WIKILEAKS: How in 2008 BN paid for its 2006 sins

When tension rises, the blood of Malay warriors will run in our veins. UMNO is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood in defense of race and religion. Don’t play with fire. If they (non-Malays) mess with our rights, we will mess with theirs. Since the tragic racial riots in 1969, UMNO and the Malays have been too patient and tolerant. The special rights of the Malays and the position of Islam as the official religion are enshrined in the Federal Constitution. UMNO should stand firm on these issues and not back down for the sake of the Malay race. We should defend it to the last drop of our blood.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Classified By: Political Section Chief Mark D. Clark for reasons 1.4 (b, d).


1.  (C) The defense of Malay rights, heated racial rhetoric, and Islamic themes dominated the 2006 UMNO General Assembly, with the often jolting Malay speak reaching Malaysians directly for the first time through unfiltered, live television coverage.  Deputy Prime Minister Najib opened the 2006 UMNO General Assembly with the declaration that there was no time limit for the “Malay Agenda” and its plethora of race-based affirmative action plans aimed at raising the status of ethic Malays. 

Prime Minister Abdullah reaffirmed the need for the New Economic Policy and pledged to continue the focus of reducing the income gap between races. Abdullah’s key-note address focused on the goals he set three years ago when he took office.  Abdullah celebrated a more open society, but urged restraint in dealing with “sensitive issues” of race and religion.  He criticized Islamic extremists in Malaysia and questioned Malaysia’s intolerance.

Other speakers focused heavily on race-based issues, and heaved blame and criticism on Chinese and Indian coalition parties.  Coalition partners received a warning: don’t question the status of Malays and Islam in Malaysia. Recognizing the effects of such rhetoric, Abdullah and Najib issued statements to mend fences with coalition partners.

UMNO has had second thoughts on live telecasts of future general assemblies.  This is the second in a series of reports covering the 57th United Malays National Organization’s (UMNO) General Assembly which was held in Kuala Lumpur, November 13 – 17.  End Summary.

The Malay Agenda: UMNO’s main task

2.  (U)  In his November 13 speech opening the General Assembly for UMNO’s Wanita (Women), Puteri (Young Women) and Pemuda (Youth) wings, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak began a discussion on the Malay Agenda that would reverberate throughout the week in nearly every speech from every delegate.  Najib began, “The Malay Agenda is UMNO’s main task in uplifting the status of the Malays.  In the course of history, from 1511 to 1957, we were under the rule of foreigners.  After those 446 years of oppression, it is impossible that what is owed to the Malays can be repaid in a mere 20 or 30 years.  In this struggle for the Malays, it must be firmly said that there is no time limit. . . ”

Najib’s statement echoed Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s remarks to Parliament issued the same day.  Abdullah had declared that Malaysia will always need a policy and agenda on wealth distribution so long as economic disparity among the races exists.  “The effort to correct the economic disparity involves several steps or affirmative actions to raise the economic and education achievement among the races, particularly the bumiputras, so that they are comparable with non-bumiputras,” declared Abdullah. “This includes,” Abdullah continued, “reviving the New Economic Policy (NEP). . .”

3.  (U) In his presidential address to the UMNO assembly, Abdullah expounded on the same topic: “the twenty years allocated to achieve the objectives of the NEP (1970-90) was too short a period; an unrealistic time frame to successfully restructure society and eradicate poverty. . .The objectives of the NEP . . . are larger than equity targets.  The government will focus on reducing the income gap between races.  True balance is a prerequisite for sustainable development.”

Strong words, sleepy presentation

4.  (C) Cast with the fanfare of an American president’s State of the Union Address, Abdullah’s key-note address should have been the highlight of the party.  Instead, it was a rather monotonous monologue with very little enthusiasm either from Abdullah or from the audience. One journalist told emboff, “In Mahathir’s time, we (the journalists) would sit with baited breath waiting to see what he would say next. With Abdullah, no one wanted to sit through it all.  We could hardly stay awake.  No one wanted to be in there.”

Unlike the charismatic Mahathir who delivered his speeches using teleprompters so that he could always look at the audience, Abdullah read his 90 minute speech from a printed copy.  Head down, reading from the text, observers faulted Abdullah for reading on when he should have paused for applause, and pausing at awkward moments when there was no cause for cheer.

5.  (C) Publicly, only the Mahathir family dared comment that the speech was “nothing new” (ref. A) or that the assembly lacked the “rah, rah” of previous UMNO assemblies.  But privately many people commented that the presidential address was little more than a rehash of previous speeches promoting the twelve pillars Abdullah addressed when inaugurated three years ago, renewed somewhat with the 9th Malaysia Plan.

Perhaps an UMNO-linked newspaper (New Straits Times) editorial phrased it most politely: “His delivery was typically Abdullah-ish — no shouting, no threats, no playing to the gallery. . . (but) when he finished. . .no one had any doubts about the message.” 

As dull as some accused it of being, there was no doubt that Abdullah had a message to deliver concerning his vision for Malaysia.  Hidden in the pages and pages of text were some strong words from a soft spoken leader.  He championed education, rural economic development, the rule of law, anti-corruption efforts, openness and democracy, freedom of the press and religious tolerance.

Freedom of the Press – Malaysian style

6.  (SBU) With a country awash in recent controversy ranging from Mahathir to economics to religious expression, Abdullah did not shy away from his desire for a more open press.

Abdullah applauded constructive criticism and reminded politicians that they would not be immune from the scrutiny of a more open press.  “The truth is that I would rather see heated exchanges in the pages of the press than to see raging riots on the streets,” said Abdullah.  If Malaysia was to become a truly advanced society, openness was a prerequisite. “It is meaningless,” he said, “to develop infrastructure for information technology if the leadership flinches from a culture that is more open to and accepting of the media.” 

In typical style, Abdullah then threatened the press regarding his “sensitive issues.” “Freedom has its limits,” he warned. “We cannot and will not compromise when it comes to the unity and harmony of our multi-racial and multi-cultural society. We will continue to be vigilant when it comes to national security and public safety.  I would like to warn those who abuse this freedom that I will not for a moment hesitate to use the law against them.” 

“Democracy does not mean absolute freedom to raise sensitive issues relating to religion, race, culture and language,” Abdullah reminded.

Islam Hadhari versus the ultra-conservatives

7.  (SBU)  Like many of the issues debated throughout the assembly, Abdullah’s address focused heavily on religious issues.  Returning to his religious philosophy launched three years ago, Abdullah declared: “Islam Hadhari. . .is a philosophy that reminds Muslims that our faith unequivocally requires us to succeed in the world.  We perpetuate a great disservice to Islam if we reject development, if we are obsessed with conflict and if we live in ignorance.”

Abdullah lamented that some people had misinterpreted Islam Hadhari as an excuse to become more conservative and radical. Lamenting that some clerics had condemned Muslims for wishing their neighbors a Merry Christmas or Happy Deepavali, Abdullah asked, “How can we have reached such a level of intolerance? . . .When did we become ultra-conservative? This is not Islam Hadhari.”

8.  (SBU) “It is these same groups who make such proclamations (condemning other religious celebrations),” continued Abdullah, “that are conjuring imaginary threats aimed at inciting Muslims, hoping that they (Muslims) will become more intolerant of others.  Their agenda is to see Malaysia torn apart, for us to fail as a multi-racial, multi-religious nation.  This is not Islam. . .Let me be clear– Islam Hadhari is not a blank cheque to bring about conservative revivalism in this country. . .While I will protect Islam’s position and the role of the Shariah courts from being undermined, I will also ensure that no one tries to hijack Islam in Malaysia in order to breed intolerance and hatred.”

UMNO Youth lash out at other BN parties

9.  (SBU) In the midst of all the rhetoric championing Islam and the rights of Malays, UMNO Youth chief Hishamuddin Tun Hussein delivered his speech to the UMNO Youth and without a thought to hypocrisy in his words, threatened politicians of other races: “We must remember that creating a Malaysian nation will not be possible on narrow thinking and chauvinism.  Don’t gamble the future by championing race politics.  We know them, we know who they are and we know what they are saying.  We are not afraid to face the opportunist leaders and we will not compromise with them.”

Hishamuddin also declared, “Do not make fun, question and challenge the position of Malays and Islam in the country. Any movement in the name of freedom of religion, freedom of speech or freedom of the media will not be allowed to challenge our rights.  If such negative efforts are not curbed, they will have a huge implication on our harmony.”

10.  (SBU) Taking a cue from their leader, members of UMNO Youth lashed out at other race based parties, including their Barisan Nasional coalition partners.  “When we, the Malays, are weak, the Chinese will take advantage.  If it is the DAP (opposition Democratic Action Party), it is ok. But when our ‘roommates’ are doing this to us, we can’t accept it,” cried a Selangor delegate, later unleashing his tirade on leaders of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), Malaysia Chinese Association (MCA) and the Peoples Movement Party (Gerakan).

“The special rights of the Malays and the position of Islam as the official religion are enshrined in the Federal Constitution.  UMNO should stand firm on these issues and not back down for the sake of the Malay race.  We should defend it to the last drop of our blood,” said the Youth chief from Ledang.  As one editorial stated, there was no denying the message to BN component parties: Don’t question the position of Malays and Islam.

11.  (SBU)  UMNO Youth information chief, Azimi Daim, continued the rhetoric claiming he could not understand why BN component parties were becoming braver and braver in questioning sensitive issues (meaning religions preferences for Islam and bumiputra economic preferences).  “When tension rises, the blood of Malay warriors will run in our veins,” he warned.

12.  (SBU) Racist rhetoric, however, was not restricted to the Youth wings.  A delegate from Malacca bluntly stated, “UMNO is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood in defense of race and religion.  Don’t play with fire.  If they (non-Malays) mess with our rights, we will mess with theirs,” he declared.  “Since the tragic racial riots in 1969, UMNO and the Malays have been too patient and tolerant,” he said.

“UMNO faces challenges from DAP who are Chinese chauvinists, the ignorant PAS (opposition conservative Islamic party) and threats from overseas.  Friends in Barisan Nasional, too, have questioned us.”  Even old party veterans joined the assault on other racial groups.  As one former BN Secretary General remarked, “Please don’t test the Malays; they know ‘amok’. We don’t want to reach that level. . .but efforts to enhance the Malays’ economy need to be intensified.”  The Malays’s sacrifices, he said, must be paid back with sacrifices of the same magnitude by the non-Malays, particularly in questions involving the economy.

Abdullah tries to soften the blow

13.  (SBU) The deleterious effects of the harsh rhetoric and racism was not lost on UMNO leadership.  This was the first year the UMNO general assembly had been televised in its entirety, and though the rhetoric was perhaps no worse than usual, public exposure seemed to certainly raise awareness.

After a week of race-based politics, it was evident that many of UMNO’s coalition partners were stinging from the blows they had taken.  In his closing speech to the assembly on Friday evening, Abdullah focused on mending UMNO’s ties to the other BN parties.  He tried to soften the effect of the assembly by explaining, “Don’t be frightened by the speeches made.  We do things openly.  When others get hit, there will be some reaction, but the situation remains under control.  The heat does not burn, the anger does not lead to quarrels. We are rational, fair and want the interest of all races taken care of.”

14.  (C) Gerakan Vice President Vijayaretnam admitted to poloffs that there were concerns at the Gerakan grassroots over the speeches made at the assembly.  However, party leaders have urged the members to look “at the bigger picture.”  Vijayaretnam jokingly added that people in general and Gerakan members in particular were jolted by the speeches “because of the live telecast of the conference.  In normal circumstances, no one would have bothered about the assembly.”

15.  (SBU) Just days after the assembly concluded Deputy Prime Minister Najib announced that UMNO was considering whether to continue having live telecasts of future assemblies.  Najib said it could not be denied that some of the speeches “had gone overboard.”  Forgetting that some of the harshest rhetoric came from senior UMNO officials, Najib conceded that “sometimes inexperienced speakers tend to get carried away by the occasion.  They were playing to the gallery, but they should realize that when they speak, the others outside the party are also listening.  Abdullah’s son-in-law and UMNO Youth Deputy, Khairy Jamaluddin, also commented that the events at this year’s assembly were not necessarily out of the ordinary, but that “those who have never seen the assembly before (were) shocked by the no holds barred debates when delegates spoke on religion and race.”

“While the debates were hot,” he said, “the spirit of consensus in the BN will not be affected, as we are committed to it.  MCA, MIC and others understand this.”


16.  (C) The single greatest effect of this year’s assembly may not be felt for over a year when Malaysians go to the polls.  The racist nature of politics is nothing new to Malaysia, but unfiltered, live television brought public awareness of UMNO’s internal chauvinistic rhetoric to a new height.  Some ten days after UMNO’s assembly, the national media continues to carry Malaysian politicians weighing in on the racial politics raised during the UMNO assembly. Even before the assembly, Chinese component parties of the Barisan Nasional coalition feared a public backlash (ref C) at the election booth.  These same parties now must face their constituents and explain to a more skeptical electorate that aligning with Malay racism and a patent anti-Chinese domestic policy remains their best option.

17.  (C) Despite his lack of charisma as a leader, Abdullah offered a breath of reason and moderation throughout the assembly.  He reiterated the importance of tolerance and racial harmony, themes missing from so many other speeches. Softly but clearly, he criticized the Islamic ultraconservatives and warned them that their brand of Islam was out of step with his vision of Islam Hadari and incongruous with a successful multi-religious Malaysia.

Although the assembly reiterated UMNO’s rejection of inter-faith councils and its support for ever-expanding shariah courts, Abdullah attempted to reassure his fellow Malaysians that the country would stay on a path of moderation and harmony with its non-Muslim citizens.

LAFLEUR (November 2006)