Poll: Race ties deteriorating, politics blamed – Written by Shannon Teoh

Increasingly acrimonious race and religious disputes have created more flashpoints in the country. — File pic

The Malaysian Insider | KUALA LUMPUR, 15-Jul-2011 — With race and religious politics intensifying since the 2008 general election, Malaysians believe that inter-racial relations have degenerated over the past five years due to distrust among the different races.

A survey of 1,013 Malaysians conducted from May 24 to June 8 by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research found that only 66 per cent of respondents said ethnic relations were “good” — a 15 per cent decline from the 78 per cent who said so in February 2006.

It also found that just over a third believed that there was “sincere and friendly ethnic unity,” down from 54 per cent five years ago, and those that thought unity was superficial rose from 29 per cent to 44 per cent.

Respondents also said they trusted other races less, with trust towards Indians declining from 37 to 31 per cent, Chinese decreasing from 47 to 42 per cent and belief towards Malays dropping marginally from 66 to 65 per cent.

“A significant factor noted in this particular query was the high level of distrust reported by respondents in their fellow Malaysians from a different ethnic background.

“In our view, the survey findings reflect a significant shift in Malaysian publicthinking — the optimism of the mid-2000s appears to have given way to increased insecurities and distrust, which is in part due to the current competitive political environment,” the Merdeka Center said.

Recent years have seen communal politics being stirred up after the landmark Election 2000 — the stiffest contest in Malaysian history.

Calls for more meritocracy to be practised have been met by accusations of being anti-Malay.With Barisan Nasional (BN) losing its customary two-thirds hold on Parliament and five state governments, several political leaders have retreated into racial silos to drum up support.

Tensions between Muslim and Christian communities also came to the fore with the dispute over the use of the word Allah to refer to the Christian god still not settled.

An initial court ruling allowing the Catholic Church to use the term Allah had led to places of worship being firebombed in January last year, while the seizure of Malay-language bibles by enforcement officers has also seen Christian and Muslim leaders clash in the media.

A recent raid by religious authorities on a church in Petaling Jaya accused of proselytising Muslims exacerbated the distrust that arose after Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia and Malay rights lobby Perkasa accused the church and DAP of trying to turn Malaysia into a Christian state.

The Merdeka Center survey also found that only 36 per cent said that people were getting closer together and 82 per cent said they were happy to live in a multi-ethnic society like Malaysia, a 10 percentage point decline from 2006.

Only 38 per cent felt that Malaysians were mature enough to discuss race and religious matters openly, down from 46 per cent five years ago.