Worsening race relations can be arrested if Putrajaya gets act together, say analysts

“If Malayans want an Islamic state, Malaysia, as we know it, ceases to exist and Sabah and Sarawak are free to end the federal relationship with Malaya.

(The Malaysian Insight) – THE recent controversy over the word “Allah” on some socks may have further battered Malaysia’s fragile race relations and sent it into a steeper downward spiral, but not one that is beyond recovery, according to politicians and political analysts.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) political science professor Jayum Jawan said there was still hope as the people stoking the tensions do not represent the “many rational-minded Malayans”, be they the Malays, the Chinese or the Indians.

The fellow in the Academy of Sciences said the country is full of diversity – ethnically, culturally and religiously – and no amount of provocations, especially made by a small number of individuals, is going to change that diversity.

Sarawak PKR information chief Abun Sui Anyit said it will get better if, and when, the government starts taking “stern and prompt action” against those manipulating sensitive issues and acting provocatively to create tension among the races.

“The government is there to administer the rights of all citizens as enshrined in the federal constitution,” the PKR senator added.

Asian governance expert James Chin said the country’s race relations took a turn for the worse after the 2018 general election when the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition won the election to leave the two major Malay-Muslim parties, the dethroned Umno and the Islamist PAS, on the sidelines.

The two parties became unlikely allies when they found common ground by playing the race and religious cards in their attacks to discredit the new multiracial PH government which had picked Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister.

One common accusation frequently hurled at the PH government then was that it was controlled by the Chinese, alluding to DAP, which had become a major partner in the PH coalition.

PAS and Umno were trying to show that the Muslims and Malays were marginalised, Chin said.

The University of Tasmania director of the Asia Institute said race relations became worse in November 2022 after yet another general election.

The Malay-Muslim parties, this time PAS and Bersatu – an Umno splinter group – found themselves again outside the corridors of power.

“Except Umno, all the Malay-Muslim parties were on the other side (of the political divide). PAS and Bersatu were playing with the same sentiment – the Chinese are marginalising everybody and Anwar Ibrahim is being controlled by DAP.

“Hadi had even gone all out in saying things he did not say in 2018,” Chin said about PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.

He said Hadi was even calling for the overthrow of the “un-Islamic government”.

Chin said he considered this second phase worse than the first for two reasons.

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