in the said state government prior to the implementation of the policy. Therefore, we should celebrate when they jumped onto the MCA and Gerakan bandwagon to condemn such an unfair policy in the interests of the people.

Likewise, there is no guarantee that the same will not happen should MCA fail to make it into any of the state governments, and to reflect and voice out the views of the non-Muslims, when such policies are planned and drafted by the respective state governments.

As I stand to be corrected, I rest my case.

Credit: I must register my heartfelt appreciation to my senior from law school and now learned friend in the Bar, Syahredzan Johan, for his willingness to spare some time off his busy schedule to read, edit and comment on this article. However, the opinions in this post are completely mine unless otherwise stated.

Eric Choo is a young lawyer practising in Melaka and the current Legal Bureau Chief of MCA Jasin, Melaka. He tweets at @choows and describes himself as an idealist who wish to see his country progress...

12 replies on “The Kedah Entertainment Ban: Whose Fault?”

  1. Anyone who does not recommend that 4D outlets be allowed to host casino games, or recommend zoning Adult Industry Entertainments are guilty of the same.

    Would MCA condemn APARTHEID and leave BN’s apartheid or stand with Pakatan if too frightend? Get MIC, Gerakan and PPP to leave BN and APARTHEID ends with the endotrsement of the below 3 items :

    1) Freedom from Apartheid/Fascism
    2) Freedom from Religious-Persecution/Religious-Supremacy.
    3) Equality for all ethnicities and faiths in all aspects of policy, Law and Constitution.

  2. Dear all,

    The enactment itself is 'secular'. There is no mention of the word 'Islamic' or 'Ramadan' in in enactment. It was, to me, enacted to regulate entertainment premises in the state.

    I cannot seem to find 'Schedule C' of the enactment as mentioned by Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor. I believe that 'Gazette dated 12 February, 1998, of which the General Condition No. 8' is a later gazetted condition made under powers given by the Licensing Committee under the enactment.

    If this is true, it would appear that in 1998, the Kedah state government used the enactment to gazette a general condition to ALL entertainment licenses not to operate during Ramadhan. This is an example of using the 'secular enactment' to enforce a religious precept or for a religious purpose.

    It appears however that the general condition has not been enforced until now when the Kedah government tried to enforce it.

    My two cents.

  3. Kedahan,
    I think you're right…if not why the "if and only if'. Surely this is meant to hold the rakyat at ransom…

  4. "The fact is that such approvals were granted during the BN administration…"

    If that is true, applying for approval is just formality, right? Then why bother enacting that law? Why not enact a law that specifically prohibits Muslims from entering these outlets? No necessity to apply for approval and, thus, less work for both parties. Also less open to abuse and corruption.

    But if you say that not all applications are approved…then we have a problem. MCA and Gerakan cannot run away from their responsibilities.

  5. If MCA/Gerakan – BN wants a winning strategy, I recommend recruiting UMNO to pull back the Islamisation of Malaysia. Allow Muslims to deregister from JPN, in fact stop registering Muslim children. Anyone wishing to subscribe as a Muslim can do so with the state Islamic department. At a Federal level there shouldn't be any religious consideration. Bumiputeraism should also be decoupled from Islam, in fact it never was coupled anyway. Keep shariah law, keep JAKIM ands everything else… But stop holding Malaysians as prisoners in transparent prison. This alone will guarantee BN's survival for the next 20 years. As DAP and PAS will self destruct over this issue. Don't try to piss up the wall about which party is more Muslim, try the reverse.

  6. This law basically says that 'as long as MCA is around, the exception will be used'. Hence, you are screwed if MCA is no longer around. No wonder CSL threatens the Chinese community that MCA representatives will not be around should they lose in election and the Chinese are screwed. MCA set up a trap or MCA is such a loser that they can only get a temporary 'exception' clause. Why allow it to be enacted in the first place?

  7. Of course the enactment was meant to be religious! Why else prohibiting entertainment on FRIDAY or Ramadan?!?!

    I live in Kedah and I want to watch movies on Thursday night!!!!!

  8. fair arguments and well-written article. Just one irregularity: How can the law be considered "secular" when it is clearly put in place with the intention to regulate/prevent Muslims from entering entertainment outlets during Ramadhan and/or on Fridays?

    It would be more logical to argue that although the law may be religious in nature, non-Muslims' interests are protected since the state govt is also empowered under the law to exclude non-Muslims from its enforcement, with a written approval. So technically, MCA, Gerakan, and Umno itself, did not neglect protecting the non-Muslims' interests (yes, I refused to use the word "right") when the law was passed.

  9. it appears that the law is a general one to regulate entertainment outlets, without any religious considerations nor based on any religious precepts. Isn't the mere word Ramadhan synonymous with Islam…..

  10. So all these oppressive laws are put in place by MCA and gang and not implimented due to the good intention of MCA? But there is no " guarantee the same will not happen should MCA fail to make it into any of the state governments" ?????? Are you holding the people at ransom by all these laws?WTF!!!!

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