Triple whammy of contentious issues – Lynas, khat, Zakir Naik.
The key expectation for the cabinet meeting tomorrow has been whether the ministers will agree on renewing Lynas’ licence for its Gebeng rare earths processing plant which is already a contentious issue within Pakatan Harapan.
But events in the past week mean the cabinet will now also need to deal with several more controversial issues.
Among them is the government’s decision to introduce khat lessons for Standard 4 students which started off with protests but has now degenerated into hostilities despite the Education Ministry reducing the lessons from six to three pages and making them optional.
Dong Zong had initially said its objections to the khat lessons were based on workload concerns for vernacular students but as the issue dragged on the Chinese educationists’ group branded the move as “Islamisation”.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad subsequently labelled the group as “racist”, prompting his party to also fall in line with Bersatu Youth calling for Malays to unite to defend the policy and calling for Dong Zong to be outlawed.
Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh, whose party DAP has received heavy brickbats from its own Malay base over the issue, acknowledged the situation has now made any compromise more difficult.
DAP leaders have scrambled to arrest the deteriorating situation with its supremo Lim Kit Siang saying both Mahathir and Dong Zong were wrong for their labelling while its Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching said further communication was needed instead of building more walls.
DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng has promised to seek another review of the khat issue at the cabinet meeting tomorrow but it is unclear if he will seek more concessions or ask the government to abandon the plan altogether as it has now descended into an issue with racial and religious overtones.
Amidst the controversy, another inflammatory issue erupted after several Indian leaders protested against Zakir Naik’s speech at a talk organised by the PAS-led Kelantan government last Friday.
In his speech, the controversial preacher suggested that Hindus in Malaysia supported Indian prime minister Narendran Modi more over their own prime minister.
“They (the Hindus) are half the percentage of Muslims in India and yet the rights they get here is 100 times more than what India gives to minorities so much so they support the prime minister of India and not the prime minister of Malaysia,” Zakir had said.
The fact that Mahathir has allowed Zakir – an influential figure in the Muslim community – to remain in Malaysia meant that the anger at Zakir’s recent comment has also been extended to the prime minister.
Mahathir had expressed concern that Zakir, who is wanted by Indian authorities on money-laundering charges, will not get a fair trial under its Hindu nationalist government if he is extradited.
However, there are now calls for him to be deported to another country that is friendly towards him such as Saudi Arabia.
DAP vice-chairperson M Kulasegaran, who is also the human resources minister, had said he will raise the Zakir issue in the cabinet meeting tomorrow, adding yet another difficult problem which Harapan has to reach consensus on.
Both the khat and Zakir Naik issues are as contentious as the Lynas matter which was a key election issue, particularly for the DAP.
Sources told Malaysiakini that the cabinet had already decided on the Lynas matter last month but it is expected to finalise its decision tomorrow.
DAP grassroots want Lynas’ licence renewal to include the condition that it must remove all its waste completely from Malaysia which is virtually impossible as other countries are unlikely to accept it. This makes it all but certain that the licence won’t be renewed with such a condition imposed.
Mahathir had publicly indicated that he is leaning towards renewing Lynas’ licence so as not to spook investors and as long as it can come up with a permanent waste disposal facility,
Several ministers, particularly from DAP and PKR, do not favour renewing Lynas’ licence but the prime minister is backed by Bersatu leaders, particularly Entrepreneur Development Minister Mohd Redzuan Yusof.
Ahead of the decision tomorrow, DAP has summoned its elected representatives from across the country to Kuala Lumpur and they will meet tonight to provide feedback so the party’s top leaders can decide on the next course of action.
While the DAP initially appeared resigned to the permanent waste disposal facility option favoured by Mahathir, the triple whammy of issues may pressure its ministers to take a tougher position at the cabinet meeting tomorrow.
Several DAP leaders have spoken out against Mahathir, including Klang MP Charles Santiago who called for the prime minister’s powers to be curbed with Sungai Pelek assemblyperson Ronnie Liu disputing Mahathir’s claim that closing down Lynas’ plant would spook investors.
They and other elected representatives are likely to make their voices heard during the meeting at the DAP headquarters in Kuala Lumpur tonight.
Mahathir has not taken kindly to the criticisms, sarcastically stating that he would consult the DAP leaders in future before making a decision.
While the DAP ministers have been supportive of Mahathir, the triple serving of controversies may put the party on a collision course with the prime minister. – Malaysiakini