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Race, religion and rising fuel prices - Growing discontents with Pak Lah?

Updated On: Mar 14, 2006

Recent events aggregated to paint a picture of growing discontent with the Abdullah government. 

In response to the fuel price hike raised by the Government on February 28, around 500 protesters – members of opposition parties such as Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and the Keadilan party and activists from non-governmental groups – staged a fourth demonstration in downtown Kuala Lumpur on March 10. Notably, during the demonstration, there was call for Abdullah to step down. 

“We want the public to protest until they drop the fuel hike,” said PAS deputy president, Mr Nasharuddin Mat Isa.  Such a move is also supported by Malaysia's biggest trade union, which posits that the price hike is hurting low-salaried workers.

In Penang, a school principal revoked the rights of two netball teams to take part in a local tournament because some players removed their headscarves during the competition. 

Even while Malaysia's Education Minister, Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, maintained that “there is no compulsion (under the Ministry’s rules and regulations) for students to wear the tudung,” the incident has drawn flak from social activists such as Marina Mahathir.  The daughter of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad writes in her column, 'Musings' in The Star newspaper, that Malaysia is discriminating against Muslim women because of growing Islamic conservatism.  In her interview with Associated Press, she spoke of a growing austerity in the interpretation of syariah laws that can be attributed to “a fight between two main political parties for Muslim votes”.

In another event that illustrates the sensitivity of race and religion in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, Chinese pig breeders in Malacca protested against  the Veterinary Services Department’s order to close down 82 hog-rearing farms.  Mr Goh Leong San, a member of the predominantly ethnic Chinese opposition Democratic Action Party, asserted that “this move has political motives to help the state government increase its popularity among Malays”.

Amidst such tensions along economic, religious and ethnic lines, the Government has pledged to conduct public opinion polls on major issues involving education, public transport, water supply, schools and public welfare.  Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, a senior minister in the Prime Minister's Department, who is in charge of the programme, explained this new move as “part of efforts to have a more open government and to ensure more transparency and accountability”.

“With this programme we hope to avoid any feeling of dissatisfaction among the people with the government,” the minister said.  More remains to be seen in the months ahead as to how popular opinion towards the Abdullah administration will pan out.

Sources:

Riot police break up KL fuel price protest (The Straits Times, 11 March 2006)

Muslim headscarves not compulsory: Education Minister (New Straits Times, 11 March 2006)

Pig farmers hit out at closure order (Associated Press, 11 March 2006)

KL government to poll public on major issues (The Straits Times, 11 March 2006)