25 Sep 2019
Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition ruled the country, it faced an
opposition that campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, free and fair
elections, and greater democracy.
BN, led by
the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the largest and most dominant
party, ruled the country for 61 years until its shock defeat last year by the
Pakatan Harapan coalition, with Mahathir Mohamad at the helm.
the first time in its history, Umno finds itself out of power and playing the
role of the opposition. And in this “new Malaysia”, where once the opposition
campaigned for reforms and clean governance on a pluralist platform, it has now
been replaced by a previously moderate Umno turned ultra-Malay to court the
burnish its ethno-Malay credentials, Umno has teamed up with its one-time arch
enemy, the Islamist Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), to contest elections
under the banner of Malay rights and Islam.
thousands thronged Umno’s headquarters at the Putra World Trade Centre in one
of the largest crowds seen in recent years, to witness the signing of a charter
to seal the Umno-PAS collaboration.
in the characteristic of Malaysia’s opposition from a plural platform to an
ethno-religious one has transformed the country’s political landscape. Identity
politics has become pronounced and inflammatory.
manifested itself in the calls for the boycott of non-Malay products, even
halal products produced by non-Malays. It has also seen the proliferation of
fake news involving race that has stirred anger and anxiety among segments of
the Malay community suffering economic hardship.
is false claims of mainland Chinese being indiscriminately granted citizenship
in Malay-majority Malaysia, a story which went viral, causing Malays to feel
they are losing out and that the country is about to be taken over by the
incendiary hoax that circulated recently was a picture of a Chinese-looking man
burning the Malaysian flag, angering many Malays who called Malaysian-Chinese
people unpatriotic, with some netizens demanding that “Chinese pigs” should
leave the country.
image search revealed the photo was actually from a 2013 incident in Manila
where a former Filipino police officer burned the Malaysian flag to protest
against the then–Philippines President Benigno Aquino’s handling of the Sabah
veracity of the photo and its inflammatory implications were largely ignored
even by the country’s political elite, with Umno’s secretary-general Annuar
Musa tweeting out the photo from his official Twitter handle.
identity politics has triggered a competition among political parties,
non-government organisations, and political elites to be the biggest champion
of Malay rights and special privileges, which are enshrined in the constitution
and accepted and respected by all Malaysians.
triggered a race to be a defender of Islam, which is also enshrined in the
constitution “as the religion of the Federation”, but other religions are
allowed to be practiced in “peace and harmony”.
of all races have long respected and accepted the sanctity of Islam, but the
rising surge of identity politics has seen the opposition and opposition-linked
NGOs accuse the Pakatan Harapan coalition of being anti-Islam in a bid to
discredit the government. In government-owned mosques in several states,
pro-opposition preachers have been telling their congregation that the
government discriminates against Islam, wants to eliminate Islam, and is
“liberal,” which is an anathema to conservative Muslims.
from the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP), a member of the ruling
coalition, have been a particular target of such attacks, where the party is
constantly accused of being anti-Islam and seeking to take over the country.
controversial Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik, wanted in India on
money-laundering charges, has become a cause célèbre for political elites,
never mind the fact that he accused the country’s Hindus of being more loyal to
India’s Narendra Modi than Malaysia’s Mahathir.
called Malaysian’s ethnic Chinese “old guests” who should leave the country
before he does. Naik was granted permanent residency in Malaysia by the
illustration of the febrile political climate, Malaysia’s youngest minister,
Syed Sadiq Abdul Rahman, who initially backed calls for the preacher to be
deported, said “an attack against our Chinese and Indian brothers and sisters
is an attack against all Malaysians,” but later changed his tune after
suffering a huge backlash from Malay-Muslims. Days after his remarks, Syed
Sadiq called on Malaysians to forgive Naik and to “move on".
on identity politics steals attention from where it should really be directed.
It is crucial for the Pakatan Harapan government to fix the economy, a mammoth
task given the huge debts it inherited, but it is possible if all members of
the coalition parties sit down and work together with discipline and focus.
economy blooms, hatred and suspicion will dissipate.
the state of provocation, the disregard of political elites for the potential
of racial riots, with some expressing “it will never happen” or others simply
shrugging their shoulders, as if to say “who cares”, is mind-boggling.
event of the worst, everyone will suffer, as fire does not distinguish race or
religion. There will be no winners, only the ashes of the power-hungry.
Headline: Malaysia’s dangerous racial and religious trajectory
Source: Lowy Institute