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The Straits Times accused of misreporting M’sia’s DPM Wan Azizah. Here’s why it’s sensitive.

ST's article was unflattering for many reasons.

Kayla Wong |Belmont Lay | May 16, 2018 @ 09:21 am

What happened?

The Straits Times in Singapore published an article on May 14, that was critical towards Malaysia’s newest deputy prime minister, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

The article, “Cracks appear in PH over posts in new Cabinet“, hinted at infighting within the triumphant Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition coalition, mere days after it ousted the incumbent Barisan Nasional from power.

The ST piece quoted an unnamed source, referred to as “a top PH leader”, saying that DPM Wan Azizah did not approve of a Chinese person taking over the role of finance minister.

This was essentially saying DPM Wan Azizah has ethnic political considerations in government posts in Malay-majority Malaysia.

This was after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had supposedly unilaterally named the Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng as finance minister, making him the first ethnic Chinese finance minister in 44 years.

How did ST put its report together?

ST said it was told by sources that DPM Wan Azizah demanded other senior portfolios for her party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), which holds the most parliamentary seats in the 14-month-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance coalition.

But ST did not name these sources.

Moreover, ST reported that there were factions within PKR itself. The split is between DPM Wan Azizah, who is PKR president, and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali.

PKR refutes claims made by ST

PKR then responded to the ST report.

A senior PKR leader who is not named told Free Malaysia Today (FMT), that the claims made in the ST report were “completely fabricated and false”.

This was what he said:

“We strongly believe that the finance portfolio must be based on ability.

But we don’t appreciate the narrative and claims being made against PKR, painting us as troublemakers.

We believe this report is part of a concerted attempt to drive a wedge between PKR and the people, and PH, to push us out of the pact.”

The FMT report ended by citing Lim’s remarks, after he was quizzed by the media about being the first ethnic Chinese Finance Minister in 44 years.

Lim said he considers himself a Malaysian, not a Chinese.

Why is this issue so sensitive?

A hint as to why this issue is so sensitive can be gleaned from Singaporean economist and public intellectual Yeoh Lam Keong’s Facebook post about this issue.

Yeoh wrote:

ST too really needs to be more much careful attributing potentially harmful remarks to the capable and dignified Wan Azizah as she is the Deputy Prime Minister, President of both Pakatan Harapan and Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the largest member of the Pakatan governing coalition.

And oh just in case you haven’t noticed, she is also the gracious and long suffering wife of the next likely Malaysian PM.

In other words, ST reported on the sentiments of the deputy prime minister of Malaysia, who is the wife of Anwar Ibrahim, the prime minister-in-waiting, and then got called out and accused of fabricating those remarks.

In the view of the ruling coalition of Malaysia, or at least in the eyes of some of the senior leaders, the Singapore mainstream English broadsheet has been seen in this matter as intervening in Malaysian politics by playing up racial prejudices.

Wan Azizah’s stance on racial issues

Although Wan Azizah has not made any comments directly to the media about her thoughts on the new Cabinet line-up, her personal history offers a clue on her stance on racial issues.

PKR, led by Wan Azizah, campaigns on the basis of multi-racialism.

PKR Youth has also condemned racial politics, saying that it is an obstacle to national progress.

Back in 2010, Wan Azizah herself called for the concept of Malay Supremacy to be abolished to enable Malaysian children to grow up with the vision of a “race of integrity”, or to be a “Malay of Integrity”.

This was what she said at an annual party congress:

“The concept of Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Supremacy) has to be eliminated because it is just a slogan of a small elite group of Malays that have the power to cheat Malays as a whole for their own interests…

This small group of Malays are the ones that commit acts of bribery and corruption and betray our trust and do all sorts of crimes without paying attention to the fate of their own race.”

She was also described by a former medical colleague — Wan Azizah was trained in Ireland as a medical doctor — as a doctor who “sees all patients with a cheerful demeanour, regardless of their gender, race, age or social class”.

Her eldest daughter, Nurul Izzah, also said something in a similar vein when talking about her children:

“I want them to be exposed to different culture and respect them.

I want them to understand the world is not made for one race.”

Other reports of rifts in PH alliance

However, the reality might be more nuanced than outsiders realise.

This is so as a rift within the PH alliance ranks might not be completely dismissed as sheer fabrication.

Reports of disunity within the alliance have started to surface elsewhere.

A recent report published by Reuters, claimed that Malaysia’s newly-inaugurated prime minister Mahathir and jailed politician Anwar, tried to settle a rift within the alliance after disagreements occurred among their supporters over Cabinet positions.

The report added that the emergence of a rift this soon raises questions about “the unity of what was always an unlikely coalition”.

This referred to the surprise partnership between Anwar and Mahathir, which aimed at strengthening the opposition in order to take down a common target — former prime minister Najib Razak.

This sort of revelation from other media outlets will then corroborate ST’s reporting.

But the fact that it is unflattering for the ruling coalition and DPM Wan Azizah, would render it perpetually inconvenient — because Anwar in all likelihood, is going to be the next prime minister.

It is only a matter of when.

And his leadership will undoubtedly set the tone for the future relationship between Singapore and Malaysia.

About Kayla Wong

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