Divided over Najib’s call to unity

(The Straits Times) KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 – Prime Minister Najib Razak’s One Malaysia slogan is rapidly becoming yet another controversy to divide Malaysians, veering away from its intention as a call to unity.

One Malaysia is the name of Datuk Seri Najib’s blog as well as the theme of several of his speeches since he became prime minister 10 days ago.

But in recent days, a heated debate has sprung up after two Democratic Action Party (DAP) MPs compared it to Malaysian Malaysia – the slogan of the Chinese-based opposition party.

This caused a fluster as DAP’s slogan is seen as promoting equality regardless of race.

The Utusan Malaysia newspaper yesterday published warnings from Umno politicians and Malay non-governmental organisations to the DAP to avoid mixing up the two concepts to confuse Malaysians.

“This is not Singapore. It is Malaysia where its people have pledged loyalty to king and country. We have the rule of law, don’t try to be treasonous,” independent MP Ibrahim Ali, who also heads various Malay non-governmental organisations, was quoted as saying by Utusan.

The Malaysian Constitution provides for the special position of the Malays, the Malay language and Islam.

The heated debate was inevitable as racial issues have become increasingly divisive over the years. Unlike in the past, calls to unity now stir up demands to resolve prickly issues rather than to sweep them under the carpet.

DAP MP from Penang Jeff Ooi wrote in his blog that people on the street will take One Malaysia to mean the termination of pro-Malay economic policies. He said they will also expect it to mean treating all post-Merdeka Malaysian-born as equals.

Najib has not expounded on the concept, nor spelt out his position on the affirmative action policies.

If he does not do so soon, One Malaysia is in danger of going the way of Islam Hadhari, the brand of progressive Islam promoted by former premier Abdullah Badawi.

Islam Hadhari quickly became different things to different people, and pleased none. It was taken by some groups as a licence to introduce conservative Islamic practices, and used by others to push the boundaries of conversions out of Islam.

Eventually, it failed to heal rifts.

Former newspaper editor A. Kadir Jasin said he believed One Malaysia was intended to lower the racial temperature, but it was an extreme reaction to suggest that it is a copy of Malaysian Malaysia.

“I don’t think it deviates from the Constitution. The Malay special rights are enshrined in the Constitution,” he told The Straits Times.

Kadir said that in line with Najib’s pledge for an open government, the Premier should now listen to Malaysians and consult them on the concept.

But do not expect a smooth debate. This fluster over a simple slogan shows the deep rifts that divide Malaysians.