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Umno’s stand on ‘Allah’ socks part of core struggle, analysts say

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 — Umno was obliged to endorse its Youth chief’s stance over the “Allah” socks controversy despite this putting it at odds with allies in the national unity government, according to analysts.

They said the position was fundamental to the identity of the Malay nationalist party that positions itself as champions of both the community and Islam in the country.

While the party’s decision to fully back Youth chief Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh’s demands to punish convenience chain KK Mart over the issue has made some partners uncomfortable, the analysts said Umno could not afford to be seen as wavering on the issue that has outraged some sections of the country.

“Umno should be portrayed as the defender of Islam, despite knowing that certain parties in the unity government will be offended with their actions,” Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan said.

“It is critical for Malay voters to see that Umno can stand up to certain parties and not be bullied, especially against DAP, in the unity government.”

Last week, Umno secretary-general Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said the party’s supreme council agreed fully with Akmal that stern action must be taken in response over the socks controversy, and shared his views on issues over which the the Umno Youth chief had clashed with allied leaders.

These included Akmal’s criticism of Tourism, Arts, and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing for the listing of bak kut teh as a heritage dish as well as Housing and Local Government Minister Nga Kor Ming for the proposal to list Chinese new villages in Selangor as Unesco world heritage sites.

Tiong is the president of the PDP, a component of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), while Nga is a leader in DAP.

While the position puts the party in direct conflict with ministers from allied parties, Azmi said there should not be lasting fallout.

“Besides ruffling some feathers, there is no issue that other unity government component parties such as DAP losing their support or being cowed by Umno’s action,” he said.

“With GPS, I think it won’t affect Umno’s relationship much as Sarawak Premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Openg has frequently understood that the peninsula’s politics is markedly different from in East Malaysia.”

Dr Mazlan Ali from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s (UTM) Razak Faculty Perdana Centre told Malay Mail that Umno’s allies would have anticipated the Malay nationalist party’s position as it was consistent with its identity.

Citing the continued practice of communal politics in Malaysia, Mazlan said Umno was simply seeking to represent what it saw to be the interests of its core community.

“Similar to understanding DAP’s role in drumming for (non-Malay) support, Umno similarly is rooting for the support of the Malay community,” he said.

While Umno’s strong position has discomfited some allies, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid believed parties in the national unity government would be able to resolve the differences in the long run.

He also suggested that Umno’s allies were not as openly critical of the party’s position as they understood that the party was leading the vanguard to win over the Malay community.

“In this case, time will tell whether there is a heavy price to be paid in terms of multicultural support, for the leeway given to Umno to express rather hard positions on this issue,” he said.

Earlier in March, socks printed with the Arabic word for “Allah” were allegedly found for sale at an outlet of KK Mart in Selangor, with the discovery causing controversy as it spread online.

KK Mart later traced the socks to a supplier based in Johor, Xin Jian Chang Sdn Bhd, which said the items were mistakenly shipped by the manufacturer in China.

KK Mart founder Datuk Seri Chai Kee Kan issued an apology soon after the socks were discovered, with outlets of the convenience chain also displaying written apologies to Malaysians over the incident.

Despite calls to calm tempers, Akmal maintained his call for a ruinous boycott of KK Mart and, after the Umno supreme council’s endorsement, told the company to find a new line of business.

On Tuesday, Chai and his wife, Datin Seri Loh Siew Mui, who is a director of the company, were charged under Section 298 of the Penal Code for deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of others.

The same day, an unidentified a man driving a dark-coloured vehicle with the red sticker of delivery company Lalamove attempted a Molotov cocktail attack at a KK Mart branch in Bidor.