Muslim Issues in Malaysia Raised at UMNO Assembly

December 14, 2006

Author: Abdar Rahman Koya

Source: Media Monitors Network

Malaysia’s multi-religious population, of whom 40 per cent are non-Muslim, offers a fertile ground for western agencies and missionaries to shift their focus from Indonesia. The failure of the Christianisation/de-Islamisation campaign during the Suharto era, in which western church groups played a major role, clearly failed to convince them of the Muslims’ unshakeable loyalty to their faith, in spite of their tolerance."

Malaysia’s United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) held its general assembly last month. It was the first such gathering for the ruling party since Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over the helm in October 2003. But as usual there were no elections for the president’s and deputy president’s posts. This unwritten law of no contest for the top two posts has been the practice since then-president Dr Mahathir Mohamad nearly lost in a presidential ballot in 1987.

Since early this year, Dr Mahathir, who dominated Malaysia’s political landscape for more than two decades, has been breaking his silence too often. That was until he was rushed to the hospital on November 10 and survived a heart attack. It was one of the rare occasions in the post-Mahathir era when Malaysian newspapers published his photographs on their front pages. Clearly the man who dominated the media for more than two decades is finding it difficult to seeing someone else in ‘his’ prime ministerial chamber. His heart attack could not have been handier for the current UMNO leaders attending the congress: his doctors apparently advised him to stay away. This spared the general assembly from being distracted by issues such as Abdullah’s ‘weak leadership’ and cancellation of mega projects, things that Mahathir would have wanted to discuss as top priorities.

UMNO had other issues which are of more concern to Muslims and Malays. During the Mahathir era, UMNO meetings are usually marked by a blend of anti-opposition speeches and praises for the leader. Not much substance comes out of such assemblies, and participants go home happy that Malay ‘supremacy’, the cornerstone of UMNO’s struggle, was well sloganeered during the speeches. This time round, no one held their breath for UMNO delegates to come out with useful insights about where the party should be heading post-Mahathir. However, something else can now be observed: the blurring of the political and ideological line that demarcates UMNO and Islamic-based politicians, namely those from PAS. Many of the issues – most notably those revolving around the secular lobby and its zeal to push forward its ‘de-Islamisation’ agenda – have now found a new home even at forums that cannot obtain any political mileage from discussing them.