The Malaysian zero sum game – By Leslie Lau Consultant Editor

The Malaysian Insider | 16-Oct-2008 — The government’s hostility towards the Hindu Rights Action Front (Hindraf), culminating in the outlawing of the organisation, and Utusan Malaysia’s war with Teresa Kok has hardened the position of the nationalist Malay right behind Umno.

But it will have done Umno and the Barisan Nasional few favours in winning back the hearts and minds of Malay moderates or the support of the Chinese, Indian and other non-Malay communities.

By targeting Kok, Utusan and the nationalist Malays are hoping to rally the community against the “threat” of the Chinese DAP, as represented by the Seputeh MP.

Cheras Umno division head Datuk Wira Syed Ali Alhabshi has even set up a Tabung Azan to aid Utusan against the RM30 million defamation lawsuit filed against the paper by Kok.

His reasoning was that a lawsuit against Utusan was an act of hostility against all Malays and all Muslims.

Even Malaysian Press Institute chief executive officer Chamil Wariya made a thinly-veiled attempt at attacking Kok by writing a short story published last week in Utusan in which the protagonist, described as an anti-Malay female MP, is assassinated.

The jury is still out on whether such tactics by the more extreme forces of Umno will work in regaining Malay support lost to the opposition in the March general election.

But it is not likely to help the BN get back any of the non-Malay votes it lost.

The outlawing of Hindraf will certainly do no favours for the BN in engaging the disillusioned and disenfranchised of the Indian community.

By labelling the Hindraf as terrorist and extremist, the government hopes to galvanise the support of moderate, law-abiding conservative Malaysians.

But it runs the risk of allowing the Indian issue to fester, of hardening the stance of more extreme forces and turning a loosely-organised front into a legendary, mythical group united against the BN.

Already, a perception audit survey conducted by the independent Merdeka Centre a few months ago, before the Datuk Ahmad Ismail incident or the Hindraf Hari Raya episode, suggested that non-Malay support for the BN remained low.

Alarmingly, some of the findings also showed Malaysians remained highly suspicious of each other.

Some 37 per cent of non-Malays and non-Muslim Bumiputeras polled said they agreed that “the ultimate goal of Malay politicians is to restrict non-Malay cultures and religions”.

A total of 40 per cent of Malays and Muslim Bumiputeras polled believed, on the other hand, that “the Chinese and Indians are quietly planning to take over the country”.

Ultimately, the government’s hardline position against Hindraf and Utusan Malaysia’s war against Kok will appeal to such suspicions Malaysians have for each other.

The continuing suspicions we harbour against each other become justification for a curb on the discussion of “sensitive issues”.

But will curbing such discussions help repair race relations? Will it unite the races behind the BN?

Or will race relations in Malaysia forever be a zero sum game? – The Malaysian Insider