Umno Leaders and Their Racist Hatespeak

By Kee Thuan Chye

No run-up to any Umno party elections has been so notoriously marked with racist fervour as the current one. At least two of the contenders for senior positions have revealed their true colours by openly bashing non-Malays. In any sensibly-governed country with sensible laws, they would both have been arrested for provoking racial tension. But Malaysia is increasingly becoming the country where Umno is king, and anyone who is not Malay doesn’t count for much.

This is why someone no less than the home minister can say with impunity that because more than half of identified gang members in the country are Indians, and most of the victims “are our Malays”, the police are justified, if they have the evidence, in shooting to kill gang members before asking questions.

This statement from Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in front of presumably a predominantly Malay audience in Melaka last Saturday is not only racist; it is also something that in a civilised, sensibly-governed country with the right sensibilities would have resulted in his being sacked, without hesitation, as home minister.

His statement totally disregards human rights and natural justice. It encourages the police to take lives instead of bringing people to justice. It is telling the police to be judge and executioner all at once. How could it have come from a minister of the government?

This is not what we teach our children. But now that a minister has said it, it will have a negative impact on the young. How can we let Ahmad Zahid get away with it? This is not only conduct unbecoming; it is conduct unforgivable.

Lately, Ahmad Zahid has been behaving like a gangster himself – in the way he told Malaysians who were not happy with the country’s political system that they should leave; in the way he promoted detention without trial for criminals and pushed for the amendments to the Crime Prevention Act (CPA); in the way he refused to answer a question from Malaysiakini reporter Lawrence Yong last week over how the police lost 44 loaded firearms as revealed by the Auditor-General’s report; in the way he threatened journalists at the Saturday event in Melaka that if they were to report what he said, he would close down their newspapers.

These were his words: “…this is a closed-door meeting; this is only for Umno delegates. If any news about what I say appears in the newspapers, be it in Malay, English or Chinese or Tamil, I will shut down that newspaper. Do not write, I say do not publish, do not put on Facebook, do not anything. I know what to do. You are dealing with Zahid Hamidi, okay?”

That last bit, “You are dealing with Zahid Hamidi, okay?”, is particularly arrogant. So too is the claim that he can shut down any newspaper just because they publish what he said. In the past, the home minister could have done that and his action could not be questioned. But now, after the recent amendments to the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), the action can be challenged in court. Obviously, Ahmad Zahid is getting out of control.

Besides, as far as that Melaka event is concerned, it was reportedly a government function with the Government’s stamp being clearly visible on the logos in the backdrop. But he himself termed it as being “only for Umno delegates”, which must therefore mean that the organisers of the event were misusing government funds and machinery for something related to the party. This would constitute abuse of power.

Ahmad Zahid, who is hankering to be re-elected Umno vice-president, may have had no hand in organising the event, but he would have been aware of the abuse of power. Participating in it makes him an accessory to the fact.

How can he continue to be a minister?

The other Umno leader who exhibited racist fervour was Ali Rustam, another candidate for vice-president. Obviously to attract votes, he chose as his target the Chinese community, one of Umno’s favourite bogeys.

Last Monday, he told a gathering of Malay entrepreneurs that at the last general election (GE13), he was voted out by the Chinese. He was repeating an allegation he had made before. He was repeating it although it has since been pointed out by many quarters that the Chinese alone could not have determined the voting outcome of GE13.

This is what we call a sore loser. Will he be one as well if he loses at the Umno polls?

He also attacked the Chinese by alleging that they were involved in all the “illegal businesses” in the country. “We can’t have casinos, 4-D, Toto, gambling, lottery, massage parlours, Ah Long. These are all illegal. And the Chinese are the ones dabbling in them,” he said.

He must be ignorant or deliberately lying. The casino in Genting, 4-D, Toto, the Big Sweep lottery and even massage parlours are not illegal set-ups. They are approved by the Government. The people who own them pay huge taxes; they contribute a lot to government revenue. Why else would the Government legalise them? And yet Ali Rustam says we can’t have them?

Was he attacking the Chinese on this point because Malay entrepreneurs are not involved in these businesses? Well, to be fair, they could be, but would they want to be? And if they would not because it’s considered haram, why attack the Chinese for it, or anyone else?

In the same speech, he called the Penang chief minister, Lim Guan Eng, a racist. Well, for what he’s saying, isn’t he one too?

And why did he say that if the Opposition were to take over the country, “the Malays will be living along the Gombak River”? He expects people to believe this speculative rubbish? Gombak River! It sounds too laughable!

Worse, he said, “The Chinese want everything. … When the Chinese want help, request to build schools, scholarships, the Government gave it to them. But when election time came, they forgot all this. All that’s important is that they take over the Malays and turn them into ‘pendatang’.”

This is a blatant lie. The Chinese do not want to take over the Malays or the country. They couldn’t even if they wanted to. They don’t have the numbers. Just think: Would a Chinese-led party be able to take over the government? Could it win a simple majority of 112 seats in Parliament? Where would the votes come from? Well, maybe if Communist China, which our government has lately become so friendly with, were to colonise Malaysia, the impossible could become possible. But not then.

It’s appalling that this dangerous talk is coming from someone who has just been sworn in as a senator. A former chief minister, to boot.

And it’s frightening that what he has implanted in the minds of his audience – some of whom responded by yelling for the Chinese to “go home” – could last at least a couple of generations. If Umno leaders like him continue to spout such hateful sentiments, there can be no hope for racial harmony in this country for a long, long time.

And of course, Ali Rustam and Ahmad Zahid are not likely to be the only Umno leaders doing this sort of disgraceful and despicable thing; there must be many more, including those in the lower echelons of the party, who poison the minds of their followers with hatespeak.

The tragic thing is, Prime Minister Najib Razak is complicit with them – just by not doing anything about it. And of course he dares not do anything because he fears for his own position. If he should do the sensible thing of hauling them up – which, according to the rule of law, would entail no less than throwing the Sedition Act at them (think how greatly ironic it would be for the home minister to be charged with sedition!) – or even just ticking them off, he would risk being castigated by his own party and probably be challenged for the party presidency at the next party polls.

All this simply reinforces the danger of race-based politics, which in this enlightened age of the Internet, globalisation and the 21st century should cease to exist. And yet we still have it here in our beloved country, and the entity called Umno looms large over the lives of the entire populace, threatening the harmony among its various races.

And yet it continues to be supported – to the extent that at GE13, Umno won nine seats more than in 2008. It is precisely because of this little triumph – plus the poor performance of its Barisan Nasional (BN) partners at GE13 – that Umno considers itself the king of the kampung that can now throw its weight around without regard for the non-Malays, thus prompting its leaders to assume a take-it-or-leave attitude. They think they can say or do anything and not be held accountable for it.

In a way, they should be pitied. For if we were to look at what they are willing to throw away their sense of right and wrong, their sense of humanity for – a senior party position, a potential ticket for higher positions in government – it seems too high a price to pay. What they are seeking is not even a tiny part of the world.

They might do well to heed the famous aphorism: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Or are they too concerned about profit to care about soul?

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.