KUALA LUMPUR - A popular pastime in Malaysia, hanging out into the wee hours at Indian restaurants and hawker centres, could soon be nixed by the government over concerns about a rise in social ills.
A proposal has been submitted to the government to clamp down on these 24-hour restaurants and hawker centres.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim said the proposal to end operating hours at midnight followed complaints that such food outlets were the reason for the rise in social ills nationwide.
"A note and proposal paper will be submitted to the Deputy Prime Minister and National Social Council," he told reporters on Thursday. "It is not a blanket ban on all restaurants or eateries but on those in specific areas such as in housing and rural areas."
Datuk Seri Shahidan said franchise outlets such as McDonald's and KFC will not be included in the proposed ban.
He noted that in other countries, most eateries and restaurants closed before midnight.
"Malaysia is perhaps the only country in the world where one can find eateries and restaurants open 24 hours," he said. "But it's different here due to the presence of many who require the services of this industry, such as tourists, foreign migrants and so on."
He mentioned the rise of social ills - a catch-all phrase used by the government to refer to anything from drug-taking to having sex out of wedlock to skipping school - as being behind the possible ban.
"There are concerns that the young spend too much idle time in such places and get involved in unhealthy activities," Mr Shahidan said.
Earlier in the Senate, he noted that addiction to the Internet was one of the reasons for many people staying up at night instead of sleeping early.
Restaurant owners and patrons said they were disappointed with the minister's proposal.
"Clamping down on eateries will not help. The government should look for the root cause of social ills," said Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Operators Association president Noorul Hassan Saul Hameed. "In fact, we are providing people with a safe and healthy place to have a social life, instead of them going to pubs or bars."
Petaling Jaya Coffeeshop Association secretary Keu Kok Meng said the minister's proposal would affect the livelihoods of many people.
"We cannot have something like this in KL and Selangor," he said. "Over here, everything goes on for 24 hours and that definitely includes eateries, bars and restaurants."
International trade operations specialist N. Karthik Raja said the proposal would make eating out difficult for people who work odd hours.
"I work according to United States and United Kingdom time and most of the time I eat out. If there are no restaurants after midnight, it will be difficult for people like me," he said.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK