Malaysia: Expect more racial rhetoric as PH and UMNO woo Malays – 18 Jul 2017

  • With the Pakatan Harapan (PH) poised to offer a serious challenge to its stranglehold on Malaysian politics, Umno is ratcheting up the racial rhetoric. According to a report in The Straits Times (ST) this is because it fears it is losing its grip on the crucial Malay vote bank after former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad formally took charge of the opposition on 14 Jul 17.
  • The ST report said with the general election due in a year’s time, politicians and analysts expect to see “increased pandering to Malay-Muslim insecurities” in the coming months.
  • Vriens & Partners political analyst Adib Zalkapli told the ST: “Umno has to work extra hard to defend its turf as Barisan Nasional’s (BN) ethnic minority parties have so far not mounted a credible challenge against the opposition leading to a more racially tinged campaign from both sides.”
  • The report said despite civil society having misgivings, PH aimed to use Mahathir’s influence to break Umno’s stranglehold on the Malay community that made up the majority in more than half of the parliamentary constituencies.
  • There is speculation that Prime Minister Najib Razak will call for election after the 19-30 Aug 17 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur and on 16 Jul 17, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said polls would be held after Sep 17.
  • The report said observers had earlier expected the lion’s share of the Malay votes to go to the BN and PAS, which left the opposition in 2015 after accusing Chinese-dominated DAP of being anti-Islam. But, it added, Mahathir’s “pre-eminence has reset calculations and reignited the battle for Malay support”.
  • It noted that Umno started the racial rhetoric last weekend, insisting that Mahathir was only a puppet, and that the DAP held the real power in the PH as it had the most lawmakers among the four PH partners.

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