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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06KUALALUMPUR2167
2006-11-27 08:17:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Kuala Lumpur
Cable title:  

2006 UMNO GENERAL ASSEMBLY: EXTENDING (AND

Tags:  PGOV PREL ECON MY 
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VZCZCXRO8746
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHKL #2167/01 3310817
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 270817Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8009
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2232
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 KUALA LUMPUR 002167 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/26/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON MY
SUBJECT: 2006 UMNO GENERAL ASSEMBLY: EXTENDING (AND
BROADCASTING) THE MALAY AGENDA

REF: A. KUALA LUMPUR 2147


B. KUALA LUMPUR 2133

C. KUALA LUMPUR 1975

Classified By: Political Section Chief Mark D. Clark for
reasons 1.4 (b, d).

Summary
-------



1. (C) The defense of Malay rights, heated racial rhetoric,
and Islamic themes dominated the 2006 UMNO General Assembly,
with the often jolting Malay speak reaching Malaysians
directly for the first time through unfiltered, live
television coverage. Deputy Prime Minister Najib opened the
2006 UMNO General Assembly with the declaration that there
was no time limit for the "Malay Agenda" and its plethora of
race-based affirmative action plans aimed at raising the
status of ethic Malays. Prime Minister Abdullah reaffirmed
the need for the New Economic Policy and pledged to continue
the focus of reducing the income gap between races.
Abdullah's key-note address focused on the goals he set three
years ago when he took office. Abdullah celebrated a more
open society, but urged restraint in dealing with "sensitive
issues" of race and religion. He criticized Islamic
extremists in Malaysia and questioned Malaysia's intolerance.
Other speakers focused heavily on race-based issues, and
heaved blame and criticism on Chinese and Indian coalition
parties. Coalition partners received a warning: don't
question the status of Malays and Islam in Malaysia.
Recognizing the effects of such rhetoric, Abdullah and Najib
issued statements to mend fences with coalition partners.
UMNO has had second thoughts on live telecasts of future
general assemblies. This is the second in a series of
reports covering the 57th United Malays National
Organization's (UMNO) General Assembly which was held in
Kuala Lumpur, November 13 - 17. End Summary.

The Malay Agenda: UMNO's main task


--------------------------





2. (U) In his November 13 speech opening the General
Assembly for UMNO's Wanita (Women), Puteri (Young Women) and
Pemuda (Youth) wings, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak
began a discussion on the Malay Agenda that would reverberate
throughout the week in nearly every speech from every
delegate. Najib began, "The Malay Agenda is UMNO's main task
in uplifting the status of the Malays. In the course of
history, from 1511 to 1957, we were under the rule of
foreigners. After those 446 years of oppression, it is
impossible that what is owed to the Malays can be repaid in a
mere 20 or 30 years. In this struggle for the Malays, it
must be firmly said that there is no time limit. . . "
Najib's statement echoed Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's
remarks to Parliament issued the same day. Abdullah had
declared that Malaysia will always need a policy and agenda
on wealth distribution so long as economic disparity among
the races exists. "The effort to correct the economic
disparity involves several steps or affirmative actions to
raise the economic and education achievement among the races,
particularly the bumiputras, so that they are comparable with
non-bumiputras," declared Abdullah. "This includes," Abdullah
continued, "reviving the New Economic Policy (NEP). . ."



3. (U) In his presidential address to the UMNO assembly,
Abdullah expounded on the same topic: "the twenty years
allocated to achieve the objectives of the NEP (1970-90) was
too short a period; an unrealistic time frame to successfully
restructure society and eradicate poverty. . .The objectives
of the NEP . . . are larger than equity targets. The
government will focus on reducing the income gap between
races. True balance is a prerequisite for sustainable
development."

Strong words, sleepy presentation


--------------------------





4. (C) Cast with the fanfare of an American president's
State of the Union Address, Abdullah's key-note address
should have been the highlight of the party. Instead, it was
a rather monotonous monologue with very little enthusiasm
either from Abdullah or from the audience. One journalist
told emboff, "In Mahathir's time, we (the journalists) would
sit with baited breath waiting to see what he would say next.
With Abdullah, no one wanted to sit through it all. We
could hardly stay awake. No one wanted to be in there."
Unlike the charismatic Mahathir who delivered his speeches
using teleprompters so that he could always look at the
audience, Abdullah read his 90 minute speech from a printed
copy. Head down, reading from the text, observers faulted

KUALA LUMP 00002167 002 OF 004


Abdullah for reading on when he should have paused for
applause, and pausing at awkward moments when there was no
cause for cheer.



5. (C) Publicly, only the Mahathir family dared comment that
the speech was "nothing new" (ref. A) or that the assembly
lacked the "rah, rah" of previous UMNO assemblies. But
privately many people commented that the presidential address
was little more than a rehash of previous speeches promoting
the twelve pillars Abdullah addressed when inaugurated three
years ago, renewed somewhat with the 9th Malaysia Plan.
Perhaps an UMNO-linked newspaper (New Straits Times)
editorial phrased it most politely: "His delivery was
typically Abdullah-ish -- no shouting, no threats, no playing
to the gallery. . . (but) when he finished. . .no one had any
doubts about the message." As dull as some accused it of
being, there was no doubt that Abdullah had a message to
deliver concerning his vision for Malaysia. Hidden in the
pages and pages of text were some strong words from a soft
spoken leader. He championed education, rural economic
development, the rule of law, anti-corruption efforts,
openness and democracy, freedom of the press and religious
tolerance.

Freedom of the Press - Malaysian style


--------------------------





6. (SBU) With a country awash in recent controversy ranging
from Mahathir to economics to religious expression, Abdullah
did not shy away from his desire for a more open press.
Abdullah applauded constructive criticism and reminded
politicians that they would not be immune from the scrutiny
of a more open press. "The truth is that I would rather see
heated exchanges in the pages of the press than to see raging
riots on the streets," said Abdullah. If Malaysia was to
become a truly advanced society, openness was a prerequisite.
"It is meaningless," he said, "to develop infrastructure for
information technology if the leadership flinches from a
culture that is more open to and accepting of the media." In
typical style, Abdullah then threatened the press regarding
his "sensitive issues." "Freedom has its limits," he warned.
"We cannot and will not compromise when it comes to the unity
and harmony of our multi-racial and multi-cultural society.
We will continue to be vigilant when it comes to national
security and public safety. I would like to warn those who
abuse this freedom that I will not for a moment hesitate to
use the law against them." "Democracy does not mean absolute
freedom to raise sensitive issues relating to religion, race,
culture and language," Abdullah reminded.

Islam Hadhari versus the ultra-conservatives


--------------------------





7. (SBU) Like many of the issues debated throughout the
assembly, Abdullah's address focused heavily on religious
issues. Returning to his religious philosophy launched three
years ago, Abdullah declared: "Islam Hadhari. . .is a
philosophy that reminds Muslims that our faith unequivocally
requires us to succeed in the world. We perpetuate a great
disservice to Islam if we reject development, if we are
obsessed with conflict and if we live in ignorance."
Abdullah lamented that some people had misinterpreted Islam
Hadhari as an excuse to become more conservative and radical.
Lamenting that some clerics had condemned Muslims for
wishing their neighbors a Merry Christmas or Happy Deepavali,
Abdullah asked, "How can we have reached such a level of
intolerance? . . .When did we become ultra-conservative?
This is not Islam Hadhari."



8. (SBU) "It is these same groups who make such
proclamations (condemning other religious celebrations),"
continued Abdullah, "that are conjuring imaginary threats
aimed at inciting Muslims, hoping that they (Muslims) will
become more intolerant of others. Their agenda is to see
Malaysia torn apart, for us to fail as a multi-racial,
multi-religious nation. This is not Islam. . .Let me be
clear-- Islam Hadhari is not a blank cheque to bring about
conservative revivalism in this country. . .While I will
protect Islam's position and the role of the Shariah courts
from being undermined, I will also ensure that no one tries
to hijack Islam in Malaysia in order to breed intolerance and
hatred."

UMNO Youth lash out at other BN parties


--------------------------





9. (SBU) In the midst of all the rhetoric championing Islam
and the rights of Malays, UMNO Youth chief Hishamuddin Tun
Hussein delivered his speech to the UMNO Youth and without a
thought to hypocrisy in his words, threatened politicians of

KUALA LUMP 00002167 003 OF 004


other races: "We must remember that creating a Malaysian
nation will not be possible on narrow thinking and
chauvinism. Don't gamble the future by championing race
politics. We know them, we know who they are and we know
what they are saying. We are not afraid to face the
opportunist leaders and we will not compromise with them."
Hishamuddin also declared, "Do not make fun, question and
challenge the position of Malays and Islam in the country.
Any movement in the name of freedom of religion, freedom of
speech or freedom of the media will not be allowed to
challenge our rights. If such negative efforts are not
curbed, they will have a huge implication on our harmony."



10. (SBU) Taking a cue from their leader, members of UMNO
Youth lashed out at other race based parties, including their
Barisan Nasional coalition partners. "When we, the Malays,
are weak, the Chinese will take advantage. If it is the DAP
(opposition Democratic Action Party), it is ok. But when our
'roommates' are doing this to us, we can't accept it," cried
a Selangor delegate, later unleashing his tirade on leaders
of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), Malaysia Chinese
Association (MCA) and the Peoples Movement Party (Gerakan).
"The special rights of the Malays and the position of Islam
as the official religion are enshrined in the Federal
Constitution. UMNO should stand firm on these issues and not
back down for the sake of the Malay race. We should defend
it to the last drop of our blood," said the Youth chief from
Ledang. As one editorial stated, there was no denying the
message to BN component parties: Don't question the position
of Malays and Islam.



11. (SBU) UMNO Youth information chief, Azimi Daim,
continued the rhetoric claiming he could not understand why
BN component parties were becoming braver and braver in
questioning sensitive issues (meaning religions preferences
for Islam and bumiputra economic preferences). "When tension
rises, the blood of Malay warriors will run in our veins," he
warned.



12. (SBU) Racist rhetoric, however, was not restricted to
the Youth wings. A delegate from Malacca bluntly stated,
"UMNO is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood in defense
of race and religion. Don't play with fire. If they
(non-Malays) mess with our rights, we will mess with theirs,"
he declared. "Since the tragic racial riots in 1969, UMNO
and the Malays have been too patient and tolerant," he said.
"UMNO faces challenges from DAP who are Chinese chauvinists,
the ignorant PAS (opposition conservative Islamic party) and
threats from overseas. Friends in Barisan Nasional, too,
have questioned us." Even old party veterans joined the
assault on other racial groups. As one former BN Secretary
General remarked, "Please don't test the Malays; they know
'amok'. We don't want to reach that level. . .but efforts to
enhance the Malays' economy need to be intensified." The
Malays's sacrifices, he said, must be paid back with
sacrifices of the same magnitude by the non-Malays,
particularly in questions involving the economy.

Abdullah tries to soften the blow


--------------------------





13. (SBU) The deleterious effects of the harsh rhetoric and
racism was not lost on UMNO leadership. This was the first
year the UMNO general assembly had been televised in its
entirety, and though the rhetoric was perhaps no worse than
usual, public exposure seemed to certainly raise awareness.
After a week of race-based politics, it was evident that many
of UMNO's coalition partners were stinging from the blows
they had taken. In his closing speech to the assembly on
Friday evening, Abdullah focused on mending UMNO's ties to
the other BN parties. He tried to soften the effect of the
assembly by explaining, "Don't be frightened by the speeches
made. We do things openly. When others get hit, there will
be some reaction, but the situation remains under control.
The heat does not burn, the anger does not lead to quarrels.
We are rational, fair and want the interest of all races
taken care of."



14. (C) Gerakan Vice President Vijayaretnam admitted to
poloffs that there were concerns at the Gerakan grassroots
over the speeches made at the assembly. However, party
leaders have urged the members to look "at the bigger
picture." Vijayaretnam jokingly added that people in general
and Gerakan members in particular were jolted by the speeches
"because of the live telecast of the conference. In normal
circumstances, no one would have bothered about the assembly."



15. (SBU) Just days after the assembly concluded Deputy
Prime Minister Najib announced that UMNO was considering
whether to continue having live telecasts of future

KUALA LUMP 00002167 004 OF 004


assemblies. Najib said it could not be denied that some of
the speeches "had gone overboard." Forgetting that some of
the harshest rhetoric came from senior UMNO officials, Najib
conceded that "sometimes inexperienced speakers tend to get
carried away by the occasion. They were playing to the
gallery, but they should realize that when they speak, the
others outside the party are also listening. Abdullah's
son-in-law and UMNO Youth Deputy, Khairy Jamaluddin, also
commented that the events at this year's assembly were not
necessarily out of the ordinary, but that "those who have
never seen the assembly before (were) shocked by the no holds
barred debates when delegates spoke on religion and race."
"While the debates were hot," he said, "the spirit of
consensus in the BN will not be affected, as we are committed
to it. MCA, MIC and others understand this."

Comment


--------------------------





16. (C) The single greatest effect of this year's assembly
may not be felt for over a year when Malaysians go to the
polls. The racist nature of politics is nothing new to
Malaysia, but unfiltered, live television brought public
awareness of UMNO's internal chauvinistic rhetoric to a new
height. Some ten days after UMNO's assembly, the national
media continues to carry Malaysian politicians weighing in on
the racial politics raised during the UMNO assembly. Even
before the assembly, Chinese component parties of the Barisan
Nasional coalition feared a public backlash (ref C) at the
election booth. These same parties now must face their
constituents and explain to a more skeptical electorate that
aligning with Malay racism and a patent anti-Chinese domestic
policy remains their best option.



17. (C) Despite his lack of charisma as a leader, Abdullah
offered a breath of reason and moderation throughout the
assembly. He reiterated the importance of tolerance and
racial harmony, themes missing from so many other speeches.
Softly but clearly, he criticized the Islamic
ultraconservatives and warned them that their brand of Islam
was out of step with his vision of Islam Hadari and
incongruous with a successful multi-religious Malaysia.
Although the assembly reiterated UMNO's rejection of
inter-faith councils and its support for ever-expanding
shariah courts, Abdullah attempted to reassure his fellow
Malaysians that the country would stay on a path of
moderation and harmony with its non-Muslim citizens.
LAFLEUR