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Furore over Tan Lian Hoe’s comments

IN the week of 11 to 17 Oct, the Malay dailies gave extensive coverage to the fallout from Gerakan Wanita chief Datuk Tan Lian Hoe’s speech at the party’s National Delegates Conference on 10 Oct.

Tan reportedly said the Malays were immigrants from the Malay Archipelago (Nusantara), the Indians from India and the Chinese from China.

Some focus was also given to the SMS exchange, allegedly between Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and lawyer Datuk Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, about the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case.

Gerakan and Malay history

On 14 Oct, Utusan Malaysia in numerous reports lashed out at the Gerakan Wanita chief. The article, Lian Hoe Terus Dibidas, said “the statement by the Gerakan Wanita Chief reflects a low level of ‘intelligence’ when she positioned the Malays in this country as immigrants from the Archipelago (Nusantara)”.

The article included responses from various Malay non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including the National Writers’ Association or Gapena. Its secretary Professor Datuk Zainal Abidin Borhan asked: “How can the Malays be immigrants when they originated from the same surrounding area?”

In another article, Khir Desak Parti Ambil Tindakan, the paper reported that former Selangor menteri besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo had urged Gerakan to take action against its Wanita chief. He noted that Gerakan was the most vocal in urging Umno to take action against then Bukit Bendera division head Datuk Ahmad Ismail, who had described Chinese Malaysians as immigrants at a ceramah during the Permatang Pauh by-election in August 2008. The statement was reported in Sin Chew Daily, and caused an uproar among the Chinese Malaysian community. Ahmad was suspended from Umno following the incident.

On the same day, Berita Harian reported that Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim had suggested that Gerakan’s position in the Barisan Nasional (BN) be reviewed. In Rais Syor Kajisemula Keahlian Gerakan Dalam BN, he was quoted as saying: “Gerakan’s position in the BN needs to be reviewed due to its leader’s statement that obliviously questioned the origins of the Malays … and this can strain race relations.”

In Penghijrahan Melayu Dalam Zon Budaya Sendiri, published in Utusan Malaysia on 15 Oct, Malay civilisation scholar Mohd Arof Ishak said that “as long as migration is within the same cultural and racial zone, these people (the Malays) cannot be deemed to be immigrants”. The article also quoted Mohd Arof, who wrote The Malay Civilisation, as saying that “the term ‘immigrant’ refers to something that is not originated from the Malay soil.”

Sinar Harian on the same day carried an article titled Ketua Wanita Gerakan Perlu Berundur: Syed Ali, which quoted Cheras Umno division head Senator Datuk Wira Syed Ali Alhabshee as saying he was disappointed with Tan’s ignorant statement. Syed Ali also said: “Gerakan has gone over the limit and is being irrational in discussing Malay rights. They’re questioning it openly as if carrying the agenda of the opposition, especially the DAP.”

On 16 Oct, Utusan Malaysia published an article entitled Hormati Penduduk Asal Nusantara, concurring with the Malay scholars’ views that the Malay race cannot be seen as immigrants in Malaysia. The writer, Mohd Arif Atan, observed that statements about the Malays being immigrants are “blind to history” and are likely to erase the concept of the ‘Malay world’ which is used within the framework of international anthropology.

The paper carried an article entitled Perbetulkan Fakta Sejarah Melayu on 17 Oct, which explores the origins and history of the Malays. It reminded the readers that archaeological research shows that the Malays are the indigenous people of the archipelago. The article also noted that it was the Malays who defended the land from the invading armies such as the Siamese, the Portuguese and the British.

Najib and SMS

On 15 Oct, Sinar Harian front-paged Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s demand for an investigation on the deputy prime minister. The article, Siasat SMS Najib: Anwar, came on the heels of Malaysia Today‘s publication of an SMS thread, allegedly between Najib and Muhammad Shafee in regards to the murder case of Altantuya Shaariibuu. Anwar said if the SMS were true, it would indicate abuse of power and Najib’s involvement in the case. Najib’s close associate, Abdul Razak Baginda, is currently on trial for abetting the murder of Altantuya.

Berita Harian published an article related to the issue on 17 Oct. In Najib Sekali Lagi Nafi Salah Guna Kuasa Kes Altantuya, the deputy premier dismissed the allegation that he had abused his power in relation to the case. He was reported as saying that if it were true, Abdul Razak would not be facing any charges. “There would not be any hearing at all [if it were true that I had abused my power],” he said.

The article also reported that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came to the defence of his deputy. “I believe in him. I believe he’s a good man and will be a good prime minister and is capable of practising good leadership. I don’t believe that he is involved in any abuse of power,” Abdullah said.

“If he’s keen to abuse his power, how can he be [chosen as] my successor,” he added.

Pig farms

Utusan Malaysia on 14 Oct reported that a memo was issued by two NGOs — Pergerakan Perpaduan Islam Malaysia and Majlis Muafakat Kebangsaan Melayu Malaysia — urging the Selangor government to relocate more than 100 pig farms in Kg Tumbuk and its neighbouring villages to a proper location.

“More than 50,000 residents, mainly Muslims in 18 Malay villages, are hoping the government would relocate the existing pig farms, besides finding an alternative site for the upcoming large-scale pig farming project,” said one of the NGO representatives.

The NGOs had on 6 Aug sent a memo to the Selangor government, protesting against plans to site a large-scale pig farming project, which was approved by the previous BN government, in the area. On 20 Aug, they sent a similar memo to the Selangor sultan, but have thus far received no positive response.

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