MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Razak’s remarks and attendance of last Sunday’s pro-Rohingya rally in Kuala Lumpur has triggered a firestorm of protests in Burma, with critics claiming the embattled leader was using the Rohingya issue to detract from his own troubles back home.
A report Tuesday on Myanmar Times quoted several observers making the accusation, and saying that Najib’s concern for the Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted minority in Burma, was disingenuous.
According to Bangkok-based expert on ASEAN affairs, Kavi Chongkittavorn, Najib’s actions were simply part of an attempt on his part to gain support back home. He said discreet diplomacy would have been a more effective method for the Malaysian prime minister.
“The Myanmar government will be held responsible for what is happening, not Malaysia. It is an internal problem that has regional implications,” he was quoted saying.
Advisor to former President U Thein Sein, U Ko Ko Hlaing, echoed the sentiment and said Najib was trying to distract the Malaysian public from the allegations of corruption plaguing his administration.
“Malaysia interfered in our affairs despite what it says in the ASEAN charter. This is not good for the future of ASEAN,” he reportedly said.
Najib has been the target of many international media outlets in recent months due to his role in 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the state-owned investment firm at the center of a multibillion dollar financial controversy.
The prime minister has not been directly implicated in the scandal but his critics have been on a tireless campaign to unseat him, while countless news reports on the issue have suggested his involvement.
On Sunday, the prime minister joined a pro-Rohingya rally to express concern over the treatment of the persecuted minority of Burma, telling its de facto leader that “enough is enough.” He labelled the violence in Rakhine state a “genocide” of the Rohingya and an insult to Islam, and urged the world to intervene.
His move marked a significant departure from ASEAN’s long-standing policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of every member nation.
It was also direct snub of an earlier warning from Burma not to attend the event or interfere in its affairs.
Responding to the matter, the Coalition of Myanmar Muslim Civil Society Groups issued an open letter to the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the ruling party led by Najib, to record their displeasure at the premier’s behaviour.
“We find the rally… was nothing but aiming at the political interest of Malaysia’s ruling party. We affirm that the unfortunate situation facing Myanmar needs, not and should not, be exploited for self-interest and political purposes,” the groups said.
They also expressed fear that “poorly informed initiatives like the rally in Malaysia” could only worsen the situation and threaten regional unity and stability.
Najib, however, has since dismissed the concerns raised over his involvement in the Sunday gathering that drew over 10,000 people.
Taking to Twitter, Najib said Malaysia did not want to interfere in Burma’s internal affairs but in the violence against the Rohingya. He also vowed to persevere, saying Malaysia will use all available avenues to stop the crisis.
Malaysia akan terus menggunakan segala saluran yang ada untuk memberi tekanan berterusan agar tragedi ini dapat dihentikan. Allahuakbar!
— Mohd Najib Tun Razak (@NajibRazak) December 5, 2016
Malaysia has become increasingly critical of Burma’s handling of the Rohingya violence. Last month, the government said it will summon Burma’s ambassador over the recent crackdown in northwestern Rakhine State. It did not, however, give a timeframe.
It also urged the Burmese government to take necessary action to address the alleged ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in the northern Rakhine state. At least 30,000 people have been displaced and 86 people killed in the escalating violence, the most serious bloodshed since 2012 when hundreds were killed in communal clashes.
Last week, Muslim-majority Malaysia canceled two under-22 football friendlies against Myanmar as part of the protest against the treatment of the Rohingya.
Malaysia currently plays host to some 56,000 Rohingya refugees, as well as thousands more asylum seekers.