Friday, April 16, 2010

Najib’s Iran snub risks Malay vote in Hulu Selangor


The Najib administration is bravely showing a willingness to risk losing the Hulu Selangor by-election and key Malay support by siding with the US against Iran in a nuclear dispute.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak unwittingly turned his foreign policy into an election campaign issue when he confirmed that national oil firm Petronas has stopped supplying gasoline to Iran ahead of further global sanctions.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) campaigners have exploited Putrajaya’s decision, with opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim saying it pandered to Washington’s lopsided policy on Iran, seen by many Muslims as a defiant hero against Western imperialism.

“When US President Barack Obama calls failed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I had criticised him. When Obama called for sanctions against Iran, I said fine, but what of Israel?” Anwar asked last night when bringing up the issue on the campaign trail.

Malays form slightly more than half of the 64,500 registered voters eligible to cast ballots in the April 25 by-election, and are generally against US pressure for an embargo on Iran and view the sanction call as a product of lobbying by the Israelis.

“But what did Najib do? He supported the US call for sanctions against Iran,” pounded Anwar to a roar of applause from the crowd of 200 Felda settlers here.

The PR and PKR de facto leader has already linked Najib’s public relations consultant APCO Worldwide to Israel and news of Petronas stopping fuel supplies to Iran adds another issue in PR’s Hulu Selangor election campaign against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

He called Najib a “hypocritical leader without principles”, saying the government criticised the US for its impotence to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while at the same time bowing to Washington’s pressure with the Iranian sanctions in the name of “improved bilateral ties”, which Anwar alleged was done merely to boost the PM’s image.

Najib, who is currently visiting the US and sat in Obama’s nuclear non-proliferation summit earlier this week, had said Malaysia supported Iran’s right to pursue the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but the Islamic republic was obliged to meet a UN Security Council order directing it to halt uranium enrichment until the purpose of such activities could be independently verified by the IAEA.

“They (Iran) must earn the trust of the international community and the only way they can earn the trust is to be fully transparent in whatever they do and allow full verification by the IAEA and there are some serious doubt as to whether this has been carried out or has been complied with by Iran,” he was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Most Muslim countries are generally against Iran’s nuclear activities but point out that the US has not reprimanded or issued sanctions against Israel for similar activities. Malaysia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel, saying it has to resolve the question of a Palestine state.

Anwar and other PR leaders are playing up the anti-Israel sentiment among the local Malay voters, hoping it would lure them to the electoral pact although the BN, particularly Najib’s Umno, has used the same tactic on the opposition leader.

“They tried to portray me as a Jewish agent but Allah is great... now it is revealed that APCO has a former Israeli intelligence officer as its chief,” said Anwar, adding that the Malaysian police have been infiltrated by Israeli agents through the public relations company.

Anwar was flanked by the DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang and ousted Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin who played supporting roles to the opposition leader’s assault on BN.

“It was revealed that BN had paid APCO RM78 million just so Najib can take photos with Obama,” Lim said to a thunderous applause.

Nizar too harped on the APCO issue, saying any single vote for the BN meant the voter was supporting the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang also issued a strong statement last night, regretting Malaysia’s move to cut supplies to Iran.

“The prime minister must deny the report that he directed Petronas to stop oil sales to Iran. If the report by AFP is true, it is unfortunate for the people and the Islamic ummah in Malaysia to have a government that is just a follower of Washington to punish the innocent people of Iran,” Hadi said.

Both Anwar and Hadi came to political prominence three years after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 although the PKR leader climbed through the ranks to be deputy prime minister by joining Umno before being sacked in late 1998 on sodomy and corruption charges.

Anwar has named PR ideologue and former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim to stand in Hulu Selangor. Nomination day is today for the by-election triggered by the death of its incumbent, PKR’s Datuk Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad.

Pundits note a win for either side will indicate a return of support towards the ruling coalition which suffered heavy losses in Election 2008 or signal continued faith in PR which lost four federal lawmakers recently.

With the Chinese support pretty much secured, the battle for Anwar and PR now lies in the fight for the hearts and minds of the Malays and Indians, who generally support BN. They had consistently returned BN in the seat from 1990 to 2008 until the four-term MP Datuk G. Palanivel lost to Zainal Abidin.

BN has dropped Palanivel in a fractious and open argument between Umno, which insists on a fresh face, and MIC, which wants it deputy president in Parliament after incurring heavy losses in Election 2008.

Umno won the argument and MIC is now fielding its information chief P. Kamalanathan, who has an uphill task of convincing the significant number of Indian voters that he is a capable replacement for Palanivel. The Indians form 19.3 per cent of the electorate.

Local issues such as granting land titles and job opportunities dominate the campaign but PR has promised help as it controls the Selangor government, arguing instead Hulu Selangor needs to send a representative to fight BN’s hypocrisy and power in Parliament.

courtesy of Malaysian Insider

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