Post-poll protests, ethnic tension weigh on Malaysia
May 19 2013 10:43 PM

File photo shows opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (centre) and his coalition candidates waving to the crowd during a protest rally in Ipoh, Perak state.

DPA/Kuala Lumpur



Post-election protests and rising ethnic tensions have plagued Malaysia following a highly divisive poll this month, raising fears the country could plunge into instability.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has led five rallies in the capital and nearby states to protest the results of the May 5 election, which he said was tainted by massive fraud.
More protest rallies are scheduled in the coming days.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s National Front won 133 seats in the 222-member federal parliament during the polls, extending the coalition’s 56 years of uninterrupted rule over the predominantly Muslim South-East Asian country.
But some analysts, writing mainly on opposition news websites, said it was a pyrrhic victory for the ruling National Front, which, for the first time in its history, lost in the popular vote to the opposition coalition People’s Alliance.
Data from the elections commission showed the National Front secured 47.38% of the total votes cast, while the opposition garnered 52.62%. Najib conceded the National Front did not perform as well as expected and blamed the ethnic Chinese, who comprise more than one-quarter of the country’s 29mn people, for voting for the opposition.
Reaction from supporters of the ruling coalition was swift and critical of the Chinese.
The Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia urged Malays and indigenous groups, which together comprise 65% of the population, to boycott products and services from companies owned by ethnic-Chinese Malaysians that are accused of funding the opposition.
Mohamed Noor Abdullah, a former appellate court judge and an official of Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency, warned the Chinese of a Malay backlash.
“The Chinese betrayal towards the Malays’ hand of friendship - that is true. Because they plotted to seize political power even though they have already have economic power,” he said in a forum at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
Abdul Rahman Arshad, chancellor of University Teknologi Mara, called for the abolition of schools where Mandarin and Tamil are the main languages of instructions. Harussani Zakaria, a mufti, or expert, on Muslim law in Perak, accused non-Malays of racial bigotry and said they were just using Anwar to pursue their dream of conquering the Malays. Najib, who called for reconciliation immediately after the elections, has remained quiet during the tirades against the Chinese community.
But police were investigating whether or not Mohamed Noor and Abdul Rahman could be charged with sedition.
On Wednesday, Najib named a cabinet packed with members of the predominantly Muslim United Malays National Organisation, which provided the bulk of votes for the ruling coalition.
James Chin, a political scientist at Monash University in Kuala Lumpur, said Najib had to continue with pro-Malay policies.
“The Malays are supporting him so he has to carry on the pro-Malay policies,” he said. “He is stuck.”
Anwar, a Malay and a former radical who once defaced English language signs in the university where he was studying, said his opponents were using highly charged ethnic rhetoric to scare Malaysians off supporting his protest rallies.
The opposition said it would challenge the results in 27 parliamentary seats where it said there was evidence of massive fraud.
Anwar vowed to continue with the protests. In two rallies, in Kuala Lumpur and in Penang, more than 100,000 people participated, the organisers said, although police put the numbers around half that figure.
“You cannot put the people to sleep forever,” Anwar said. “Sooner or later they will awaken. On May 5, they signaled their awakening with a resounding vote for People’s alliance.”
But reformist and activist Chandra Muzaffar said Anwar was treading on dangerous ground.
 “There is a lurking danger in this sort of mobilisation,” he said.
“Since the vast majority of the attendees at the rallies ... come from a certain community, they could easily give rise to ethnic tensions.”
Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University, warned against Anwar’s protests.
 “It is unlikely that any significant results could be achieved from the current protests planned by (the People’s Alliance) leaders,” he said.
“Anwar Ibrahim’s refusal to accept the results of the polls might push the country towards instability.”
 Mohamed said the opposition Democratic Action Party, a predominantly ethnic-Chinese political party, “will have to tread carefully and not be seen to be pushing for the agenda of the minority communities.”
 “The political posturing of the National Front and the People’s Alliance over the next few months will likely determine whether the country’s politics will become more or less ethnic-centric,” he added.




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