Non-Muslim goods boycott a ‘ticking time bomb’ in Mahathir’s Malaysia

“Trade-dependent Malaysia will have to find internal sources of growth to offset the external slowdown. Hence, facing another negative force like the selective boycott of businesses will make it harder for the local economy to offset the fall in external demand.”

Amy Chew, South China Morning Post

A movement calling for Malays to boycott non-Muslim products has emerged in Malaysia, where a campaign of fake news and political rhetoric continues to stoke racial and religious tensions, prompting a member of the Perak state’s royal family to describe the situation as a “ticking time bomb”.

Messages urging the country’s Malay-Muslim majority to boycott goods produced by non-Muslims, even those that are halal, have been actively shared on Facebook and WhatsApp chat groups. Names of mini-markets perceived to be owned by non-Muslims are also listed as places to be avoided.

The halal food and beverage industry that caters to Muslims in Malaysia is estimated to be worth 50 billion to 55 billion ringgit (US$12 billion to US$13.2 billion) for this year.


Yeah Kim Leng, an economics professor at Sunway University, pointed out that if people heeded the boycott calls, the halal sector – which covers food and beverage, cosmetics and health care products – which non-Muslim businesses also serve, could be badly hit.

In Malaysia, hopes for racial unity. The reality? Growing division

The boycott is yet another instance of racial and religious tensions that have plagued the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition since its watershed victory last May, when it unseated Barisan Nasional from its 61-year rule.

Barisan Nasional’s largest and most powerful party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), is now in opposition for the first time since it was formed.

Umno has teamed up with the Islamic Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) to take on Mahathir’s
Pakatan Harapan alliance of Malay, nationalist, Islamic and Chinese-based parties.

This transformation of Malaysia’s political landscape has been marked by a push to exploit ethnic and religious differences for electoral gain.

Last week, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad advised Malaysians against taking part in any boycott. “A boycott is an ineffective weapon, [it will only] create anger. Do not boycott anybody, Bumiputra or non-Bumiputra,” he said, referring to ethnic Malays and indigenous people in Malaysia.

On Friday, Mahathir in a blog post wrote that getting angry with people of other races – whom he said had come a long way to be successful since the days of toiling in tin mines and rubber estates under British rule – would not help the country’s majority race. “Malays should be aware of what is happening to them. Unfortunately, they are not. They still refuse to work. Malays are willing to hand over jobs to foreigners and foreigners flood our country. Seven million foreigners are here today. They are working,” he wrote.

“Our fate is in our own hands. Getting angry with other people will not solve our problems. Our numbers are said to have increased. But the majority of the poor cannot compete with the rich minority.”


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