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Disquiet in Malaysia as National Day approaches

Updated On: Aug 14, 2007

As Malaysia prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence, there is an increasing sense of unease that all is not well in the country.

In particular, the recent racial and religious issues surrounding the ambiguous jurisdiction of the secular and religious courts have been raised at various forums.

Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin noted that, “There are ill-feelings regarding various issues among Malaysians.” He said this at the launch of the Setiawangsa Umno divisional meeting and proposed a closed-door forum attended by Barisan Nasional component parties to discuss some of the issues.

He elaborated, “Lately, many issues have cropped up, such as whether Malaysia is a secular or a Muslim country. People are still raising questions about human rights….. And there are others who are unhappy with the education system, and there are still questions posed about religion and language. It’s time we go back to closed-door discussions to discuss these critical issues. Once the BN parties arrive at an understanding, we can invite the public and NGOs to express their views.”

Similar sentiment was also raised at the United Pasok Momogun Kada-zandusun Organisation (Upko) convention on 11 August. Upko president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok expressed concern over the unclear jurisdictions of the civil and syariah legal systems which resulted in rulings that were “unhealthy” for race relations.

Even earlier, the Federal Court Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad had stated in a recent landmark ruling, that the Parliament must resolve the jurisdiction competition between the civil and Syariah courts. Given that the Malaysian constitution does not state which court has the final say, some laws had to be revised and changed, and that the political leaders have to make the decision.

In response, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi assured the convention members, “If we find there are problems that are difficult to solve, and if we need to make changes to the law, we can do so.” However, he cautioned that “all this cannot be rushed. Some issues are very important and they have to be considered. One group can express views strongly, and so can another group. How do you manage this? It is not easy.”   He also assured the minorities that he will ultimately address their concerns and that the government will be fair to all.

Badawi’s gradual and cautious approach had already cost him some support from the ethnic Chinese. In a poll carried out by the opinion research firm, Merdeka Centre, in June, it was shown that only 54 per cent of the Chinese community supported the present administration led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. In contrast, 86 per cent of Malays and 71 per cent of Indians approved the administration. The telephone interview survey involved 1,022 respondents throughout the peninsula.

Commenting on the results of the polls, the Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin called for the Barisan Nasional component parties to go to the ground to explain government policies to their ethnic constituents. He said, “The Chinese community must understand that we also give space to other races and not only to Malays. We (Umno) are not a racist party. Hence, the need for this stand to be explained properly to them.”

Although racial and religious issues rank high on the concerns of the ethnic and religious minorities in Malaysia, Badawi did not forget the general needs of the country. He continued to assure the general Malaysian public that the government was concerned about poverty issues. For instance, he also asked for the fine-tuning of the proposed Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) to ensure the speeding up of economic development in SDC, saying, “We want to know whether we are on track in our efforts to improve the livelihood of the hardcore poor.”  (13 August 2007)

Sources:

Tough Issues Need Time to Settle, Says PM (New Straits Times, 12 August 2007)

Go to the Ground, Says Khairy (New Straits Times, 12 August 2007

It’s Time to Clarify Sensitive Issues (New Straits Times, 12 August 2007)

Jurisdictional differences will be resolved amicably, says PM (The Star, 12 August 2007)

I am fair to all races, says Pak Lah (The Star, 12 August 2007)

Abdullah urges patience to resolve religious spats (The Straits Times, 12 August 2007)

Abdullah To Monitor Efforts to Wipe Out Poverty (New Straits Times, 11 August 2007)