Malabari remarks can backfire, academic tells Umno

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PETALING JAYA: An academic has warned Umno to refrain from issuing personal attacks on former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, such as referring to him as “mamak Malabari” as this could end up hurting Umno’s position.

Universiti Utara Malaysia’s (UUM) Kamarul Zaman Yusoff said that while some Malays may think that the remark was funny, the “mamak” community were influential, having a strong network nationwide, including through the ubiquitous “mamak restaurants”.

“Of course, the community may sympathise with one of their own like Mahathir when he is being attacked.

“If they boycott Umno, then the party might lose a substantial number of votes and with the intensity of the fight between the opposition and Barisan Nasional, every vote counts,” he told FMT, adding that race is something very sensitive as it can evoke strong sentiments.

“Mamak” is a colloquial term used to refer to a person of Southern Indian-Muslim background in both Malaysia and Singapore.

Kamarul also criticised Najib, saying he was being reckless in exaggerating what could happen if Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) lost power in the country.

“Giving the impression that Umno will no longer be able to hold its assembly at Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) or to recite the ‘salawat’ (praises of the Prophet) if Pakatan Harapan comes into power, is ridiculous,” he said.

He noted, however, that Najib had also been very careful when it comes to avoiding jeopardising Umno and BN’s appeal to the non-Malay voters by trying to be inclusive and not raising sensitive issues.

“You cannot rely on demolishing or ridiculing your opponents to win because a real win is the one that is based on your own strength and appeal,” Kamarul said.

The Umno president was reported as saying that the party adopts an open attitude by accepting various ethnic groups as part of the Malay race, including the Malabari Muslims from Kerala, India at the 71st Umno annual general assembly at PWTC today.

Najib said it was proof that Umno was not trapped in a narrow racial mindset, and that the party has also never told non-Malays to return to their place of origin.

Mahathir’s ancestral roots have been traced back to Malabar, a coastal region in Kerala.

Kamarul said that the Umno president’s keynote speech at the Umno annual general assembly was rather flat and disappointing.

“It is mostly just a recap of what Najib has said or done before since he first became the Umno president and prime minister in 2009.

“It was also weak being a speech that did not offer anything new policy-wise and in terms of substance.”

We’re so open even Malabaris are Malays, says Najib