At last year’s UMNO General Assembly, Prime Minister Najib warned members of his party that the DAP, which is regularly derided as a “Chinese party” (and taken as code for Chinese in general), posed an almost existential threat to the Malays and Islam.
He warned them that if the DAP ever came to power, everything that the Malays had fought for, everything that they had worked so hard to achieve, all their hopes and dreams, would be wiped out. He also went on to suggest that Bumiputra institutions like MARA, FELDA, RISDA and FELCRA would become “extinct and disappear.”
Should UMNO fall, he intoned, it would be a “nightmare” that would jeopardise the very existence of Malay-Muslims in the country.
Taken together with the slew of anti-Chinese comments that came out of that assembly, the message was clear enough: only UMNO could defend Malay interests from the so-called Chinese threat.
Having unabashedly fanned the flames of anti-Chinese sentiment to consolidate his grip over the party and to secure Malay support for UMNO, he turned his attention on Friday to cajoling Malaysian Chinese into giving him their support, suggesting that their very survival might now depend upon it.
Targeting the Chinese
Standing before an MCA gathering absurdly themed ‘The Malaysian Chinese Patriotic Rally” (as if the patriotism of Malaysian Chinese was ever in doubt), he warned that Malaysian Chinese would be “the first to be targeted if there is no peace in this country.”
While he subsequently went on to make references to the IS threat as well, his message was widely perceived as a warning to Malaysian Chinese that if UMNO loses power in the next elections, they would be the first to be targeted.
For a country still traumatised by the 1969 race riots, the warning to Malaysian Chinese was unambiguously clear.
MCA’s damage control
In the wake of the furore that the Prime Minister’s remarks quite naturally generated, MCA leaders went into damage control mode claiming that his remarks were taken out of context and that he was referring more to the IS threat rather than anything else.
In the first place, Najib’s remarks as well as his intentions were clear enough to most people who saw the video which quickly went viral. In these days of instant replay, claims by politicians to have been misquoted or misrepresented are harder to sustain.
In the second place, there has never been any indication that Malaysian Chinese are the primary target of IS. According to the police, IS has targeted our security forces and senior officials, endeavoured to disrupt the SEA games and the Merdeka celebrations, and planned attacks on some churches; no mention of Malaysian Chinese specifically. If anything, it is Muslims themselves that have suffered more from IS attacks than others.
In any case, if there were doubts as to the real meaning of his remarks, a simple clarification by the prime minister would have quickly settled the matter. That he has preferred to let things simmer suggests otherwise.
The indispensable party
In the absence of further clarification from the prime minister, we are left with the strange conclusion that Najib is now demanding Chinese support on the grounds that only UMNO can protect them from the very racism which UMNO itself champions and thrives upon.
Taken to its logical conclusion, it means that UMNO will now be defending the Malays from the Chinese and the Chinese from the Malays while simultaneously instilling fear in both.
What a cunning strategy to ensure that it remains the indispensible political party! The British would, no doubt, be envious of his divide and rule skills.
A prime minister for all the people
If Najib and UMNO truly want to win the support and admiration of all of Malaysia’s diverse ethnic groups, he should first and foremost put an end the racist politics that has become synonymous with his own party.
As well, instead of making threats, he should ensure that the security and rights of all citizens are protected and safeguarded at all times, whether they vote for him or not. It is, after all, his constitutional obligation, his sacred duty, his solemn oath to the nation. Appeal for support by all means, but to threaten an ethnic community the way he did is simply beyond the pale.
For the MCA, the rally, which was called to help revive support for the party ahead of the elections, has turned into an unmitigated disaster, laying bare the disdain that UMNO leaders have for minority parties and generating a new wave of disgust and anger amongst its erstwhile supporters.
In the light of these developments, one can only wonder whether the hero of Petaling Street, the urban legend who single-handedly stared down the Red Shirts a few years ago and prevented a bloodbath in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, is quietly mulling his options.
Dennis Ignatius | 19th September 2017 | Kuala Lumpur