KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 ― Umno’s continued silence as the voices of Malay right-wing groups grow louder by the day could end up being misconstrued as Putrajaya’s endorsement of extremism and racism, analysts have warned.
By staying passive to appease its supporters in Malay-Muslim Malaysia, Umno also risks having its own grip on power weakened in the event such groups later decide to enter the political arena as opponents, the analysts added.
Director of independent pollster Merdeka Center Ibrahim Suffian acknowledged the strategy, saying the easiest, tried and tested way to shore up support from a particular group, is to use emotive issues.
“Certainly by not curbing this, by not doing anything, (it) actually condones these kinds of statements.
“It also has a counter-reaction, not only espousing more extreme and conservative views by allowing more leeway for them to do whatever they want, but it might also increase the politicising among religious groups, the Christians for example, could be more politicised and resort to being extreme as well,” he told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.
“One of BN’s (Barisan Nasional) strength is the party’s ability to maintain political stability and peace; if overtime they let this behaviour unchecked, it will also undermine its strength”.
Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) chief executive officer Wan Saiful Wan Jan stressed the need for Umno’s top leaders, especially Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, to drown out the voices of right-leaning groups like Perkasa and Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) before the brewing racial and religious tension spiral out of control.
“Umno is the one who has to say they distance themselves from these voices and then it will really isolate the far right voices from anybody else,” he said, warning that it would otherwise be lumped in with the group.
Isma has been at the forefront of attempts to discredit the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the Universal Periodic Review Process (Comango), which has come under fire from other Muslim activists who claim the group’s human rights recommendations to the United Nations ran counter to the “true” teachings of Islam and the sovereignty of the Federal Constitution.
On Wednesday, the Home Ministry declared Comango as an “unlawful organisation” and accused it of promoting anti-Islamic values here.
Protests by the Youth wing of the Malay rights group Perkasa also forced Putrajaya Corporation to abandon plans for a Hard Rock Cafe in the administrative capital, after the group claimed it was inappropriate to serve alcohol and have “wild entertainment” in the city is said was modelled after the Muslim holy city Medina.
Centre for Policy Initiatives director Dr Lim Teck Ghee said it was difficult to understand Umno’s silence so far, saying it dented the moderate Muslim image Malaysia has cultivated.
“Externally, the country’s moderate image — besides that of the PM’s — has taken a beating which will impact on business, tourism and other spheres of activity,” he told The Malay Mail Online via e-mail.
Wan Saiful pointed out that most of those who are promoting the far right ideas are Umno supporters.
“I think the reason why they are continually behaving like this is because the weak leadership in Umno is unable to stand up against the far right voices.
“They are pushing the country towards a more right-wing agenda, even in the realm of public policy. If it is only rhetoric, it’s fine, but when it comes to public policy, it’s dangerous,” he said.
Agreeing, Lim said keeping silent on the growing voice of extremism is a betrayal to Malaysians who voted for the ruling coalition and their liberal, moderate agenda.
“Voters did not vote for a government that is wishy-washy and is intent on playing up to the Malay and Islamic gallery. The payback will surely come at the next elections,” he said.
Ibrahim also agreed that Najib’s moderate stance and efforts to promote moderation may seem less convincing than his predecessor Tun Abdullah Badawi because of the former’s lack of Islamic background.
This, he noted, has resulted in a gap that has been increasingly filled by the conservatives working within his bureaucracy like those in the Selangor Religious Department (Jais), the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), or religious scholars.
“I think there is a vacuum in terms of leaders that can utilise Islam as a mobilising force,” he said.
But Ibrahim pointed out that with the Sarawak elections coming in two years’ time, the Najib administration would need to communicate that it was not an administration that only catered to the Malay-Muslim community.
Unlike in the peninsula where the Malay-Muslims are the majority, the group only accounted for a quarter of the votes in the state considered a vote bank for the ruling coalition, he pointed out.
Sarawak’s last state poll was held in April 2011 at the height of the controversy over the seizure of a consignment of the Alkitab bibles, which contained the word “Allah”.
It was in the run-up to the polls when the Najib Cabinet mooted the 10-point solution to resolve the longstanding dispute and ordered the release of the impounded books, besides pledging never to seize them again, according to a media report.