The threat of violence by an UMNO-linked coalition of goons against demonstrations set for August 29-30 raises the risk that the party is willing to spill blood in its campaign to save Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s job.
Jamal Md. Yunos, a 41-year-old minor tycoon who says he owns 25 companies is also head of the Kuala Lumpur Petty Traders Action Council, which held a rally on August 25 to threaten violence against anti-Najib protesters. That was followed a day later when he said his “red shirt” followers would train with machetes and swords.
Yunos claims to be seeking peace in the country. He ran in 2013 to become an UMNO division chief in response to a call by Najib to bring younger leaders into the party. He remains a strong UMNO figure said to be aligned with several cabinet ministers. The fact that he is an UMNO stalwart raises questions whether the party is behind the threat to intimidate protesters.
Certainly Najib has pulled out all the other stops in his attempt to forestall investigations and protests over how US$681 million appeared in his personal accounts in 2013, only to have US$650 disappear out a few months later into a private account in Singapore, which was almost immediately closed, an indication that the money has gone somewhere else. Najib is also under fire over his stewardship of the badly mismanaged 1Malaysia Development Bhd., a state-backed investment fund that now faces at least RM27 billion worth of unfunded liabilities, much of it believed to have been stolen.
Although Najib has sacked or neutralized almost all of the investigators working on the two scandals, Swiss authorities have opened investigations into money laundering. Complaints have also been filed in the UK and France, asking for probes into banks that handled the funds. Although he has hinted at “foreign conspiracies” out to break up Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy, he has offered no proof. A threat to sue the Wall Street Journal for an article that ran more than a month and a half ago has not materialized.
However, the prime minister has continued to raise the temperature on race relations in the country, telling UMNO division leaders that Malays and UMNO would be “bastardized” if the party is driven from power – read by most people as a shot across the bow at the Chinese-dominated opposition Democratic Action Party, perhaps the most effective unit in the three-party opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition. Given Malaysia’s decades of delicate race relations since murderous riots in 1969, his comments are regarded as troubling if not frightening to the country’s 22 percent Chinese minority.