May 11 2017
In his Wesak Day message yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak pointed out that its celebration is a hallmark of the country’s democracy as it shows that freedom of religion is a significant factor in the cohesion of Malaysia’s creed.
“Peace, service and recognition of common humanity are not only universal values shared by Buddhist devotees, but they are also the very same shared values that bind us all together as Malaysians,” he said.
The prime minister also said the celebration which emphasises on making special efforts to bring happiness to others, especially the disadvantaged, is part of values that should be upheld in this country.
“And we must uphold these important values because if we stay together and help each other, we will build a stronger and better Malaysia for all of us,” he said.
“This occasion gives us an opportunity to commemorate the many contributions of Buddhists to our progress and to recommit ourselves to building a brighter future for all communities, cultures, and religions,” he added.
There was no doubt that Najib’s message signifies his insistence that under his leadership, all Malaysians should enjoy equal opportunities and respect as citizens, irrespective of their religious or ethnic background.
It is the core of his administration’s 1Malaysia policy and also the basic foundation of Barisan Nasional’s campaign during the last general election in 2013.
It was comforting that despite the so-called “Chinese tsunami”during that election which blunted Najib’s 1Malaysia initiative, the prime minister continues to pursue his goal of a more united multi-racial society in this country.
As the next general election draws near, he apparently has not given up on winning the hearts and minds of all Malaysians, including those of the Chinese community whose overwhelming support for the opposition in 2013 resulted in one of the worst BN’s electoral outing.
Certain elements within Umno have definitely pushed for a more Malay Muslim-friendly approach to win the next election, but as for now Najib seems to hold his ground on keeping BN intact as a coalition whose moderate multi-racial formula has enabled it to rule the country since Merdeka.
Recent developments indicated that those in favor of Umno befriending Pas at the expense of its BN allies were not getting their ways, despite arguments that it is the best way to secure Malay votes, especially in the non-urban areas.
The objections by Umno’s allies within BN and those from Sabah and Sarawak were believed to be the main reason the government deciding to not lead the way in proposing the Syariah empowerment Act, better known as RUU355 in parliament recently.
Based on his speeches and public messages such as that on Wesak Day, Najib too appears to prefer BN continuing its multi-racial approach as it prepares for the next polls.
It is true that relations between Umno and Pas are becoming increasingly cordial ever since the Islamist party’s fall out with the other opposition parties, particularly the outright secular DAP, but there is no doubt that the two parties will have to square it off, especially in the overwhelmingly Malay-majority states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, Perlis and Pahang.
As Pas has decided to go on its own in the next general election, Najib probably realised that it would be more beneficial for Umno and its allies to treat Pas as an opponent rather than an ally because a three-cornered fight with the main opposition coalition of Pakatan Harapan as the third force would mean a further split of anti-BN votes especially in those states.
It was decidedly a wise strategy by Najib to maintain the multi-racial identity of BN as to do otherwise would play right into the hands of the Pakatan Harapan camp which is all ready to usurp that identity in the event the ruling coalition decides to switch and become a more right-wing Malay Muslim political bloc.
In the short-run, Umno may benefit from such a switch by befriending Pas, but the extra support which comes with it may not likely be sustainable for long.
After all, it has been proven over the decades and past elections that the bulk of Malaysian public prefer to choose a political entity which truly represents themselves – a moderate and multi-racial one.