A book examining Malaysia’s 14th General Election that pushed out the dominating ruling party since Malaysia’s independence for more than thirty years is currently under investigations after reports began criticizing the book’s cover artwork for allegedly mocking the country’s coat of arms.
The book was published at the beginning of 2020, prior to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation and Muhyiddin Yassin taking the position as Malaysia’s eight prime minister under the new National Alliance (also known as Perikatan Nasional in Malay).
Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, and Hope in New Malaysia.
The book in question is a collection of articles, reports, and political analysis surrounding Malaysia’s 14th General Election back in 2018.
“More than a year after ordinary Malaysians did the extraordinary and voted out a government in power since 1957, a raw reality has set in. On the eve of a once-idealised ‘Vision 2020’ of modern Malaysia, Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, and Hope in New Malaysia questions an uncertain nation’s possible futures,” the book’s description on Gerakbudaya reads.
“Was Malaysia saved from kleptocracy by the world’s oldest prime minister, and does it finally transform itself into a sustainable democracy with another longstanding putative leader? Is there a younger generation of Malaysians with the gumption to make that difference? These are the questions that inform this book.”
Comparisons to the national coat of arms.
The image on the book has been compared to the national coat of arms, also known in Malay as Jata Negara.
The coat of arms comprises of an escutcheon or shield, two supporting tigers, the crescent and fourteen-pointed federal star. Underneath, the motto Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu is written alongside its Jawi equivalent on a banner, which means “Unity is Strength.”
Meanwhile, the book’s cover artwork portrays a woman’s face with a naked baby sitting on top wearing the crescent and star, and two tigers with humanoid faces standing on top of a crocodile.
The book began gathering criticisms just recently when Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusukifrom UMNO, a ruling party from Perikatan Nasional, called upon the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) in a Facebook post to take action against the book and subsequently ban it from the country.
“I ask that the wriers, editor and publisher of the book are investigated and firm action to be taken by authorities if it’s proven there is a motive to insult the country’s official symbol,” he wrote in his post on June 28.
21 police reports were also lodged on the alleged desecration of Malaysia’s national symbol by several officials including UMNO Youth chief of Kuala Lumpur Mohamed Nizam Abdullah Hamidi, PAS treasurer Faizzudin Zai, and various others.
But GerakBudaya Enterprise has said the artwork was not intended to insult anyone.
“We did not have any intention to insult anyone with the book cover, or any ill intention for using the image. Secondly, regardless of this being unintentional, I nevertheless would like to apologise to anyone who is offended by the cover,” director of Gerakbudaya Chong Ton Sin said, according to the Malay Mail.
According to Chong, the cover image was taken from a painting that was produced and displayed at an exhibition in the Malaysian state of Sarawak many years ago.
Usage for the artwork as the book’s cover was arranged between the artist and book editor, he said.
However, editor of Rebirth and journalist Kean Wong had declined to comment when contacted by Malaysiakini stating that he was advised by his lawyer to not speak about the matter.
Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin said the book has violated the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act 1963.
“I have asked the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) to investigate and take strict action immediately,” he said in a Facebook post on 29 June. “The government will not compromise against any party that takes such unpatriotic and irresponsible acts.”
Under Section 3(1)(a), use of “any specified name or specified emblem, or any colorable imitation thereof, for the purpose of any trade, business, calling or profession” are prohibited.
The book is currently available for purchase for RM45 (US$10) from Gerakbudaya’s website.
Cover image sourced from Oh Bulan.