07 September, 2008

PM orders halt on argument over race issues

Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi urged his countrymen to stop discussing race and religious issues after a dispute over comments by a ruling party member, according to reports Sunday.

His comments come after Ahmad Ismail, a division chief in the United Malay National Orgainsation (UMNO), allegedly claimed the Chinese were "squatters" in the country.

Ahmad was said to have made the statement two weeks ago while campaigning for a government candidate in a hotly contested by-election that returned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to parliament after a 10-year absence.

"We do not want chaos in our country. If there is chaos, no one will win. Everyone will lose and the country will face problems," Abdullah was quoted as saying in a banner headline on the front page of The New Straits Times daily.

"Things that should not have been raised and sensitive things have surfaced. This has caused anger among the various races who feel their rights and sensitivities have been overlooked or ignored," he added.

Abdullah said talk on issues such as race and religion could lead to disharmony, referring to an unwritten pact upon independence between the various races that ensures special privileges for the Malays in exchange for citizenship for Chinese and Indians.

Ahmad has refused to apologise over the comment, saying he was misinterpreted and was referring to historical events, but it provoked a sharp response from within the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which includes Chinese and Indian component parties.

"The publication has put me in a bad light and I will not tolerate it. To clear my name, I will initiate legal proceedings against Sin Chew Daily."

He said a group of lawyers from Umno was looking into the matter.

Meanwhile, the two reporters covering the event in which Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Ahmad Ismail made the alleged racist remarks during the Permatang Pauh by-election, claimed that they clearly heard what he said.

On Friday, Ahmad claimed that his remarks were taken out of context and he was not a racist.

On Saturday, a state youth wing of the Malaysian Chinese Association, the main Chinese party in the BN, urged it to consider leaving the coalition if UMNO leaders refused to change their attitude.

Opposition leaders have also questioned Ahmad's claim, saying it took 11 days before the politician denied the allegation.

"Anyone who had been wrongly maligned or subject of a false accusation would... make an instant response," Lim Kit Siang, a senior leader in the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance, said in a statement.

And, once again, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi has shown that he is unable to keep in check his party politicians.

If racial tensions have risen in the past few weeks, the blame should lay squarely with him because he is the good man who did nothing while Datuk Ahmad Ismail postured and catapulted himself from an unknown regional politician to the national stage by standing up to his party president.

But it is not just Umno politicians he has failed to keep in line.

Now he is asking everyone to cool it. He says it is the collective responsibility of all Malaysians to preserve racial harmony.

But that is not likely to end the debate.

The man who says he is the prime minister of all Malaysians is finding it difficult now to really be one.

He is now stuck between a rock and a hard place.

And so far, the Chinese squatter debate has been confined to a fierce quarrel between Umno, MCA and Gerakan.

Even former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad realised his mistake when he initially appeared to support Ahmad's position in refusing to apologise. He must have read some of the responses on his blog from Malays who expressed disappointment with him.

The next day Dr Mahathir wrote that what he meant was that Umno leaders should not apologise on Ahmad's behalf. Dr Mahathir said that he did not like what Ahmad said and that the politician should face action.

Ultimately, Abdullah has made Ahmad a hero for all those who want him to resign earlier than later as Prime Minister.

He has also made it very difficult for BN to start the difficult task of regaining the votes they have lost to the Pakatan Rakyat.

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