Prime Minister Najib has continued to urge peace and harmony amid rising racial and social tensions in Malaysia. Yet, many Malaysians blame Najib and his government for the rising tensions. Now, Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM), an active student group, has announced that it plans to hold a rally in Kuala Lumpur on New Year’s Eve, drawing the ire of the ruling government.
Malaysian society continues to become more and more divided along racial, religious, and economic lines. The native Malays are increasingly clashing with the Chinese community, most of whom are descendents of immigrants who migrated to Malaysia decades ago. Conflicts have also been erupting between Muslims (nearly all Malays are Muslim) and Christians (some Chinese and Indians are Christian).
The conflict between Malays and Chinese stems largely from the use of affirmative action policies, which heavily favor Malays. The conflict over religion has recently flared up over the use of Allah and a government ban which prevents non-Muslims from using the word in print. This decision has been lambasted by Muslim scholars across the globe.
Activism rising in student population
With tensions rising, a more active core of student activists is emerging. The Malaysian Constitute protects public gatherings but long-standing security laws essentially outlawed most political protests. These security laws were lifted by Prime Minister Najib in his first term, however, making it easier to stage protests, which have indeed become more common in recent years.
The student group has announced that the protest will be a peaceful march to urge the government to keep its previous promises to combat corruption and rising living costs. Both issues have become focal points for the on-going battles between Malaysia’s ruling government and the opposition. SMM has emerged as one of the largest and most well-organized student groups in Malaysia.
The size of the planned protest is not known, but will involve at least three separate groups emerging on Merdeka Square, where the British Union flag was lowered, and the Malaysian flag was raised for the first time on independence in 1957. The protest is also being supported by local NGOs and other groups, so it could attract large numbers.
Apparently, however, another group was planning to overthrow the government on New Year’s. While this was most likely a hoax or joke, the Malaysian government has taken the threat seriously and accused the SMM organizers of being connected to the so-called plot. Either way, one of the leading organizers, Azan Safar, was arrested on charges for activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy. He was released after being held for one day.