Fri, Dec 07, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Race continues to cast shadow in ‘new Malaysia’

By Joseph Sipalan  /  Reuters, KUALA LUMPUR

“The Malays are more focused on socioeconomic issues, and if you don’t focus on their poverty and hardships, obviously they’ll get worked up,” said the lawmaker, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The coalition is struggling to convince Malays that its policies will benefit them and protect Islamic values, Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa said.

“We have had some success in reaching out to them, but if we fail to build on that, it will affect support from Malay voters,” he said.

Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and is now the oldest elected leader in the world, remains a sharp political operator: Many expect he will take steps to shore up Malay support for his government.

It was Mahathir who snuffed out controversy over the UN treaty by dropping it and amid the Hindu temple unrest he promised action to keep the peace, acknowledging that “such incidents ... can lead to bigger problems involving racial harmony.”

His administration has also refused to deport Indian cleric Zakir Naik, who is popular among conservative Malay Muslims, but is being investigated by Indian authorities for alleged hate speech.

Naik last week began a five-day speaking tour in a northern state.

However, steps that pander to Malays could create rifts within Mahathir’s alliance, which includes the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party and the pro-reform party of former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

There is an understanding that Mahathir is to eventually hand power to Anwar, but the two men have fallen out before.

“As things currently stand, the Malay opposition are saying the government is being dominated by the Democratic Action Party and weak on Malay interests, and that it is delivering far less than promised,” said Ibrahim Suffian, director of pollster Merdeka. “The danger is that if they try to please one crowd, they push away the other.”

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