By Michael Sainsbury
Malaysia’s bishops have broken their collective silence following the May 9 win by the Mahathir Mohamad led opposition, calling it a golden opportunity to set the nation on a new course.
The ousting of the corruption-tainted government of Najib Razak spelled the end of a six decade ruling coalition dominated by the United National Malays Organization (UMNO).
The bishops thanked God for a relatively peaceful election and expressed gratitude for an electorate that had come of age. They called for people to continue to pray for Malaysia.
“To all the election commission officials, the polling and counting agents, the thousands of volunteers and responsible citizens assisting in the background, ‘syabas’ (well done) for an almost incident-free election,” their statement issued May 16 read.
The Malaysian bishops’ conference is headed by Bishop Sebastian Francis of Penang.
It includes archbishops Julian Leow of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Simon Poh of Kuching and John Wong of Kota Kinabalu as well as six bishops.
“We have witnessed humility and the seeking of forgiveness for past mistakes,” the bishops stated.
“We have seen reconciliation offered and received; observed graciousness in defeat; and a love for peace and harmony for this country.”
It was a chance to increasingly put into practice the values of the Gospel.
“We must pray for healing and unity among all of us,” the church leaders said, calling on Catholics nationwide to offer prayers and services to ensure the country’s peace is maintained.
In recent decades government rule and services in the multi-ethnic, religiously diverse but Muslim majority country has become increasingly tilted in favor of ethnic Malays who are overwhelmingly followers of Islam.
Catholic bishops in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak, led by Archbishop Wong, on the island of Borneo that Malaysia shares with the Indonesian province of Kalimantan, have voiced growing concern over the Islamification of provinces that were once majority-Christian.
The opposition was only able to win after a significant number of Malays joined most other ethnic minorities in voting against the Najib regime, reducing its vote from 50 percent five years ago to 36 percent.
It is yet to be seen whether the incoming government, initially to be headed by Mahathir, will set out to stem overt Islamification.
Mahathir, a former long serving prime minister, is expected to later hand over the prime ministership to veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim following his release from prison. Anwar entered politics originally as an Islamic student leader.