Malay confidence in Pakatan hinges on pace of action after fireman’s death

Muhammad Adib passed away about three weeks after being hospitalised over his injuries during the Seafield temple rioting. — Picture via Twitter
Muhammad Adib passed away about three weeks after being hospitalised over his injuries during the Seafield temple rioting. — Picture via Twitter

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 21 — Pakatan Harapan must speed up investigations and prosecution if it is to stem the slide in Malay support following the death of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, analysts have said.

Though Adib’s death was not due to an interracial clash, those polled have noted the burning anger within the Malay demographic group towards certain ethnic Indian lawmakers from the ruling coalition whose initials remarks suggested one.

“It might create uncertainty if no immediate action is taken,” Sivamurugan Pandian from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) told Malay Mail.

Already, a coalition of Muslim organisations known as Gerakan Pembela Ummah are calling for a #Justice4Adib solidarity rally outside Masjid Putra in Putrajaya after Friday prayers today — which was also the date the slain fireman was to wed his fiancee Nurul Najihah Mohd Radzi.

The same Muslim coalition demanded the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government rescind its moratorium[a] on the death penalty 24 hours after Adib’s death so it can be used on those convicted of his murder.

Ummah is also clamouring for the removal of the PH ministers from government and the use of the Sedition Act against them. It will march to deliver its memorandum to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Sivamurugan said the government cannot afford to be seen to delay justice, even if it wanted to ensure the rule of law is applied properly.

With the public restive, continued calls for calm from those in positions of power have had the opposite effect.

“Many irresponsible parties were involved. All should be prosecuted without delay so that it does not create crisis of confidence towards the authorities,” the USM political sociology professor said.

Datuk Agus Yusoff of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) said whether or not PH suffers a Malay backlash hinges on the actions of its leaders in the next few days.

“But the problem is they have been issuing unwise statements like ‘keep calm’,” the associate professor of UKM’s history, politics, and strategy school said.

“What their leaders should say is ‘we promise stern action and heavy punishment to all those found guilty, and swift justice will be delivered’.

“How can you tell people to keep calm when they are angry? It’s a stupid thing to say,” he added.

Political motive

Much of that anger towards PH is trained on Senator P. Waytha Moorthy, the national unity and social wellbeing minister, alleged to have incited the temple defenders to act violently after he accused the police of mishandling the first riot on November 26.

News of Adib’s death last Tuesday from “chest complications” three weeks after a mob set upon him have infuriated Malaysians, especially after the firefighter was rumoured to be targeted because he was Malay — the same ethnicity as the purported temple intruders who on November 26 messed up the Hindu temple and roughed up its worshippers in a dispute over its land ownership.

Selangor executive councillor V. Ganabatirau has also been singled out for his initial statement that Muslims wanted to take over the temple grounds by force, which is believed to have further agitated Hindus and driven to them to violence.

Malay and Muslim groups, including from within PH, are calling for heads to roll. To them, justice will be served if Waytha and Ganabatirau are removed from government, on top of legal action against Adib’s killers and the Hindu temple faction that sparked the riots by flouting the court ruling in favour of the developer that paid for its one-acre plot of land.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is now under pressure to act. He has earlier this week said he has not decided on Waytha’s fate, but is satisfied with his ministerial performance.

“It’s the prerogative of the PM to take any action against his Cabinet members although the masses are upset at some of them,” Sivamurugan said.

Waytha was also at the centre of a separate but interlinked conspiracy to dismantle Bumiputera privileges, after he was tarred as the mastermind for Putrajaya to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

The decision was part of PH’s election manifesto, but Dr Mahathir had capitulated to pressure from Malay-Muslim groups by cancelling the move.

The same groups that lobbied and got the ratification off the table have tried to conflate the UN treaty with the temple land dispute. To a certain degree, they have been successful, judging from the angry response on social media.

There are views even among PH now that Waytha is a political liability.

But analysts like James Chin of Monash University believe concerns over the animosity towards Waytha Moorthy may be exaggerated, and that the temple issue is unlikely to turn into a full-blown race issue that could damage PH’s Malay support.

“I think Malays, like most people, think this is now a police case ever since it was revealed the dispute is over which factions controls the temple plus the developers,” Chin told Malay Mail.

“Most Malays know this is not an Malay issue but a dispute among the Indians and developers PH will have to move fast and make sure they charge those who beat Adib. As long as they can do that, it will not be a racial issue.”