Kangar has never been known as an attraction for entertainment. In fact, the only cinema in town has shut down. The people of Perlis probably visit nearby Hatyai town, located just across the Thai border, if they want to patronise entertainment outlets.
So, it came as a surprise, if not amusement, when Perlis Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim proposed to impose a 10pm to 6am curfew on youths aged 18 and below.
First, the question is how the proposal can be made legal and even whether it is constitutional. There is no Malaysian law that says that youths cannot be out on the streets after 10pm.
And even if such a law is allowed in Perlis, what is there to stop anyone from challenging the law, especially when the punishment that would be meted out cannot be serious.
Should Perlis go ahead and impose such a curfew, Malaysia will probably be the first country in the world to have such a law. A curfew for youths does not even exist in conservative Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Iran.
What Shahidan intends to do will not just make Malaysia a laughing stock but will even send a wrong message to the world as we make a serious bid to get more tourists to visit Malaysia.
On Thursday, Shahidan said the proposed move would restrict youngsters from patronising entertainment outlets such as karaoke joints, video outlets and 24-hour convenience stores at night.
Those who break the curfew, he said, might have to pay a nominal fee as a deterrent, adding that the proposed move would help curb social ills and instil higher discipline among youths.
Shahidan, known for making controversial statements, said the move would also discourage the lepak (loafing) culture among youngsters who hang around aimlessly at certain places.
It would be more practical for the Perlis authorities to check on entertainment outlets, which are only a handful in Kangar, than to impose the proposed curfew. Underaged youths are unlikely to patronise karaoke outlets, unless accompanied by adults, as they don't have deep pockets.
In this Internet age, youngsters can have easy access to cyber pornography, online gaming and other vices without even stepping out of their rooms, let alone the streets of Kangar.
But Shahidan must understand that such a sledge-hammer approach is not just impractical but also appears like an over-reaction to a problem that cannot be resolved overnight.
Despite the media campaign against the lepak problem, particularly at shopping malls and fast-food outlets, the problem has continued. No one seems to have a clear and effective answer to stop it.
In fact, the lepak problem is equally prevalent in village coffeeshops where farmers spend their time playing dam (checkers) instead of spending time with their children at home.
It will be more constructive if Perlis can organise sports activities that appeal to the young, similar to the AXN Challenge Series involving skateboards and wall climbing, but there is no guaranteed success either. Conventional methods like holding cultural and religious classes may sound good but they are unlikely to attract the young. Let's be realistic.
Prior to this proposal to impose curfew on youngsters, Shahidan created a storm when he called for the state's laws on polygamy to be relaxed to discourage Malaysian Muslims from crossing over to Thailand to marry again.
Women groups and the Women and Family Development Ministry were particularly upset over a stipulation that Muslim men need not get the consent of the first wife to marry again.
It is not clear why Shahidan, a seasoned politician, is making these headline-grabbing statements but moderate Malaysians hope it is not to score political points against PAS.
It will be a grave mistake if Shahidan merely wants to outdo PAS in religious and social matters as the majority of the people support the Barisan Nasional because of its pragmatic approach to politics.
The Barisan, especially Umno, will continue to get the support of not just the Malays but also the other community groups because the majority of Malaysians understand the implications of supporting PAS.
o Wong Chun Wai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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