As Malaysia’s PM struggles in graft scandal, his party plays the race card
(Reuters) – An official from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) told Reuters that his party division hired 25 buses to ferry about 1,000 supporters to the pro-Najib rally in Kuala Lumpur. Five UMNO members said they were paid by party officials to attend.
When thousands of Malay Muslims marched through Kuala Lumpur last week to support his scandal-wracked government, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak kept his distance.
He neither attended nor officially endorsed the racially charged rally by members of Malaysia’s majority community.
But several members of Najib’s political party told Reuters they helped an ultranationalist Malay group stage the “Malay Pride” rally. Critics accused the organizers of stoking racial tensions in multicultural Malaysia to distract from a multi-million-dollar corruption scandal swirling around the prime minister.
Protesters at the rally held signs reading “Don’t insult Malays and Islam” and “#najibstays”. Some were eventually dispersed by riot police outside Chinatown, where many Chinese businesses are located.
There, witnesses said, they hurled racial abuse against ethnic Chinese and threatened a repeat of 1969, when ethnic rioting killed hundreds of people, mostly Chinese. Communal tension has simmered in the succeeding decades, and some fear that racially volatile mass gatherings like the Sept. 16 rally could spiral into violence.
“It’s not a threat,” Ali Rustam, the head of the Malay group, said of the rally in an interview. “It’s a reminder: Don’t play with fire. Don’t insult the Malays too much.”
Malays make up about 60 percent of Malaysia’s 30 million people and Chinese about 25 percent. There is also a sizeable Indian minority.
Many opposition supporters are ethnic Chinese, who dominated an anti-government protest last month that demanded Najib’s resignation.
“SUPPORT YOUR BOSS”
In a rural region of Selangor state last week, an official from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) told Reuters that his party division hired 25 buses to ferry about 1,000 supporters to the pro-Najib rally in Kuala Lumpur. Five UMNO members said they were paid by party officials to attend.
“You have to support your prime minister, your boss,” said Ahmed Samsuri, an UMNO division secretary in Selangor. Participants were fed and given a red T-shirt to wear, but weren’t paid, he said.
But five protesters, all UMNO members in their teens or twenties, told Reuters that party officials had given them up to 50 ringgit ($12) when they boarded the buses. These small sums represent at least half a day’s wages in rural areas.
“We didn’t go because of the money. We went to unite the Malays,” said Shahrizan Ahmad, 18, a fisherman.
The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Two senior UMNO party officials also declined comment.