Pacific News Minute: Ethnic Tension, Corruption Scandal Rock Malaysia

Sep 17, 2015

Protesters display an effigy of Malay Prime Minister Najib Razak in prison.
Credit Khairil Yusof / Flickr

A largely peaceful pro-government rally in Malaysia turned violent earlier today, when hundreds of Malays tried to storm into the Chinatown district of the capital.  Police used water cannon laced with chemicals to disperse the crowd.  The incident sparked new concerns about ethnic conflict amid a political crisis tied to a corruption scandal - more, from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

Tens of thousands of government supporters converged on a park near the parliament building in Kuala Lumpur.  Many wore red, the ruling party's color and heard speeches from cabinet members to uphold Malay dignity. Prime Minister Najib Razak did not attend in person, but tacitly endorsed the gathering.  A stark contrast to an equally large anti-government rally two weeks ago, when police banned both the gathering itself and the yellow t-shirts adopted by the protesters.

The immediate issue in Malaysia is a scandal that revolves around 700-million dollars deposited into the prime ministers personal bank accounts.  Critics charge that it came from a troubled state development fund that he chairs.  The government says it was a gift from an unnamed Arab Royal - as if, critics say, that was somehow proper.  A deputy prime minister who questioned the deal was fired, a muckraking newspaper shut down, a police investigator suspended.

More troublesome, is an embattled government's appeal to Malay Solidarity.  Muslim Maylays make up about 60% of the country's thirty Million people… ethnic Chinese, about 25%, Indians, about 10%.  The government has always tried to suppress ethnic tension following vicious race riots in 1969.  Earlier today, the government supporters who tried to storm into Chinatown chanted “This is Malay land”.