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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        12  May 2011

Najib addresses religious uproar

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Prime Minister Najib Razak on Wednesday sought to calm the raging debate over Islam's position as the official religion of Malaysia, in the wake of a newspaper report that some Christians and the opposition are plotting to make Malaysia a Christian nation.

He assured Muslims that Islam's position cannot be changed under any circumstances.

“This is because the reality is that we have the Federal Constitution and its provision on the position of Islam and the other religions is very clear,” Datuk Seri Najib said on Wednesday.

“Under whatever circumstances, the Federal Constitution cannot be amended and as such, no one should be worried or feel uneasy on this matter.”

He said this after a controversy erupted when the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia alleged that some Christians were plotting with the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) in Penang to make Malaysia a Christian country.

The newspaper is owned by Najib's United Malays National Organization, the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Muslims make up 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million population, while Christians make up 9 percent.

The Utusan Malaysia report, which quoted two bloggers, provoked angry recriminations from both sides over the last few days, prompting Najib to call for a private meeting with the churches today.

The Council of Churches of Malaysia secretary-general Hermen Shastri said yesterday that the Prime Minister's Office had called for the meeting, but declined to give further information.

The Penang government also filed a complaint against Utusan Malaysia with the Home Ministry yesterday. Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who also leads the DAP, demanded stern action against the daily.

“This false reporting was conducted with malicious intentions, and could potentially inflame Malaysians through such bigoted and extremist sentiments,” he said in his letter to the ministry.

The allegations have been denied by the church pastors who were present at a Penang meeting last Thursday, at which, the Utusan report alleged, they prayed for Malaysia to be a Christian nation and for a Christian to be made the prime minister.

Many in the opposition see the whole episode as part of a concerted campaign targeted at painting the DAP as a Chinese chauvinist party with a Christian agenda — with the aim of stoking Malay insecurities.

“Associating the DAP with a Christian agenda adds a further bogeyman into the mix that could create a sense of fear among the Malay voters,” said political analyst Ong Kian Ming, who teaches at UCSI University in Kuala Lumpur.

He noted that this latest salvo comes hard on the heels of the DAP's electoral success in Sarawak — a victory some saw as a Chinese rebellion against the ruling BN.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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