Utusan Malaysia stirs the racial pot, reports Asia Sentinel

A week ago, the Malay-language broadsheet Utusan Malaysia printed a story that is sending reverberations throughout an increasingly racially tense Malaysia, to the effect that Christian pastors were seeking to install a Christian prime minister who would change the country’s official religion.

Although the story was ridiculous on the face of it, it has been given wide circulation and drawn considerable comment as well as a series of police reports filed in local stations. Malaysia’s official religion, enshrined in the country’s constitution, is Islam although other religions are guaranteed freedom of existence. Any attempt to change that would probably result in a racial conflagration that no sane individual in Malaysia would want.

According to the CIA World Factbook, ethnic Malays make up 50.4 percent of the population, more than double the population of Chinese with 23.7 percent, Indians at 7.1 percent, others 7.8 percent and indigenous races, primarily in East Malaysia, at 11 percent. Muslims account for 60.4 percent of the population, Buddhists 19.2 percent, Christians 9.1 percent and Hindus 6.2 percent.

Leaders of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, which represents several different religions met with Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak on Thursday to say the report was specious and to ask that Utusan‘s editors be disciplined for irresponsible reporting. Najib told local reporters he welcomed the church leaders’ assurance that they were not seeking to make the country a Christian nation.

News reports gave no indication that Najib apologized to the church leaders for the newspaper’s irresponsible reporting. Utusan Malaysia is owned by the party that Najib heads – the United Malays National Organization, the ethnic Malay party that leads the national governing coalition, the Barisan Nasional. Over recent months, the newspaper has become more strident in its racial reporting, earning it criticism from a wide variety of sources, particularly the opposition parties which it regularly excoriates.

The paper recently fired Hata Wahari, a longtime reporter at Utusan and the recently elected president of the Malaysian National Union of Journalists after filing eight charges against him for a variety of shortcomings. However, the charges were widely regarded as having been triggered by Hata’s statements about the lack of freedom in the country’s mainstream press and in particular Utusan Malaysia’s pro-government, anti-opposition bias. Hata was the second national journalist’s union head fired by the paper.

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