Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi who is also the president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has stressed that the theme of this year’s annual meeting is unity among the races (and groups) in Malaysia.
He said that the time for championing parochial interests was over, ‘The harmony between the various communities and religions in Malaysia is not an optional luxury - it is a necessity.’
While many of the speeches of other delegates focused on unity and ‘national’ issues rather than narrow racial or religious ones, it was the speeches that deviated from the theme that received the most attention (and applause).
In particular, one of the most anticipated events was whether UMNO Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein would for the third year running at the party’s annual youth assembly wave the kris. In the past two years, the act of brandishing the kris has been viewed by the non-Malays as a sign of rising Malay chauvinism and has raised much concern.
This year, Hishammuddin raised and kissed the kris again. He told non-Malays to get used to his act, claiming that there was nothing to be concerned about. His action received the support of the other Umno Youth leaders. The Youth wing’s information chief Datuk Azimi Daim said, ‘I can’t really understand why the non-Malays were making so much noise. There is no record in history that a war was sparked by the brandishing of a kris. The kris has never even been a primary weapon in war.’
Hishammuddin’s assurance seems to have been accepted by the other Barisan Nasional coalition party leaders. For instance, Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) Youth Chief Datuk Liow Tiong Lai noted, ‘He [Hishammuddin] explained in a multi-racial context that the kris was to protect all Malaysians and this is the right message to the public.’ Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) Youth chief S.A. Vigneswaran said, ‘I know Datuk Hishammuddin personally. I know what he meant. Obviously, he meant championing the Malay cause, otherwise, he must close shop.’
It is unknown whether the other non-Malays would accept Hishammuddin’s assurance. Instead, they are more likely to be further disturbed by his warning—’We have nodded in respect and agreement, and avoided strife. Do not misinterpret our silence as a weakness’— which was received with loud cheers at the party meeting.
Already the non-Malays particularly the Hindus are concerned about the perceived Malay aggressiveness. Just last week, officers from the Shah Alam City Council demolished a Hindu temple sited on private land in Selangor, sparking anger among Hindus. The head of the MIC, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu even went to the extent, though only temporarily, of ‘advising’ MIC members of parliament and state assemblymen not to hold any open house Deepavali celebrations ‘to mark MIC’s respect for Hindus who are saddened’ by the demolition of the temple.
Samy subsequently assured the Hindus that the state government had allocated a 10,000 square feet land in Shah Alam for the temple to be rebuilt. He also said that Prime Minister Abdullah had decided that in future, issues relating to temples must be dealt with by the menteri besar and himself [the Prime Minister]. At the meeting, one delegate Mr Ahmad Kuris Mohd Noor of Selangor, dismissed the notion that the temple demolition was targeted at the Hindus. He noted many small mosques on private land had also been demolished, saying, ‘Other races must also be willing to give way for the sake of national unity.’
How the coalition Barisan Nasional handles racial issues will be crucial particularly in the run-up to a possible elections next March. If they are not handled well, the other constituent parties of the coalition will be affected. There is already dissatisfaction over the power-sharing arrangements. To this charge that the current coalition arrangement is overly concerned about the Malays at the expense of the non-Malays, Khairy Jamaluddin, deputy chief of UMNO’s youth wing, said UMNO had accommodated the needs of its partners in Barisan Nasional. He explained, ‘If we look at the allocations of electoral seats, the truth is UMNO could have contested more seats than what it has now but this was not the case as we are willing to give way for our BN partners to be better represented.’
Another issue that might have an adverse impact on UMNO or Barisan Nasional electoral fortune is the removal of the oil subsidies. The Malaysian government has been subsiding the price of oil. In the first eight months of this year, the government has spent RM16 billion (S$6.9 billion) just to keep prices at current levels. That amount exceeds the RM15 billion for the whole of last year. Khairy hinted that the subsidies will soon be removed. He said in a speech, ‘I believe the rich can pay the market price or slightly lower than market price [for petrol]’.
The opposition parties are likely to use some of these disturbing debates and discussions arising from the UMNO annual meeting to their advantage. However, they should not expect too much. During the annual meeting, Selangor delegate Ismail Ahmad told opposition party supporters to leave the country if they were not happy. He said (to much applause), ‘These people, they come to a Malay area and they tell me that our country is not doing well and people are still suffering. Well, I will tell you - you can apply for citizenship in Singapore.” (8 November 2007)
Malaysia’s ruling party prepares public for hike in fuel prices (Associated Press, 8
Delegates slam Indian anger over temple demolition (Straits Times, 8 November 2007)
Malaysian general election in March? (Straits Times, 8 November 2007)
Abdullah appeals for unity: Harmony is not ‘a luxury’ (Straits Times, 8 November 2007)
No reason for non-Malays to fear kris, says Hishammuddin(New Straits Times, 7 November 2007)
Party not racist, says Khairy(New Straits Times, 7 November 2007)
Get used to this: Umno Youth chief(Straits Times, 7 November 2007)
Abdullah wants show of unity(Straits Times, 7 November 2007)
BN Component Parties Welcome Explanation (New Straits Times, 7 November 2007)
Sami: Demolished Temple Issue Resolved (The Star, 7 November 2007)
Demolition ‘slap in the face’ for MIC chief Samy Vellu (Straits Times, 7 November 2007)
Doomed temple adds to govt’s list of woes (Straits Times, 7 November 2007)
Samy Vellu: We are hurt over temple (New Straits Times, 7 November 2007)