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EIG: Kg Medan: Ethnic Divide
By Sam Dale

21/3/2001 12:21 am Wed

[Walaupun punca pergaduhan sebenar Kg Medan tidak bersifat perkauman, ia tercium begitu kerana diwarnai oleh sikap dan tindak-tanduk pemimpin Umno yang asyik melempar bahang berunsur perkauman. Inilah antara kesan ucapan mandi darah oleh Khir yang sudah menjelma di Kg Medan. Akhbar tempatan sendiri sudah gagal melapurkan sesuatu yang dapat membuang keresahan sehingga pergaduhan itu memakan masa beberapa hari sebelum padam. Bukan salah pembangkang tetapi salah kerajaan dan semua media kerajaan kerana memberi lapuran yang penuh kesamaran.

Isu royalti dijangka akan mengugat kredibiliti Petronas di mata dunia koporat kerana ia seperti menjadi hamba suruhan. Dengan menafikan royalti, rakyat akan semakin memusuhi Umno kerana berdendam dan tidak mengiktiraf satu kerajaan negeri pilihan rakyat di dalam sistem demokrasi. Umno sebenarnya menggali kubur sendiri dengan berkonfrontasi kerana rakyat yang dinafikan royalti akan menghukum kembali Umno bila tiba waktunya nanti. Jangan lupa anak Terenganu beranak dan berbini. Dan mereka ada di semua negeri untuk mengajar BN satu masa nanti. -Editor]



SOUTHEAST ASIA: Ethnic divide.

Across Southeast Asia, animosity between people from different ethnic groups is generally accepted as the inevitable consequence of multiracial populations. Only in carefully orchestrated Singapore is a Western-style "melting pot" approach deemed the best way of achieving peaceful coexistence. Indonesia is widely regarded as the worst example of social harmony, but a sudden bout of race-based killing in Malaysia's capital underlines the wider potential for civil unrest.

Official reports from Malaysia's tightly shackled media say five Malaysians of Indian descent were murdered in Kuala Lumpur last week, followed by the revenge killing of an Indonesian wrongly believed to be Malay. The killings were the culmination of riots that are said to have left 50 people injured, and 180 arrested. Unofficial reports suggest that the number of dead and wounded is at least double that.

The street clashes were ostensibly sparked when an Indian funeral procession passed a Malaysian wedding celebration, upsetting guests on both sides. Local commentators regard that as a flimsy excuse. Instead, they point to increasingly disturbing race-based rhetoric from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as he struggles to maintain unity in his coalition government, and secure his own political legacy. Mahathir has magnanimously said he won't seek re-election in 2004, though there has been little progress on how - or to whom - the mantle will be passed.

Mahathir was elected nearly 20 years ago, making him the world's longest-serving elected leader. As head of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), he guided the country to relative prosperity on the back of natural resources - tin, rubber, and more recently, oil and gas. To keep indigenous Malays happy in the wake of race riots with ethnic Chinese in the late 1960s, triggered by concerns that the Chinese were dominating business, Malaysia instituted affirmative action policies ranging from high school and university scholarships to appointments to the country's numerous state-owned enterprises.

As long as the economy kept growing, tensions between the various ethnic groups - the 22 million-strong population is made up of 30% ethnic Chinese, 8% ethnic Indian, and the rest ethnic Malays and indigenous groups - were kept in check. But after the Asian financial crisis struck four years ago, the unified political scene started to fragment along ethnic and religious lines, manifested in growing dissatisfaction at what was viewed as a corrupt and unresponsive administration.

This disaffection was glaringly exposed in the November 1999 general elections. The opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) helped exploit concerns among ethnic Malays, the majority of whom are Muslims, to gain control of Terengganu state, in the northeast. Losing ethnic Malay votes to Islamic fundamentalists was bad; what was worse was the fact that Terengganu state plays a key role in financing the state treasury through production of offshore oil and gas. The 340,000 barrel per day Tapis oil field accounts for more than half of domestic output, and Terengganu is the closest landfall for gas from the Joint Development Area offshore Malaysia and Thailand.

In 1975, Terengganu had signed an agreement with state oil firm Petronas to receive 5% of the revenues from offshore oil and gas production, generating annual income of more than $200 million, and providing 80% of the state's operating budget. But last September, after months of growing acrimony and mutual accusations of corruption, Kuala Lumpur summarily ordered direct payments to stop, saying a federal fund would instead be responsible for disbursing money for development projects in the state. Terengganu politicians cried foul, with resources minister Mustafa Ali describing the move as "daylight robbery."

Last week, Terengganu took the unprecedented step of suing the federal government and Petronas for breach of contract, with the aim of getting the direct payments reinstated. PAS has made payment of oil and gas revenues to Terengganu a key issue to be resolved before it will participate in formal talks with Mahathir's government aimed at patching up the split in the Malay voting block, and shoring up support for the administration. Mahathir's response will be watched carefully by foreign investors and local voters alike. Investors are concerned at seeing an established legal contract summarily abrogated, tarnishing Petronas's otherwise polished corporate image. Senior members of Mahathir's own party are worried that his outbursts are eroding UMNO's formerly broad-based electoral support.

With the rift in his party's electoral base growing, Mahathir has tried to win back the support of ethnic Malays by warning them of their precarious place in their own country. He has labeled those who want to scrap the affirmative action policies "extremists", and dropped reminders of the 1969 race riots that left hundreds dead. It is these sentiments that many blame for igniting last week's violence in Kuala Lumpur.

By Sam Dale, Singapore.

Energy Intelligence Group.