KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 â€” The country marks its 53rd anniversary today amid a season of racially-charged controversies with Datuk Seri Najib Razak continuing to defy Umno pressure to forcibly end the race relations debate â€” for he worries it might lead to autocratic rule.
At the Umno supreme council meeting last Friday the prime minister played down the need for laws such as the ISA to address racial issues arising from a Johor principal’s remarks and demands by Chinese groups which include his coalition partner MCA to accelerate economic liberalisation.
“Datuk Seri Najib said it has not cross his mind to invoke laws to control freedom of speech although some have suggested otherwise, as it is still under control,” said an Umno insider.
“He said he still believes in politics based on freedom and openness and not autocracy,” said the source familiar with what transpired at the Umno supreme council meeting.
As anger grew over SMK Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra principal Siti Inshah Mansor’s allegedly racist remarks to her pupils, independent songwriter Wee Meng Chee recently produced a music video containing racial slurs, angering some Malays.
Wee, better known as Namewee, had previously produced a video purportedly ridiculing the national anthem and the Islamic call for prayer.
The recent video resulted in calls for government to take stern action against Namewee.
The Najib administration has also been under pressure to ban non-Muslims from visiting mosques after the Selangor Islamic Council (MAIS) usurped the control of a surau for letting the non-Muslim Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching speak to the congregation.
Najib’s remarks at the supreme council meeting last week suggest he is resisting calls from the conservative faction of his own party for a crackdown.
UKM political scientist Professor Samsul Adabi Mamat said the prime minister has promoted political openness since assuming power in April 2009.
“He had said in his speeches that we are no longer in the 1970s where the government can invoke its powers as it likes,” Samsul told The Malaysian Insider.
“In many of his actions, we can see that Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been very open. For example in the case of campus politics, he has said that he was open to discussion,” he said referring to the proposal to allow undergraduates to be active in politics.
Samsul added that it is very unlikely for Najib would fail to convince his party to take the moderate approach.
“There will always be contradiction between top leadership, mid-level leaders and the grassroots. But traditionally Umno will always obey the top leadership,” said Samsul.
His colleague Dr Ahmad Nizamuddin Sulaiman said Najib’s remarks showed that the Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman wanted to utilise a new approach to political challenges.
Ahmad Nizamuddin added that Najib probably realises that he can no longer play tough with his political opponents.
“In the current scenario, every tough action by the government will only cause its opponents to get more sympathy. For example if anyone is detained, the image would be widely circulated and swiftly, so this will create sympathy and the government would be perceived negatively,” he said.
“Maybe the prime minister has realised the problem, so he wants to be people-friendly,” he said.
However the analyst was sceptical if Najib would be able to promote openness without opposition from Umno members.
“He can say anything he wants, but can he implement them? I doubt the implementation would be successful,” said Ahmad Nizamuddin.
Merdeka Center executive director Ibrahim Suffian also expressed similar sentiments, adding that Najib as Umno president would have to follow the party.
Ibrahim said that Umno members would not accept the people-friendly approach as attempted by Tun Abdullah Badawi.
“For example, Pak Lah tried to give and take in order to be more considerate, but it was not accepted by Umno members as they perceived him as a weak leader,” he said.
Ibrahim said Najib could face similar problems as Abdullah.
“I think the prime minister has realised that the era when the government takes stern action against its opponents is over,” he said.
“Najib wants to engage and not invoke strict laws. This is what the younger generation wants, the younger generation wants the government to engage them when they question the government,” said Ibrahim.
But publicly, his ministers and party colleagues are not making it easy for Najib by continuing to push for a crackdown and pressuring the police to take action.
Source :Â The Malaysian Insider