Anwar orders Malaysia’s security forces to be on alert amid spike in racial, religious rhetoric

Malaysian PM Anwar Ibrahim said any attempt to increase the racial and religious temperature in the country will not be permitted. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Friday said he has ordered security forces to be alert against those stirring up racial and religious rhetoric, ahead of a Malay nationalist convention on Sunday to be attended by former premier and opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad.

“Any attempt made by anyone to pit one race against another, or to increase the racial and religious temperature in this country will not be permitted,” Datuk Seri Anwar told a press conference after chairing a Cabinet meeting at his office in Putrajaya.

“I have ordered security forces to be on alert because those who are desperate or feel challenged will use these sentiments, and the poor will be paid to cause chaos,” he said, without mentioning who, or what groups, he was referring to.

The “Malay Proclamation” convention will be held at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, with speakers including Tun Dr Mahathir expected to raise issues regarding the Malay community.

Mr Anwar’s government, led by his multiracial Pakatan Harapan coalition, is opposed in Parliament by a Malay-Muslim alliance, Perikatan Nasional (PN).

Responding to Mr Anwar’s remarks, the police said on Friday that they will clamp down on any ethnic rhetoric that endangers the national security of the country.

“The current security level is under control and the police are giving a commitment to ensure law enforcement is performed properly to ensure safety is guaranteed,” the police said in a statement.

Dr Mahathir, about two weeks ago in Twitter posts, made controversial claims that the Malays, who form more than 60 per cent of the population, “did not benefit” from Malaysia’s multi-ethnic make-up.

“The business sector of Malaysia is dominated by the Chinese. Non-Chinese cannot find good jobs there. If the government does not take Malays, they will be jobless,” he wrote.

BowerGroupAsia senior analyst Arinah Najwa told The Straits Times that the discussion around race is still important among Malaysians.

“The Malay Proclamation event can be seen to embolden more staunch Malay groups who feel they are not adequately represented under a multi-racial Anwar government,” she said.

“There are two types of parties, one that will flare up racial issues because they feel like any exposure to other races would be a threat to their own. But there are also those that feel exposure to difference races can help to build understanding and diversity,” Ms Arina added.

There have also been several recent incidents that have spiked ethnic tensions, including a police report lodged by a member of PN this week accusing Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh of spearheading a Christian evangelist movement and bringing Muslim youth to visit a church as part of the ministry’s programme.

The incident led Selangor executive councillor for religious affairs Zawawi Ahmad Mughni, who is from Mr Anwar’s party, to say that Muslims are banned from attending events at non-Muslim houses of worship in the state.

Ms Yeoh slammed PN for using her as a “punching bag”, saying the youth programme, which also had visits to a mosque and a gurdwara, was meant to foster harmony.

She said the opposition wanted to divert attention from its chairman Muhyiddin Yassin, who is facing multiple graft charges.

On Thursday, cars owned by film director Khairi Anwar Jailani and screenwriter Arjun Thanaraju were splashed with paint and acid, following controversy over their movie Mentega Terbang (Flying Butter), which some Muslims found offensive with some parts deemed to be questioning the Islamic faith.

There were death threats left on the cars by the perpetrators. “Mentega Terbang don’t challenge Islam,” said one note.

For now, said Vriens & Partners Malaysia senior analyst Halmie Azrie Abdul Halim, ethnic rhetoric is being played up as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is just round the corner.

Muslims will start fasting next Thursday. 

“When people are more focused on observing religious obligations, Malay politicians would likely play these tactics to make it more relatable to people. In the sacred month, anything that is perceived as ‘anti-Islam’ or ‘anti-Malay’ would be a selling point. This gives a politician an opportunity to be a hero,” he added.

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