Religious issues hurting Najib’s chances

The Malaysian Insider
Sep 11, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 — A raid on a church by Muslim authorities has raised religious tension in Malaysia and could cost Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak votes in an election set for 2013 but which many expect to come much earlier.

The raid has sparked an angry verbal battle between Christians and the majority Muslims, forcing Najib to seek what may be an elusive peace between the ethnic Malays and minorities, both of which believe the government isn’t doing enough to safeguard their rights.

Conservative Muslims want the government to crack down on what they say is growing boldness by Christians to try to convert Muslims, which is an offence in Malaysia, while ethnic minorities worry their rights are being eroded.

Analysts say Najib is caught in a bind and will have to tread extremely carefully to avoid being seen as favouring either side in his efforts to mediate.

“Najib is caught between wanting to secure a conservative Malay-Muslim electorate and a political reality where he is losing ground among minorities who are more mobilised and politically aware,” said Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia specialist at Singapore Management University.

The next general election is not due until 2013 but there is increasing speculation that it could take place by early 2012.

Analysts see little chance of the ruling National Front coalition losing the next general election but caution that Najib needs to win a convincing two-thirds majority if he wants to avoid a revolt within his Umno party, long accustomed to majorities by that margin.

Race and religion have always been touchy subjects in a country split between ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indians but analysts say the latest quarrel is coming at a delicate time for Najib, whose popularity has been sliding since May 2010.

“The religious discord will cause the ruling coalition to lose some Chinese majority seats while concerns over inflation may allow the opposition to hang on to the rest of their urban and suburban seats,” said Ibrahim Suffian, director of the independent opinion polling outfit Merdeka Center.

“All this will be on the back of a much strengthened and better-resourced opposition. So in short, it’s not going to be easy for Najib.”

Islamic enforcement officers raided a Methodist church near the capital last month on suspicion that a meeting was being held to evangelise Muslims. The meeting’s organisers, a non-governmental organisation, denied the allegations and said the gathering was a charity affair. The authorities are still investigating the matter.

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t

Traditionally, Malaysian leaders have trod a careful line in dealing with religious issues after violent race riots in 1969 redefined the Southeast Asian country’s ethnic and economic landscape.

Still, race and religion are often the strongest tools for politicians to win support on pledges to distribute economic opportunities along ethnic lines.

Ethnic Malays, who are by birth Muslims in Malaysia, make up about 60 percent of the population of 28 million. Ethnic Chinese and Indians, many of whom are Buddhist, Christian and Hindu, account for most of the rest.

Last month’s church raid is the latest in a series of rows between the Malays and the minority Chinese and Indians.

In recent years, a spate of church bombings, the government’s seizure of a shipment of bibles, a legal battle by Catholics to use the word “Allah” and complaints of marginalisation by Indians have cast a cloud over the government’s attempts to build racial harmony.

Racial unity is a cornerstone of Najib’s plans but many Malaysians have derided his efforts to create a “1 Malaysia” that is not drawn along racial lines. Recently, Najib also extended an olive branch to unhappy Christians by establishing official ties with the Vatican but the gesture has been largely dismissed as no more than a symbolic measure.

“In recent times, we have witnessed an increase in incidents where Christians have been singled out and targeted with unjustified accusations and prejudice,” the Christian Federation of Malaysia, which represents 90 per cent of churches in the country, said in a statement.

A survey last month by the Merdeka Center polling outfit found the percentage of respondents agreeing that Malaysians of differing ethnic groups were growing closer to each other had fallen by nearly half to 36 percent compared to 64 percent in 2006. — Reuters

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 11 September 2011 - 8:20 pm

    Like it or not, UMNO/BN has lost the non-Malay votes especially the Chinese who will never return until UMNO/BN change their Ketuanan & Islamisation ideology. Its as simple as that.

    The truth is the non-Malays never bought the hypocritical argument of ‘tolerance’ when UMNO/BN insist on pounding their Ketuanan & Islamisation rhetorics. They merely tolerated it because UMNO/BN delivered high growth that allowed them to prosper enough to ignore them.

    Those days are gone and we are in for long period of slower and erratic growth because of problems in major economies even in China. The only option is to tax and spend which can’t go far because very few of us actually pay taxes for decades and will not accept it while wages remain stagnant for roughly half of the population.

    No UMNO/BN leader has the talent to walk away from taking ever more rightist and hard-line stance to stay in power for the next few years. That will ultimately lead to our very own Arab Spring.

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Sunday, 11 September 2011 - 9:04 pm

    Not 2 worry, there r talents galore waiting 2 succeed NR: his big F wife RM, d real incumbent PM; HH, d son of a former PM; MM, d son of another ex-PM; KJ, d SIL of an ex-PM
    Moo? Aiyah, can forget abt dat mooing beast, not in d picture, no pedigree mah

  3. #3 by pulau_sibu on Sunday, 11 September 2011 - 9:19 pm

    can Mahathir be like abdullah, keeping low profile after retirement? now we looked to have more than one prime minister, not to say two, in the country. since abdullah, the prime minister seems to be controlled by some one behind. he can never be as strong as before.

  4. #4 by yhsiew on Sunday, 11 September 2011 - 10:30 pm

    ///Analysts say Najib is caught in a bind…………///

    This is the price BN has to pay for simply enacting a law in 1988 to allow action against non-Muslims who allegedly committed proselytisation.

  5. #5 by lee wee tak_ on Sunday, 11 September 2011 - 10:51 pm

    Pakatan probably have lost Indian votes rather than BN have gain them back.

    Like it or not, I believe many Malaysians are still suckers and value their future, and their children’s future is worth RM200 every 5 years, a bag of rice, a blender, a layer of tar in front of their house, or just a handshake and smile from someone they see once every 5 years.

    Or some Malaysians think politics is not their concern and as long as they can pay their credit card debts and enjoy a certain level of consumer convenience, political development are just plain dirty worthless nonsense that do not deserve their attention – better spent elsewhere like spotting the best discount deals, the best food and the cheapest tour package.

  6. #6 by waterfrontcoolie on Sunday, 11 September 2011 - 11:05 pm

    The majority of “thinking people” have made up their mind; it is the ‘simple minoroty’ that swings the the result. After over the last 30 years of free gravy train, many people are addicted to it, hence even the non-UMNO groups have also become addicts and are unable to do anything when the gravy train stops running. To the gravy train, these people are turning to; they will forever become addicted to it, yes not only the UMNO cronies but many more, BN is rather confident they will be able to turn the tide and the SAME group of people will be kicked around again and they will keep crying of being left out of the gravy train. The sad part of it, was when the gravy trains were designated for that community, it was ‘hijacked’ in the name of that community; the TM Share, the commerccial TV station and the privatised port and the same members of the community will try their luck again! So please think carefully and don’t get screwed again and again!!1

  7. #7 by monsterball on Monday, 12 September 2011 - 1:05 am

    Lets vote change and be done with the sickening race and religion politics of UMNO b.

  8. #8 by boh-liao on Monday, 12 September 2011 - 1:11 am

    Aisay man, some ppl like 2 b skrued inside out n upside down again n again, everyday
    They proudly announce 2 d world:
    We don’t need sex
    Our gomen pharks us everyday

  9. #9 by asia on Monday, 12 September 2011 - 1:28 am

    Mighty God created every things and dimension

    Do you think anything on earth can representing Mighty GOD or in any direction?

    There are billion planet outside earth in space

  10. #10 by asia on Monday, 12 September 2011 - 1:34 am

    It is so good business

    If you can come out an object represent God

    You can sell ticket for entrance

  11. #11 by dagen on Monday, 12 September 2011 - 1:12 pm

    Is this one incident so important? Not really. Tell you wot. Christians already hv their minds made up since the allah issue and the malay bible issue. And would this recent church raid change anything? Nothing to change really. If at all, this incident only serves as a reminder to christians of umno’s oppressive, arrogant and stupid ways.

    So ironically jib has a free hand to do what he wants. He could use the already considered-lost minority support (i.e. the christians here) as sacrifice to shore up his waning popularity among the kampung folks.

    The point is do the christians in the country and the rest of the non-umnoputras care? NO. So jib, do what you want. We are not bothered for our pens are out and ready for crosses this GE13.

    Bring it on!

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