It is appropriate that Malaysia’s Independence Day celebration this year has been marred (August 31, 2010) by several high profile racial and religious incidents (against minority communities) in recent weeks. This follows a clear trend that has persisted since the Badawi era and has reached unprecedented heights on Najib’s watch (Watch here or read here).
In the most recent events, two school principals were accused of making racial statements against non – Muslim students (Read here and here or watch The Effing Show’s spoof). Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister -who has aligned himself with Malay-Muslim right wing movements – maintained an elegant silence over the issue before notifying an angry public that investigations would be carried out on the incident (Read here).
This was followed by another incident, where UMNO supporters riled up against a DAP Member of Parliament, Ms. Teo Nie Ching, for entering a surau (Muslim prayer house) in her constituency to present financial assistance which the surau management committee had requested (Read here). PERKASA, the ultra right wing Malay-Muslim group not only wants action taken against her but have now demanded that a fatwa (Islamic ruling/edict/decree) be enacted to ban non-Muslims from entering mosques and suraus (Read here and here ).
If that was not enough to create the atmosphere for a glorious Merdeka (Independence) celebration, Dr. Mahathir, dictator extraordinaire, made another profound statement, claiming that those who were promoting meritocracy were racists (Read here).
Najib’s role unclear
While racism and religious bigotry had been UMNO’s staple diet, it is unclear what Najib’s role is in the alarming spike in religious and racial discrimination against minorities in Malaysia.
One view is that these are clearly the workings of Najib: (i) to distract Malaysians from the real issues plaguing his administration (the usual UMNO strategy); (ii) to set the scene for a repeat of Operasi Lalang – to remove threats from an opposition that is on the ascendency and to strike fear in Malaysians (Mahathir did this) (read here) or (iii) to pre-empt altogether the need for an elected government by declaring a state of emergency (his father, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister, did this when outcomes of the 1969 elections were unclear).
In my opinion, it is more likely that Najib has lost all control of his party, his administration and the vested interests that prop-up the Barisan Nasional (read here).
It is important to note that all his signature policies (1Malaysia, Government Transformation Programme and Economic Transformation Programme) have been undermined by his very own party – UMNO, by his administration (the public sector who are predominantly made up of BN supporters) or interests groups linked to UMNO (Malay chambers of Commerce, hard line Islamic religious groups (Read here).
After remaining silent, Najib has announced that his administration has zero tolerance for racism (read here and here). However, his inability to defend any of his policies (or slogans) against his own party has rendered him impotent. Najib is now more a subject of ridicule rather than respect (Read here).
It appears that Malaysians will need to free themselves from UMNO to be truly Independent.
Selamat Hari Merdeka!
A different Malaysia was possible – one based on solidarity.