The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition is against racial extremism, Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Sunday (Oct 11), despite some leaders in his Umno party backing the pro-Malay "red shirt" movement that has made sometimes violent threats against the minority Chinese in Malaysia.
Racial tensions have heated up recently following a brawl at Low Yat Plaza in July - which began as a petty theft case, but turned into a racial incident between Malays and Chinese - and street rallies that have taken on racial overtones.
"We must reject all forms of extremism, whether it is violent extremism - the type that you see in the Middle East - or racial extremism," Datuk Seri Najib told coalition partner Malaysian Chinese Association's (MCA) general assembly.
We must reject all forms of extremism, whether it is violent extremism - the type that you see in the Middle East - or racial extremism.
PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK
BN has formed Malaysia's government since independence by balancing the interests of its largely race-based components. But Umno, the largest and leading party in the coalition, has also played up its role as the defender of Malay rights and dominance.
The red shirt rally, officially organised by the National Silat Federation (Pesaka) which is led by an Umno leader, gathered tens of thousands in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 16 to counter August's predominantly Chinese rally by electoral reform group Bersih, where an even larger crowd called for the embattled Premier to resign.
The red shirts accused the Chinese of plotting to usurp political power from Malays by trying to bring down the Najib administration. Mr Najib attended a Pesaka event two days after its rally, where he called the Bersih demonstration a slap in the face of Malays, saying "the Malays have rights too… and we can rise up when our leaders are insulted, condemned and embarrassed".
On Sunday, the Malaysian leader criticised both the red shirts and the yellow-clad Bersih protesters, telling MCA delegates that the government allowed for peaceful assemblies but said this meant that demonstrators "do not bring racially tinged banners, do not make statements that are seditious in nature, do not hurt other people's feelings and, of course, do not insult the country's leaders".
Although some in the red shirt gathering called for the abolishment of vernacular education, a deeply emotive subject for some in the Chinese community, Mr Najib vowed that this "is not BN policy".
"BN stands for policies based on multiculturalism, multi-lingualism, and multi-ethnic and multi-religionism," he said.
Mr Najib added that moderation, interracial cooperation and progressive ideas form the ideology of the ruling coalition, and thanked MCA "because when the yellow shirt rally (Bersih) happened with the acts of insult against the leaders, MCA had condemned such actions as going against the Chinese culture".
"We can have differences of opinions... We have a process on how to harmonise our differences within BN," said the Umno president.
While dissent has grown within BN over state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad's (1MDB) RM42 billion (S$14 billion) debt burden and reports of US$700 million (S$977 million) linked to the firm ending up in Mr Najib's personal accounts, MCA's top leaders have remained steadfast and openly backed the Premier.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and other government ministers have said the money that was deposited in Mr Najib's accounts did not come from 1MDB - whose advisory board he chairs - but from unspecified Middle Eastern donors.