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Friday, August 27, 2010

Najib pledeges zero tolerance for racism but will he walk the talk


Malaysia Chronicle

UPDATED Amid doubts that he will walk his talk, Prime Minister Najib Razak reiterated his multiracial credentials at a BN Youth meeting on Friday, where he pledged “zero-tolerance for those who made racist remarks.”

The news was flashed by MCA Youth Chief Wee Ka Siong on his Twitter and quickly seized upon by followers – many of whom were reluctant to believe that Najib would succeed in reforming Umno, long-known for its reliance on racist policies and religious bigotry to stay in power.

“Really? Action speaks louder than words” and “retorik” were some of their immediate reactions.

Mahathir and Ibrahim Ali
"This is the sad reality in Malaysia today that everyone has become so disenchanted no one believes Umno and BN can ever change or deliver. Apart from sentiment is the reality of corruption, how does Umno work out its internal deals - who gets punished and who doesn't. Also who get what and who doesn't. All this has to be sorted before the various warlords will let go," human rights lawyer and PKR Youth leader Gooi Hsiao Leung told Malaysia Chronicle.

Significant breakaway?

Nevertheless, to Umno pundits, given Najib’s cautious nature, the remark was significant and a sign that he was ready to push away from the sphere in Umno currently dominated by former premier Mahathir Mohamad and other hawks including Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

“The signs are there Najib wants to strike out on his own. He doesn’t want to use the old tired policies of racism and religious bigotry that Mahathir was an expert at. The thing is, can Najib succeed? His approach may be too soft,” an Umno watcher admitted to Malaysia Chronicle.

KJ and Umno Youth
“The power is actually all in his hand. He is the PM and it is not difficult for him to get the Supreme Council behind him. But he needs to be much more aggressive than he is now, especially against a well-slicked destroyer like Mahathir, who always goes for nothing but the jugular.”

Sources of support

One source of support that Najib can draw on may be the Umno Youth wing headed by Khairy Jamaluddin. Khairy appears to have abandoned his own racist-rhetoric past, and is now pushing for his party to distance itself from ultra-Malay rights groups like Perkasa.

Again, this may be easier said than done because most of Perkasa’s 200,000-strong members are from Umno. Nevertheless, when considering that Umno has a membership of about 3.1 million, Perkasa’s influence may not really be as solid as its chief Ibrahim Ali hopes.

Formed earlier this year, Perkasa’s trump card remains its patron, Mahathir, who still wields considerable clout in the Umno.

“Perkasa is hurting us, our chances in gaining non-Malay votes. For Umno, BN to win, we cannot afford to be associated with these people. They are alienating us from a large segment of voters,” KJ was reported as telling Malaysian Insider.

Gooi Hsaio Leung
No nuts and bolts

Apart from the political factors, there is also doubt because Najib did not give any details on how his government would work to weed out racism.

Among suggestions that have been offered in the past and recently revived are the abolition of courses run by the Biro Tata Negara or National Civics Bureau. These have been blamed for brainwashing Malay civil servants and university students into an apartheid and seige mentality against the non-Malays.

Mujahid Yusof Rawa
"It would be sad if Najib were to be just sounding out grand dreams again because Malaysia is at the brink. It requires very strong leadership to move the country and Najib is not doing this at all. He is just playing to the gallery but there are no concrete steps or solutions announced. It is not satisfactory," PAS chairman for national unity Mujahid Yusof Rawa told Malaysia Chronicle.

Recently, an MCA-Umno row alarmed the public with it increasingly nasty racial overtones. Two school headmistresses were also caught telling their Chinese pupils to go back to China, and one of them even likened Indians to dogs.

Although Muhyiddin has tried to shield them, Najib promised to take action against the two women provided there was sufficient proof.

“If indeed found to be racist, we will take action against them,” he told the BN Youth town-hall meeting.

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