The Malaysian Insider
20 June 2014
Malaysians are wondering whether Putrajaya’s unspoken political strategy is to divide the predominantly Muslim-Malay country along racial lines in a bid to hold on to power following sharpening racial and religious tensions, the Edge Review reported today.
This follows incidents that have rocked Malaysia’s delicate racial and religious relations – acts by Muslim authorities, who snatched a body at a funeral and disrupted a Hindu wedding ceremony on suspicion that the deceased and the bride respectively might be Muslims.
The weekly said there were also signs of a campaign by the country’s civil service to push a religious-inspired agenda.
The report cited other similar incidents, such as the threat by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) to destroy the 301 Bibles it seized from the Bible Society of Malaysia and the refusal of Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar to follow a court ruling in a highly publicised custody battle that ordered a Muslim convert father to return the children to the mother, who was a Hindu.
The weekly took Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to task for “not helping the deepening discord”.
“His reluctance to take a firm stand to quell the increasingly shrill public tone has opened him to attacks that he has abandoned his brand of inclusive politics under his much-touted 1Malaysia campaign in favour of a more polarising style of governing,” it said.
This view was echoed by political analyst and Associate Professor of Political Science at the Singapore Management University Bridget Welsh, who was quoted as saying: “Najib is distinguishing himself as premier by the use of any means possible to stay in power.”
The Edge Review said that it was hard to determine the level of political stress these race and religion issues were having on society and how they would act out in the near future.
However, it warned that should tensions deepen, they could put out the little hope the country had on the economic front.
“Global demand is very strong and we could be in for a mother of a rebound this year that will greatly benefit the very open Malaysian economy,” Manu Bhaskaran, director of Centennial Group International told the Edge Review.
“It will take a lot to hurt Malaysia in the short term. But if these policies continue, then we are looking at a slow burn.”
The ruling coalition of Barisan Nasional, the report said, was losing its hold over Malaysian politics because of widespread unhappiness over rampant corruption and Putrajaya’s failure to reform the economy and the political system.
This was seen in the 2008 general election when BN lost its long-held two-thirds majority in Parliament and in last year’s general election, when the Najib-led coalition took a further beating.
“It not only failed to improve its numbers in Parliament, but also lost the popular vote, securing only 47% compared with the opposition’s 51%. The coalition partners scored miserably in the multi-racial urban seats and Umno clung on to most of its rural ethnic Malay seats with reduced majorities,” the weekly said.
Things could worsen in the next GE, the Edge Review said, as growing urbanisation among Malays and the party’s failure to attract younger voters into its ranks were threatening to undermine Umno’s clout in rural areas.
“The party is really living on borrowed time,” a senior Umno official, who is also a member of the party’s policy-making Supreme Council, told the Edge Review.
The Najib administration’s divide-and-rule strategy appeared to be aimed at increasing its numbers in Parliament, political analysts and opposition politicians said.
Analysts were reported as saying that the move to sow racial and religious discord in the country was part of Najib’s strategy to sow distrust in the country’s ideologically diverse opposition.
“For example, the move by several PAS leaders to throw their weight behind the overzealous religious officials in their treatment against non-Muslims has ruptured ties between the Islamist party and the country’s multiracial opposition DAP,” it said.
An unnamed DAP senior parliamentary leader said: “All of us are trying to hold on to our traditional voter base and this is leading to more divisions. But the point is we realise this is Umno’s strategy and whether it succeeds will depend on us.”
However, playing the race and religion card could trigger a backlash from Sabah and Sarawak, which have sizeable Christian populations and have been long supporters of BN.
Najib’s position in this environment appeared to be secure, the report said, but Umno leaders said that there was growing dissatisfaction in the party towards Najib’s leadership.
“His control over the party and government is weak. All you need is a party crisis to trigger open attacks against him within Umno,” a senior Umno official, who served in former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s cabinet was quoted as saying.
“Umno is all about self-preservation. If the party thinks it stands to lose power with Najib at the top, they will push against him.” – June 20, 2014.