BETWEEN 9 and 15 March 2009 — excellent Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) results notwithstanding — the defence of the Malay race, disunity among Muslims, and economic troubles worried the opinion pages and editorials of the Malay-language press.
Closing ranks, especially along racial lines, was a big theme in the past week. The editorial Melayu perlu sedar agenda melemahkan bangsa in Utusan Malaysia on 12 March used Perak Raja Muda Raja Nazrin Shah’s speech at the launch of Anthony Milner’s The Malays to warn members of Malaysia’s ethnic majority not to forget their heritage.
“Among the issues touched on by Raja Nazrin is the fact that the institution of the Malay rulers is not only a tradition, but has acted like cement that has strengthened the Malay race all this while,” the writer noted.
“Do Malays today understand that, or are they purposely forgetting it solely to achieve their political goals?”
The perennial issue of Malay Malaysian special rights was also dwelt on. “In economic aspects, Malaysia has to be firm in defending their rights as outlined by the government from long ago. No Malay should be willing to question the New Economic Policy or any economic policy that prioritises Malays.”
“PAS is Islamic, and so is Umno,” began Mohd Shauki Abd Majid’s Elak perpecahan sesama Islam in Utusan Malaysia on 13 March. “In the current situation, both parties face the same problem: divisions among the Malays, arising from differing interpretations of Islam itself.
“Islamic brotherhood is the greatest social ideal. Any act that could harm this value can be considered as harming the religion itself,” the writer, who is the manager of Muslim proselytising body Penyelidikan Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Yadim), argued.
“Muslims in this country have to think about the effects of divisions in society today.”
In this light, Shauki opined that Kelantan PAS secretary Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan’s suggestion — that PAS and Umno unite in forming a national unity government — be viewed positively. “This virtuous endeavour should be greeted with open hearts by members of the two biggest Malay Muslim parties in the country.”
Utusan itself seemed to be more suspicious of the proposed merger. In its 12 March Senyum Kambing editorial cartoon, the following exchange occurs:
(Pic by David Masters / Flickr) “PAS hopes that the Barisan Nasional (BN) will agree to a coalition government.”
“Are they serious, or is it a gimmick?”
Awang Selamat’s Bisik-bisik column on the same day argued that unity would be a good thing — if it isn’t really a ploy. “Takiyuddin’s statement has to come from the mouths of politicians that are truly sincere and have no ulterior motives whatsoever.”
The writer said it would be unfair if PAS, in negotiations for a unity government, “set ludicrous conditions and then accuse the BN of purposely rejecting them when talks meet with a dead end.”
Economic matters occupied the bulk of opinion inches, reflecting general concerns that the global downturn would hit Malaysians, especially Malay Malaysians, hard.
Attempts at pinpointing a cause for the crisis were made. In 10 March’s Sistem kapitalis jahanamkan nilai kemanusiaan, Berita Harian‘s Hasliza Hassan interviewed Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia (Ikim) deputy director-general Nik Mustapha Nik Hassan, who fingered secular philosophies as the root of all evil.
“Marxist thinking was crushed because it deviated from human values: you cannot own property, and everything is determined by rulers. Capitalism, on the other hand, advocates absolute freedom and giving in to one’s urges to the point of exploitation and oppression,” Nik Mustapha explained.
He characterised the current economic crisis as “an ideological crisis, not a crisis of shortage of food or material”, and argued that this stage was reached because of a reliance on laissez faire, and the individualistic tendency to measure success in demonstrations of excess.
“In the end we have not enough money, so we borrow,” Nik Mustapha said.
The solution? “The government has made preparations through the first and second mini budgets, which will be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak (on 10 March) … But if we are big-hearted, we cannot use only fiscal and financial policies to overcome this problem … the government has to look beyond for the long term.”
Any concrete advice? “Here, religious perspectives and Islam exist as a mind-opener. Spend according your means and needs.”
In contrast, a letter published by Utusan Malaysia on 12 March titled Cabaran pelaksanaan Pakej Rangsangan Ekonomi Kedua urged splurging. “To overcome the fall of exports, the people must be encouraged to spend to stimulate the economy. To that end, they have to be guaranteed that they will not lose their jobs.”
(sxc.hu) The writer recommended a proactive execution of stimulus packages for the manufacturing sector, maintaining that “if factory owners are confident that there are alternatives to employee lay-offs, they will surely choose those alternatives.”
In Pakej Rangsangan Kedua perlu pemantauan in Utusan Malaysia on 14 March, former Bursa Saham Kuala Lumpur president Datuk Salleh Majid emphasised the importance of monitoring.
“A mechanism to gather information from the lowest levels is needed … the national economic pulse can only be determined in real time, not by relying on yesterday or last week’s information. Global changes happen too quickly,” Salleh wrote.
The writer recommended that the implementation of the RM60 billion second stimulus package be monitored, and the results of this scrutiny be uploaded to a public online portal. “Transparency will help increase the people’s confidence. The people’s confidence will help us through this economic slowdown because any reaction by the people to any plan will have effects.”
On 11 March, following Najib’s presentation of the second stimulus package in Parliament, Berita Harian‘s Minda Pengarang urged in Semua pihak mesti bekerjasama jayakan Pakej Rangsangan Kedua demi rakyat that “all parties, including the opposition, would have to work together to make sure the economic package works.”
“If all the planning through the mini budgets is carried out as well as possible, then insya-Allah the country will escape a downturn,” the editorial opined. All Malaysians can do, it seems, is to band together, cross our fingers, and hope for divine deliverance.
In its 13 March edition, Utusan Malaysia‘s front page sported over a dozen smiling young faces; these accompanied headlines that said, Prestasi SPM membanggakan. The paper featured Nik Nur Madihah, the Kelantanese young woman and fisherman’s daughter who accumulated 20 As in last year’s examinations.
It also quoted director-general of education Datuk Alimuddin Mohd Dom, who revealed that “more answered their Science and Mathematics exam papers in English, and this is an encouraging development.”
Berita Harian was more explicit in using the stellar results to defend the controversial English-language instruction of science and maths (or PPSMI, in its Malay-language abbreviation). In PPSMI tak jejas pencapaian pelajar SPM, the paper maintained that “the exam results also show a rise in the number of passes” in the two subjects, “proving once and for all that the execution of … PPSMI does not affect students’ achievements.”