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Najib’s options with Allah

(Corrected at 7:25pm, 15 Jan 2010)

How will Najib put out the fires? (Fire pic by straymuse /

COMMENTATOR Manjit Bhathia is right to say that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak “is starting to look every bit as useless as his predecessor, (Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.”

After the divisive rule of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad, Abdullah started his premiership with similar appeals as Najib: ethno-religious moderation and governmental reform. In a way, Najib’s 1Malaysia is but a secular version of Abdullah’s Islam Hadhari; his Key Performance Indicators and National Key Result Areas are but an upgraded version of Abdullah’s short-lived reform to shape up the bureaucracy and combat corruption.

Beginning his term by winning the highest parliamentary majority since Independence, Abdullah soon became the first Barisan Nasional (BN) prime minister to lose the coalition’s customary two-thirds control of Parliament.  Why did this happen? Indecisiveness — Abdullah wanted to please everyone and ended up pleasing nobody. Could Najib meet the same fate as Abdullah?

By starting reforms, Abdullah alienated his predecessor and the warlords within his party, the civil service and the police. By backtracking on reforms to please these warlords, he alienated the middle-ground voters and emboldened the far-right elements in Umno. His flip-flop style eventually invited three mass demonstrations in 2007, among them the deadly Hindraf rally that swept away the BN’s Indian Malaysian support.

In every measure, Najib is now weaker than Abdullah. Instead of coming in as Mr Clean like Abdullah, Najib’s ascendancy to the premiership was marred by allegations of his involvement in the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu and his role in the Perak coup.

Hishammuddin (Courtesy of
(Corrected) And the public anger evoked by then Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein’s keris-waving antics is nothing compared to public anger now evoked by the church burnings. In fact, many Malaysians are blaming Hishammuddin as the home minister for his double standards on demonstrations. After all, he had in September 2009 excused protesters dragging a severed cow’s head outside the Selangor state secretariat and threatening violence, before public anger forced him to prosecute them.

Najib’s headache

So here’s what could happen if Najib makes the wrong move. During the Abdullah administration’s March 2008 elections, alienated non-Malay Malaysians constituted at least one third of voters in 93 parliamentary constituencies in the peninsula. Fifty-three of these were eventually won by the coalition that became the Pakatan Rakyat (PR). In the present climate, non-Muslim bumiputera can deliver the kiss of death to the BN in at least 35 out of 57 parliamentary seats in East Malaysia come the next elections.

To make matters worse, the continuing arson attacks on churches since 8 Jan 2010 are acts of terrorism, although there have been no casualties so far. The police’s failure to nip home-grown terrorism in the bud is a possible early-warning sign that Malaysia may become a failed state under Najib. As it is, police cannot even stop snatch thieves effectively.

Jamil Khir Baharom (
Furthermore, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom‘s proposal for the Catholic church “to be … responsible towards peace and security in Malaysia” by dropping “Allah” suggests that some in Najib’s administration accept terrorism as an idiom in Malaysian politics.

The thing is, if the Catholic church and the Home Ministry broker backdoor deals and the arson attacks immediately stop, wouldn’t the international community think that the arsonists are working in the interests of the Home Ministry, in the fashion that Kashmiri terrorists were perceived as working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence?

All these would hurt support for the BN, not only in the key Christian bumiputera constituencies, but also in the business sector. After all, can business elites afford to support an administration that is perceived to be colluding with terrorists and turning away foreign direct investment and tourists?

The PM must decide

Najib has before him three options, which, for convenience, can be named after one former prime minister or deputy prime minister or another.

(Looknarm / Wiki commons)
The Abdullah option is to continue the indecisiveness: visit and offer support to churches, but also refuse to come down hard on terrorism and institutionalise interfaith dialogue. By doing this, Najib might hope that his administration alienates no one. But if the violence escalates, lives might eventually be lost. And then we would not need rocket science to know that, like Abdullah, Najib will likely only succeed in prolonging and deepening this crisis, eventually alienating everyone, making him a half-term prime minister.

(Pic by Samsul [email protected]
The Mahathir option is to crack down on the opposition, civil society and the churches. Najib could then use the Internal Security Act (ISA) to arrest vocal government critics alongside a few terrorist suspects to convince Malaysians that a return to authoritarianism is the only way to preserve peace. He may even contemplate a declaration of emergency for one or two PR-held states should more churches be torched.

Such a Hobbesian approach worked in post-1969 Malaysia and helped consolidate Umno’s power. However, this backfired in 1990 when the BN lost 47% of the popular vote to the opposition after 1987’s Operasi Lalang. The backlash would only be greater in post-2008 Malaysia which has no appetite for communal violence or martial law. A mass ISA crackdown or emergency rule would be seen as a coup. In turn, this may invite people’s power leading to a humiliating exit of Najib and Umno, much like what happened to Indonesia’s President Suharto or the Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos.

(Wiki commons)
The Musa Hitam option is that Najib commits himself to rule of law and clamps down on anti-democratic forces. As acting prime minister in 1985, Tun Musa Hitam crushed attempts by the United Sabah National Organisation and Berjaya to install a Muslim-majority government in Sabah through a palace coup. Musa supported the democratically elected Parti Bersatu Sabah government, which was soon threatened by bombing, riots and arson in 1986 under Mahathir’s premiership.

Similarly, Najib must categorically declare the government’s intention to respect judicial processes and relieve the Catholic church and its publication Herald from any political or terrorist pressure to drop their case. This will not please the hawks in Umno who just want to be bigger Malay/Muslim champions than PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat. But Najib must remember that he cannot afford to alienate three other groups: Christian bumiputera, the business sector, and the international community.

None of these options will make Umno a knight in shining armour. Najib should really blame his strategists and media czar for allowing Utusan Malaysia and the Umno hawks to play with fire in the beginning. His main priority now should be damage control before the entire country catches fire. That’s the least he can and must do as a prime minister if he wants to keep his job.

Based in Monash University Sunway Campus, Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist by training and journalism lecturer by trade. He thinks Malaysians should call in to radio stations and request Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.

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29 Responses to “Najib’s options with Allah”

  1. Sivin Kit says:

    Jesus taught his disciples to be “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

    I believe the Dove-like Christian community and the majority of Malaysians of all faiths and persuasions will not behave Hawk-like, and surely not in retaliation through violence. Violence is NOT and SHOULD NOT BE our culture!

    Our eyes are wide open on whether the government is more interested in comforting the wounded doves or appeasing the hawks who will let their shrewd tendencies to emerge in the coming elections.

    Some people may think doves have bird brains, thus make a gamble to ignore them. You are entitled to your opinion. But bird brains still won’t forget easily, especially when there are scars to remind them!

  2. Laksamana says:

    A High Court ruling on Dec 31 2009 allowed the Catholic Church in Malaysia to use “Allah” in its weekly newspaper, the Herald, to refer to God.

    The Government of Malaysia has appealed against the ruling, insisting that “Allah” should be used only by Muslims.

    In the past, the ruling party has always been the Alliance Party (Malay: Parti Perikatan) coalition and subsequently from 1973 onwards, its successor the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition. The Barisan Nasional coalition currently consists of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), Gerakan, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), United Pasokmomogun Kadazan Dusun Murut Organisation (Upko) and other political parties.

    If MCA, Upko, PBS, Gerakan, and other political parties do not agree with Umno on the issue of use of “Allah” by non-Muslims, they should register their protest and request the government of Malaysia to withdraw its appeal and leave the appeal to Umno.

    By allowing the government of Malaysia to file the appeal, elected representatives from MCA, Upko, PBS, Gerakan, etc. have condoned the actions of Umno.

    MCA, Upko, PBS, Gerakan, etc. – do the right thing!

  3. siti Fatihah says:

    Terror is not a solution. Islam itself means peace. Stop terrorising others’ beliefs and sacred places. You can persuade others to accept Islam, but you cannot force [them].

  4. RCM says:

    Bro, nice article. What is happening in the country now is what some people might call ‘the divine intervention’ – a small issue purposely became a major issue just to distract the Malaysians from the real issues such as the PKFZ scandal, the Altantuya murder, PI Bala’s confession, illegal [migrants], lost of jet engines, corruption in the auditor-general’s 2008 report and many more [issues] hidden by Umno/BN.

  5. Wong Chin Huat clearly has yet to understand the East Malaysian psyche if he thinks that the Allah issue will be the catalyst to cause Christian bumiputera in Sabah and Sarawak to vote against BN. This is especially so in Sarawak, where the alliance of BN-based parties is different from that of West Malaysia.

    As several people have pointed out across the M’sian online political sphere, East Malaysians primarily see this as a sign of West Malaysian disharmony, and will instead further distance themselves from West Malaysia and West Malaysian politics. Sarawakians will not vote Pakatan either, because Pakatan is still seen as West Malaysian cultural influence, or to put it in the perspective of more Sarawakians, interference.

    They will simply vote as they always have — for their cousins, friends, or acquaintances holding influential positions in Barisan offices. As most of the wealthy or middle class East Malaysian bumis have gained their wealth from companies like SEDC, which is strongly tied to the Sarawakian governance, it’s going to be tough to convince them to vote against their bread and butter. There are those who are disillusioned or unsatisfied with the government, either at federal or state level – they will simply not vote. And this is only dealing with the small population that cares for political issues and has access to that information. The make-or-break are the rural poor, who are still moved to vote by very simple things like display of wealth, gifts of rice and wine, and level of acquaintance with the candidate.

    I was observing the reactions of the Sarawakian government to the Allah scandal, and the tactic is precisely what I had observed in many times when Peninsular Malaysia-based politics creates a potential controversy in Sarawak. Barring a few Christian bumi politicians speaking for themselves, the office of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and company has remained silent — playing both cards at once: appealing to the authority of the BN-led federal government, while keeping Umno and its divisive politics out of Sarawakian soil. With the billions of investment coming in from China, CM Taib’s reign for the next few years is very secure.

  6. pf says:

    Personally I don’t think the government has the political will to address the situation. From past precedents and developments, probably you will see a prima facie approach of trying to appease the non-bumis and continuing the communal approach to consolidate its power.

  7. Hades Menati says:

    I like the picture in the background of the most unpopular and questionable leader of Umno-sia.


    Come clean now while you still can or is it already too late?

  8. chinhuatw says:

    Thanks to Kate Green for her critical and insightful views.

    Whether or not her prediction would come true depends on how this Allah row [might] make Christian bumiputera a salient ethno-religious identity. At the end of the day, it boils down to whether Christianity can offer an ideology of empowerment to the Christian bumiputera like it did for [African Americans]. Can East Malaysia find its Martin Luther King?

    If it can’t, Kate would be right – the middle class and the rural poor would continue to vote for bread and butter or on familial or social connection. Collectively, they can dismiss the nation’s ethnic politics as but another West Malaysian disease. And West Malaysians who want change would blame East Malaysians for not joining them in the next elections.

    In that sense, the East-West Malaysian divide would be more tragic to Malaysia than even the Malay-Muslim/non-Malay-non-Muslim divide that plagues us now.

  9. Antoini says:

    This, I believe, summarizes the options facing Najib and I sincerely hope that he chooses the Tun Musa Hitam option, failing which Najib would join the club of failed PMs and put the nail on the coffin called Malaysia.

    Funny, these past two weeks, I had actually been wondering what Malaysia would have been like if Tun Musa Hitam or for that matter Tengku Razaleigh had become the PM. I am pretty sure it would not have come to this stage. So, you see, what [Mahathir] has done is that he really did Malaysia in beyond [a path of no return]. Just look at the succession line – Muhyiddin, Hishammuddin, Zahid? – all of them look like potentials for making Malaysia into another Zimbabwe.

  10. M.K. says:

    Everything seems to point towards the 1995 prophesy made by a Chinese soothsayer: Najib will surely become the PM someday but will also be the shortest serving PM who may not be able to complete his first term in office! Let us wait and see.

  11. zik says:

    Hello Wong, what about the people’s options? Any article on that?

  12. Simon says:

    Dear Mr Wong,

    You are just wasting your valuable time about Malaysia. The world population is seven billion. The Muslim population is 1.2 billion.

    Ketuanan Melayu is 15m; nothing but just a speck of dust.


    So use your time and write something useful for society.

  13. pucker up says:

    Najib will not listen to you […].

  14. ric says:

    True, Utusan, TV3 and Bernama are all the culprits who condone the Malay extremist mindset and hate.

  15. shan says:

    Please just for once and for all stop bickering about “Allah”, “God’ or whatever you want to call the higher power.

    There is a winning point in a losing battle, so just let go the word ‘Allah’ to the people who have been behaving like hypocrites. Let’s call Him as we all wish. As Christians we should be tolerant. Let them be shameful about their acts, so plleeeeeaase let go of that word to those people. We have nothing to lose. Let’s walk with pride that we are humans made of God almighty! Nothing can change that fact. Be proud of what we are.

  16. Vasuthevan says:

    Good and prompt reporting. Will MALAYSIANS ever achieve our dreams in our lifetime? Can we recover from this gangrene that has set upon us?

  17. Babicina says:

    I disagree with the statement Najib is beginning to look every bit as useless as his predecessor. He is much, much worse. At least AB, though he didn’t accomplish much, is morally better then both [Najib] and [Mahathir]. At least you trust him and feel safer.

    This [Najib] guy is so immoral and sinister, though he tries to win the people with slogans, nobody trusts him because he cannot be trusted at all. His words show care for the people’s unity but his actions show his desire for power is unlimited and he is prepared even to sacrifice the country to get power.

    I think AB is much, much better than [Najib]. Since AB would choose to lose his position than to split Umno, I think he will also not sacrifice the country for his own selfish gains.

    In fact I am sure if AB had remained the PM this religious clash wouldn’t have happened at all. I think he has a good heart.

  18. chinhuatw says:


    I am not a Christian so I won’t comment from the religious standpoint.

    The issue here is, however, greater than the use of Allah. It is the Christian use of the Malay language, which many West Malaysian Muslims see as an exclusively Muslim language and its use by any other faith is maliciously aiming at proselytising the Muslims. Would you ask East Malaysians to give up using Malay services just to please a bunch of bigots while many Muslims are defending their religious and language rights?

    I am not East Malaysian but I have learned a lot from Erna Mahyuni’s article on Allah. I who don’t use the Malay language in my spiritual life have no right to ask those who do to sign away their right. Do you use the Malay language in your prayers?


    Chin Huat

  19. KW Mak says:

    Interesting cover picture… made me pause to think that Najib was burning in the fires of Hell.


  20. kahseng says:

    I’m afraid it will be indecisiveness that will lead to oppression.

    More [attacks against churches] will be a great excuse to come down hard on opposition rallies, publications, NGOs, demonstrations, candle light vigils, and critical bloggers. They will also be a great distraction from Teoh Beng Hock, the MACC, missing jet engines, Perak, and other scandals.

    Exactly what Umno ultra-nationalists are looking for.

    A prolonged muddling through a series of minor terrorist acts may just be soft enough not to provoke anger, but hard enough to build fears, and convince the meek middle class voters to silently accept oppression.

    What do we do? Immunize our country against accepting oppression, through such reasoning, so that we can anticipate bullying tactics, and not to succumb to them.

  21. smoke says:

    If God has no name, how do we pray to God? Is the government to be made responsible for what to call God? This is about an individual’s faith. Even if you pray to a stone, to satan, a human or whatever you made to be God, go ahead, that is nothing for the government to get involved with.

  22. Simon says:

    Dear Mr. Wong,


    In view of the poverty level in Sabah and Sarawak, and the Allah issue, don’t you think that Sabah & Sarawak should wake up and look for a better alternative? […]

    Please do an article on this subject and I sure a lot of readers would be interested to contribute. Forget about Najib and Umno; it is a waste time & space.

  23. Joker says:

    Is it worth damaging a country that we have built? I really don’t understand what politicians actually want. Get the highest ulamak of Islam to interpret the Quran on the word “Allah” and get things cleared. Why are these ulamak quiet about it and only unprincipled politicians with their own agenda [are speaking about it]?

    On this matter, who are we suppose to follow, the court decision, the king or politicians? We are a country which confuses everybody.

  24. John Lobo says:

    History confirms that the word Allah was use by Arabic Christians some 300 years before Prophet Mohammad. It is widely used in the Arab world even now by Christians. Some Malay extremists are so stupid and thick-headed that no one can reason with them. They will scream Allah and kill innocent people. I expect Najib to show firm and good leadership and follow what the court has decided. In a true democracy, people, while integrating with the mainstream, should be allowed to preserve their religious beliefs and culture.

  25. Wong Chin Huat:

    It goes both ways, in many ways. I just found out that my home state Sarawak has been raining continuously for days and many areas are at risk of flooding. The mainstream news didn’t cover it a whit. That’s just one of the ways West Malaysia forgets about the East. Something like this, really, is more important right now to Sarawakians than the church arson issue.

    There is, I think, a lot of frustration in the East regarding the West, and yes, if any pro-Pakatan supporters are to ‘push’ East Malaysians into voting their way, as I have seen many times on blog comments, East Malaysians will just simply…not vote, I think.

  26. Borneogurl says:

    Personally I believe the option is to leave it all to GOD the Almighty. Now the fed govt had decided to let Sabah and Sarawak use the term. Will the West Malaysians Christians be reduced to using “Tuhan”? Then what? Would the West Malaysian Muslims have been deemed to have “sinned” the past 52 years for patriotically singing the National Anthem and reciting the Rukun Negara which only uses “Tuhan kurniakan” and “Keperayaan kepada Tuhan”? Or will that be replaced with “Allah” and therefore the West Malaysian Christians will not be allowed to sing NegaraKu and recite the Rukun Negara because West Malaysian non-Muslims are not allowed to use the term? By allowing Sabahans and Sarawakians continue using the word, this is already dividing a nation. Indeed this is a test to Malaysians from God the Almighty, how then should we ordinary human beings be able to help Him solve it? Remember he is the Alpha and the Omega, who are we?

  27. Copperhead says:

    Other than calling in to radio stations and request Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, listeners should also request for John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

  28. Agnes says:

    Good article, this. Read the article on reasons for the court judgement on and know why the Catholics use the term “Allah”.

  29. John H Louis says:

    Chin Huat’s article is a great read.

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