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‘Right wing’ Umno won’t tango with Najib

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.

According to Hatta,  Najib and deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin  also attended the meetings in which it was decided that the paper will  run an issue for three days before dropping it completely.

The  strategy, thought to be ‘clever’, foresaw the other media picking up teh  issue and milking it leaving Utusan free to flog another issue.

More vocal

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.

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About Ooi Kee Beng

Dr OOI KEE BENG is the Executive Director of Penang Institute (George Town, Penang, Malaysia). He was born and raised in Penang, and was the Deputy Director of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS). He is the founder-editor of the Penang Monthly (published by Penang Institute), ISEAS Perspective (published by ISEAS) and ISSUES (published by Penang Institute). He is also editor of Trends in Southeast Asia, and a columnist for The Edge, Malaysia.

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