Raphael Pura, Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2008
On Tuesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the dominant party in the ruling coalition—the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO—will punish an ethnic Malay politician who made a series of remarks against the country’s minority ethnic Chinese, who make up about 25% of the country’s 27 million people. Mr. Abdullah told reporters the remarks had “stirred anger and restlessness among the people.”
The offending politician, Ahmad Ismail, an influential UMNO executive in Penang state, last month referred disparagingly to the country’s Chinese community as “squatters” and “immigrants” in Malaysia, where Muslim ethnic Malays account for about 60% of the population.
On Monday, Mr. Ahmad amplified his remarks, telling ethnic Chinese, who dominate much of Malaysia’s private-sector economy, not to try to seek political power as well. “Consider this a warning from the Malays,” Mr. Ahmad told a news conference. “The patience of the Malays has a limit. Do not push us against the wall, for we will be forced to turn back and push the Chinese for our own survival.”
Mr. Ahmad, calling himself a “nationalist” and not a racist, has refused to apologize for his remarks, which have sparked anger among minority Malaysians and condemnation from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who labeled him a “low class” politician.
Mr. Ahmad’s implied threat of a Malay backlash against minority Malaysians hit a raw nerve. On Tuesday, Malaysia’s Armed Forces chief, Gen. Abdul Aziz Zainal, in an unusual public comment by a military official, told reporters the government should take action against anyone stirring racial discord. “Racial issues are the most feared by security forces, as they could lead to chaos. They are a security threat,” he was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper.