A 3rd party perspective on the state of racial tension in Malaysia. Is it a storm in a teapot slowing bubbling up ??
The country leaders has continue to disregard such issues and considered it just as a minor issue. The government construed that such actions are a political gimmick by the NGO’s or opposition to create a false and unhealthy impression of the government. The opposition party had already denied any involvement in this. With the recent wins of the last few by-elections by Barisan Nasional and the increasingly positive Merdeka survey ratings on Najib – this has inadvertently create a ” feel good ” factor in the present administration. Do not be surprised the government’s response will be again that the writer is again an unofficial voice supported and possibly financed by the opposition to discredit the government.
Racial tension is boiling over at a crucial political moment.
MARCH 4, 2011
Malaysia was once regarded as one of Asia’s most promising emerging
economies, but over the last decade that story has soured. Output growth has
cooled, and foreign investment plummeted from its peak in 2008. The
government’s failure to speed up economic reform is partly to blame, but the
underlying cause of the policy gridlock is social tension. With the United
Malays National Organization at its head, the ruling National Front
coalition maintains an uneasy peace between the country’s three main ethnic
groups: Malays, Indians and Chinese.
Protests by Indian activists last month reveal just how fragile that peace
is. The controversy arose late last year when the government announced the
addition of “Interlok,” a 1971 Malay-language novel, to the curriculum in
some public schools. Cabinet ministers from the Malaysian Indian Congress,
the largest ethnic-Indian party in the National Front, cried foul, saying
that the novel depicted the Indian community in an offensive way.
The issue ignited furious debate in the Malaysian media but did not at first
seem to threaten broader unrest. A group of ethnic-Indian NGOs undertook a
formal investigation of the novel’s content and found that it did contain a
number of historical errors and misrepresentations. In mid-January the
Ministry of Education convened a committee to amend the novel’s offensive
bits, apparently satisfying the MIC.
The situation intensified, however, when two Indian-rights organizations-the
Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, and a splinter group, the Human
Rights Party-called for nationwide protests against both the book and what
they say are UMNO’s “racist” policies generally. Hindraf was banned in 2008
for holding a massive antiracism rally the year before, at which hundreds of
its supporters were jailed under the country’s stiff Internal Security Act.
Last month, police denied the groups’ requests for public-assembly permits
and threatened to charge anyone who attended protests with participating in
Undeterred, demonstrators took to the streets in several cities, first on
Feb. 13 and then in greater numbers last Sunday. Police delivered on the
promised crackdown, patrolling the protest route with trucks and keeping
water cannons menacingly nearby. Around Kuala Lumpur, officers appeared to
be accosting anyone even suspected of being a Hindraf sympathizer. On Sunday
over 100 people were jailed, and though most were released the next day, 11
remain under investigation.
This sort of response to peaceful protests shows the troubled state of civil
liberties in Malaysia. Since taking office in 2009, Prime Minister Najib
Razak has clamped down on the press, jailed bloggers and suppressed public
demonstrations, all in the name of maintaining unity and stability. In a
speech early last month, he cautioned his countrymen against getting any
ideas from the revolutions unfolding in the Arab world. “We will stop any
attempt to bring such trouble into Malaysia,” he said.
In part, it was the National Front that created the conditions for the
present turmoil to begin with. Less well-off than Malaysia’s Chinese,
Indians attribute their economic woes to affirmative-action rules that favor
ethnic Malays in hiring and education. Groups like Hindraf accuse the ruling
coalition of yielding too readily to nativist Malay voices that agitate
against meritocratic reforms.
Political games seem also to be afoot in the Indian groups‘ rabble-rousing,
though. Hindraf and the HRP are likely using the present conflict to
galvanize the Indian community ahead of a general election expected later
this year. They may even calculate that an excessively harsh reaction by the
government or ethnic-Malay factions to protests will win them additional
But the MIC has distanced itself from last month’s unrest, and even
opposition parties like the National Justice Party, or PKR, appear uneasy
about siding with the protesters. Addressing his supporters in January, PKR
chief Anwar Ibrahim advised against using the “Interlok” issue to score
political points. “It would be extremely useful for the Ministry of
Education to listen to reasonable comments on ‘Interlok’ and not to turn it
into a divisive political issue,” he said.
Too late for that, it seems. Malaysia’s Indians have legitimate reason to
feel marginalized in society and ignored by their own leaders. But the risk
now is that political parties representing the three races will be steered
by extremist groups that exacerbate conflict for their own gain. The past
month’s events suggest that years of redistributive policies designed to
paper over ethnic divisions have only perpetuated the strife instead.