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The politics of race and unity

DESPITE Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the Malay press managed to capitalise on some political issues over and above the usual Aidilfitri fare during the week of 27 Sept to 3 Oct 2008.

One incident in particular received extra attention: the group of Hindraf supporters who visited Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s Aidilfitri open house at the Putra World Trade Centre on 1 Oct.

Utusan Malaysia‘s front page story on 3 Oct titled Hindraf Keterlaluan quoted various Malay Muslim groups as chastising Hindraf’s action, calling it “extreme, rude, and desecrating the holiness of 1 Syawal (the month following Ramadan).”

Among others, the report quoted Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS) vice-president Syed Anuar Syed Mohamad as saying: “GPMS calls on the government not to entertain Hindraf as it is not a legal entity. Action should be taken against them, whether by using the ISA (Internal Security Act) or any other law.

“Let this be a lesson. No incident such as this has ever happened in our 50 years of independence. This is an act of misplaced courage, influenced by street demonstrations.”

On the same day, the daily also carried Baharom Mahusin’s column titled Provokasi di Rumah Terbuka Aidilfitri. The writer castigated Hindraf and its supporters: “Because the act was done by non-Muslims, it is clearly an affront to Islam…The organisation clearly wishes to disparage the Muslim leadership and belittle them.”

Baharom also cautioned: “If Hindraf supporters had done this in the Malay ‘heartland’, they would have been taught the meaning and consequences of such ill behaviour.”

However, on the same day, Sinar Harian published Kami Bukan Buat Kecoh: Hindraf, which extensively quoted Hindraf information chief S Jayathas: “We had good intentions, which was to deliver a memorandum to the prime minister and plead for the five Hindraf leaders and (blogger) Raja Petra (Kamarudin) to be released.

“I am extremely disappointed with some media that falsely reported that we were chaotic; that is untrue and denigrates us. We met the PM peacefully, even though we were initially barred from doing so, but eventually we spoke for a few minutes. We were relieved that the PM promised to consider our request, and there was nothing chaotic about it at all.”

Malay unity

On 27 Sept, the writer of Masa Untuk Senada in Utusan Malaysia exhorted for Malay unity, now more than ever.

“There is a perception that the split among the Malays, to the point that it exposes their weaknesses, is cyclical.

“In today’s situation, many believe it is time the Malays are united again; this time with greater momentum, because of the extreme forces that are clearly challenging Malay special rights, and disregarding the long-accepted social contract.”

The writer recounted the historical travails of Malay unity, citing the 1974 elections when PAS, which had won 14 parliamentary seats, decided to join the Barisan Nasional (BN), which had won 61 seats.

“In this case, who can doubt PAS’s sacrifices for the Malays? In fact, it was PAS’s spirit during that time that strengthened the Malays…Would it not be good if such spirit was still alive today?

“To see PAS rejoining the BN is difficult, yet not impossible. But for PAS to continue the struggle and gain an even bigger following, effort must be made. That is far better than for PAS to follow the ‘dangerous’ politics of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).”

The writer concluded that now is the time for unity, not to topple governments.

Power transition

The delaying of Umno’s general assembly and polls from December 2008 to March 2009 — the result of the transition deal between Abdullah and his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Razak — was discussed in Utusan Malaysia‘s 28 Sept report, Hikmah di Sebalik Penangguhan Pemilihan MT (Majlis Tertinggi or supreme council).

The article rationalised the postponement as a chance for Umno members to properly consider who can best lead the party.

“No matter what, this round of Umno polls is not just to fulfill the election of a supreme council leader, or to search for someone to fill in the vacated Youth chief post…This will be the opportunity to search for quality leaders because as (Muar MP) Razali (Ibrahim) said: ‘Umno is not in a comfortable position after the recent general election’.”

The writer observed that the extra months of campaigning should be a test for these leaders who must prevail until March 2009.

“Hence, Umno must prepare a truly formidable line-up to ensure that it will not be relegated to history in the next general election. The people are closely watching the developments within Umno, and they are observing, studying and evaluating all the actions of this principal Malay party.”

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