By Tarani Palani, for Free Malaysia Today, May 14, 2011
Utusan Malaysia’s contentious headline is a ‘ploy’ by right wingers within Umno for Najib Tun Razak to take a hardline stand on Malay issue, says a political analyst.
PETALING JAYA: The latest Christian Malaysia controversy propagated by Malay daily, Utusan Malaysia, whilst merely a “wayang” involving religion brings to light the cracks in Umno’s internal politics, according to political analyst Ooi Kee Beng.
Ooi said that the Christian Malaysia ploy had appeared out of nowhere and from unsuspecting quarters.
He believed the issue further showed that the right wing section in Umno was pushing for party president Najib Abdul Razak to take a more hardliner stand.
“The whole issue came from nowhere, who would have ever imagined that the Christians (who are a minority) could even think such a thing?
“It reflects more that it has something to do with Umno’s internal politics.
“I think some elements within Umno are just trying to be funny and trying to sow mistrust,” he told FMT.
Former Utusan senior journalist Hatta Wahari told FMT, earlier this week, that top Umno leaders held weekly meetings to set the agenda for the daily, which is the party’s mouthpiece.
The strategy, thought to be ‘clever’, foresaw the other media picking up teh issue and milking it leaving Utusan free to flog another issue.
But Ooi however does not not believe that Najib per se was behind the controversial headlines that Utusan spewed, mainly because ‘he stands to loose’.
“But the right wingers on the other hand, stand to gain from the unsettled situation the headline creates,” he said.
Ooi, who is the co-ordinator of the Malaysia study programme at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said it was typical of political play.
“This is politics, when someone bleeds, there is always another party that stands to gain.
“An extreme position cannot stand to gain from a calm environment.
“It stands to gain an audience when there is an extreme environment,” he said.
Ooi said that over the last two to three year, a split within Umno’s support group had surfaced and the right wing was now more vocal.
“In a multiracial country you can decide if a sensitive issue is the agenda if you are loud. The agenda is being set now by the right wing section as they are becoming more loud,” he said.
Ooi declined to name the Umno leaders behind the right wing group but it is widely speculated that Deputy Prime Minister Muhyddin Yassin is behind them.
The right wing group is seen as more pro-Malay.
Alientated right wing
Concerns over Najib’s softline approach and inclusive policies such as the 1Malaysia initiative aimed at wooing back moderate Malays is said to have rattled and alienated the right wing section within Umno.
Ooi reminded people that Najib had inherited a much weakened Umno, following the 2008 general election, and as such the emergence of a right wing group was a natural process.
The right-wing section, he said felt that Najib was not taking a hard enough stand and this gap is filled by “lesser polished” right wing groups such as Pembela and Perkasa.
“Umno was weakened suddenly, so some would be in battle mode. These groups are taking over the traditional role of Umno Youth which usually propagates hardliner stance.
“Under (Youth Chief) Khairy Jamaluddin, it (Umno Youth) is playing a very untraditional role of being very quiet these days, one also wonders why that is so,” he chuckled.
Ooi said Najib indulged the right wingers and is now partly to be blamed for the current problems with the Christian community.
“Najib can be blamed for allowing this situation to arise for not being hard enough to the right wingers,” he said.
Ooi said that history showed that the Christian community in Malaysia had always been “careful” and refrained from “provoking” anyone.
“Christians have been very moderate until recently. They have been provoked I think,” he said alluding to the controversy over the use of the term “Allah” in the bible and in the Malay version of the Catholic weekly, The Herald.
Recently the Home Ministry had detained 50,000 copies of the Malay language bible, Al-Kitab, which was to have been distributed to followers in Sarawak.
The issue of freedom of religion was among several matters that were flogged by the opposition in the recent Sarawak state election.
Mounting fears over the Umno-led Barisan Nasional government’s interpretation of the Constitution in relation to religious freedom has unsettled both Sarawakians and Sabahans especially where Christianity is widely practiced and is likely to rear its head in the 13th general election.