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In ‘Allah’ socks issue, analysts see Perikatan’s restraint as a strategic move to its benefit

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 29 — Taking a step back and letting Umno Youth spearhead the protest against the controversial socks with “Allah” printed on them may have benefitted Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) components PAS and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, several political observers suggested.

The analysts told Malay Mail that by taking an approach opposite to its strident norm, the Opposition has kept negative attention away from itself while at the same time putting the ball in the government’s court.

“PAS and Bersatu are united in allowing the Umno Youth leader to make brave comments over many issues relating to KK Mart, Chinese village for Unesco heritage status, and on vernacular schools.

“Because what can be more powerful and lethal other than criticisms made by the member party that formed the government of the day?” asked Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Prof Kartini Aboo Talib.

The Institute of Ethnic Studies (Kita) deputy director suggested that by letting Umno Youth take the lead, PN may have believed that the wing could affect the government’s stance on the issue.

Senior researcher at the think tank O2 Malaysia, Anis Anwar Suhaimi, concurred with Kartini’s perspective, and pointed out how PAS and Bersatu’s approaches and reactions have been measured and varied.

“While PAS, through various state-level branches like Johor and Kelantan, has called for legal and societal vigilance and action against those insulting Islam, they haven’t escalated the issue in a highly politicised manner. Their focus has been more on the need for respectful treatment of Islamic symbols rather than leveraging the issue for political gain.

“Bersatu, especially through Armada, has been somewhat vocal. They have expressed concerns about the investigation’s delay and aligned with calls for respecting Islamic values, but they too have avoided turning the issue into a political tool,” Anis said, referring to the Youth wing of Bersatu.

Meanwhile, International Islamic University Malaysia’s (IIUM) political analyst Syaza Syukri felt that PAS has been very careful to not affect the unity fabric of Malaysia, which would help with its political positioning.

She pointed out that while PAS and Bersatu have already garnered substantial support from the Malay voter base and do not really have to stir the hornet’s nest, Umno is still struggling to establish its relevance and consolidate its standing within the community.

“Umno Youth might think they are winning the narrative but PAS’ more muted and balanced response might even be a smarter move, because PAS would appear as the party serious to win over a larger constituency.

“I think two things are going on. They are letting Umno take the blame for any deteriorating relationship with non-Malays. Secondly, I think because they really don’t need to. They have majority Malay voters already,” Syaza said.

On Tuesday, Selangor PAS chief Datuk Ab Halim Tamuri even urged for calm in the country, after a firebombing attempt at a KK Mart outlet in Perak became the latest development in the “Allah” socks controversy.

The Islamist party leader said that while the socks incident was significant to the Muslim community, it should not be allowed to jeopardise Malaysia’s multiracial harmony.

This incident came even as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim told the public not to be a prosecutor or judge over the issue of the sale of socks, saying the country would not be able to see any growth if the people decided to harp on certain issues, especially on the so-called “3R”: race, religion and royalty.

Earlier this week, the founder and group executive chairman of the KK Group that owns the KK Mart convenience store chain, and his wife, were charged at the Shah Alam Sessions Court over the sale of socks with the word “Allah” printed on them at one of KK Mart’s outlets in Selangor.

Datuk Seri Chai Kee Kan, also known as KK Chai, and his wife Datin Seri Loh Siew Mui, who is a director of the company, pleaded not guilty under Section 298 of the Penal Code for deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of others.

KK Mart has also filed a lawsuit against socks supplier Xin Jian Chang Sdn Bhd and its director Soh Chin Huat for supplying the controversial socks, seeking a court declaration that the supplier had unlawfully interfered with its business, and for court orders for Xin Jian Chang and its director to indemnify it for the losses and to prevent further causing of losses by unlawful interference to business.