Anisah Shukry | August 8, 2012
Free Malaysia Today
Analysts say that that the upcoming film’s depiction of the May 13 riots will spark unhappiness among the public and can be seen as a move to cow Malay voters.
PETALING JAYA: The government-backed film Tanda Putera is Barisan Nasional’s way of instilling fear into the hearts of the rakyat during the run-up to the country’s 13th general election, according to a political analyst.
The film was originally slated for release on Sept 13 but was now expected to reach cinemas in November following controversy over its depiction of the May 13, 1969 riots – an incident largely seen as a stain on Malaysia’s multiracial history.
“There are definitely political motives behind the movie, in terms of it being released near the general election,” political analyst Ong Kian Ming told FMT.
“One of the primary reasons for the release of the movie is that it is part of a larger picture involving fear-mongering – to create a sense of fear among the Malay community that if BN was to lose the next general election, it would lead to a repeat of the May 13 incident,” he said.
The race riots four decades ago had been sparked off by an election setback for the Malay-dominated ruling alliance. The riots lasted several weeks, with the death toll said to be 196.
But the USCI University lecturer stressed that Malaysians had largely moved on from the incident and it would have little impact on urban voters in particular.
“In the urban areas, voters are more sophisticated, so the affect would not be big.
“But once the movie filters down to rural voters, there would be greater political impact as they have less sources of information to turn to,” he said.
The rural vote, comprising mainly of Malays, was largely seen as Umno’s stronghold and a major variable in winning the next general election.
BN had managed to remain in power during the 2008 general election due to winning the many small rural parliamentary seats that made up the numbers in Parliament.
‘Malaysians unhappy over film’
Meanwhile, James Chin, who heads the School of Social Sciences in Monash University, predicted that many Malaysians would be “very unhappy” with the film due to its depiction of the riots.
“A lot of people would be very unhappy with this movie, given that it would an represent official version of events,” the analyst told FMT.
“This movie is sponsored by the government, so people would make the assumption that the authorities have approved the contents and that it represents official history,” he pointed out.
The film’s director, Shuhaimi Baba, had recently told New Straits Times that she did “a lot of research” to make sure the scenes were backed by historical facts.
She added that the film’s intention was to “educate young Malaysians about 1969.”
“But in Malaysia, contemporary history is much disputed for the simple reason that there are two sides to a historical event. This is especially true for controversial events such as the May 13 incident,” said Chin.
The official government view on May 13 was that racial tensions were incited by communists, while the Chinese-dominated DAP further heightened the conflict by holding a victory march through Malay-dominated areas after gaining in the May 10 1969 elections.
But opponents to the interpretation claimed that a Malay elite led by then deputy premier Abdul Razak Hussein orchestrated the unrest as a pretext to cement Malay control.
Abdul Razak, who is Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s father, became the nation’s second prime minister in the aftermath of the riots.
‘Film may backfire on BN’
Meanwhile, Ong also said that the film could potentially cost the ruling government precious votes if its depiction of Malaysian history was clearly slanted towards one party.
“If the movie is seen as blatantly one-sided, and they only show propaganda and the film itself is historically inaccurate, then it can easily backfire, especially among the non-Malays,” he said.
Lending credence to Ong’s view was the response the film had received from cyber citizens.
A Facebook page calling for the boycott of the film was also set up last month under the name “We boycott ‘Tanda Putera’ for being a political puppet of BN.”
The film’s trailer, which was available on YouTube, had received 4,541 “dislikes” compared to 491 “likes” as of today.
Ong said if the government was truly serious about the May 13 issue, it should organise a dialogue rather than allow the film to be released and create fear among the public.
“The government should have made a more concerted effort for a dialogue, where all stakeholders and those affected by the tragedy are allowed to voice their thoughts,” he added.