The US-based daily called the situation troubling, largely, it said, because of Malaysia’s history of ethnic strife, which includes the May 1969 race riots that saw hundreds killed.
In the article, WSJ took stock of recent developments on Malaysia’s political front, particularly the 34-hour Bersih 4 rally and the #Merah169 counter-protest, two events it said had sparked this purported racial discord.
Bersih 4, the daily noted, was organised to demand Najib’s resignation over corruption allegations that the prime minister has repeatedly denied.
But because Islamist party PAS did not lend its numbers to the rally, the thousands who thronged the city’s streets for the mass gathering were mostly made up of Chinese and Indian minorities, WSJ observed.
“That gave Mr Najib’s supporters a pretext to claim that the main ethnic Chinese opposition party, the Democratic Action Party, is part of a conspiracy to bring down the Prime Minister and take away the affirmative-action privileges reserved for the Malay majority,” it wrote.
As a knee-jerk response, #Merah169 was organised, the daily noted, adding that the Malay gathering was attended by “the most radical hotheads”.
The September 16 event referred to by WSJ had resulted in scenes of chaos outside Petaling Street, a tourist hotspot also known as the city’s “Chinatown”, when red-shirted protesters attempted to break police lines to protest what they claimed was Chinese domination of the area.
“To the government’s credit, the police have largely kept the red shirts out of Chinatown and prevented violence.
“But Umno politicians lead the red-shirt movement, which is well funded and organized. Umno-controlled media outlets have joined in the portrayal of opposition reformers as a threat to the Malays,” WSJ wrote.
“Mr. Najib,” it added, “defended the rally as a response to insults against Malay leaders.”
WSJ noted that the rally prompted a “surprise” response from Chinese Ambassador Dr Huang Huikang, which broke Beijing’s usual “no interference” policy.
“But the rising nationalism that drives Chinese aggression in the South China Sea also means that Beijing will speak up for ethnic Chinese under attack in the region.
“China has plenty of economic leverage, with annual two-way trade exceeding US$100 billion (RM440 billion) and Chinese investment in Malaysia booming,” said WSJ.
Despite that, WSJ said any retaliation from China would not be the biggest cost Malaysia would bear if racial riots occur again, but instead the exit of major businesses controlled by the ethnic minorities.
“Ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians still dominate the economy and could move their capital and management know-how offshore. Prominent Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia Group, recently cited deteriorating race relations as one of his biggest worries,” WSJ pointed out.
The daily went on to say that the system of racial preferences purportedly created post-1969 has only had a negative effect on Malaysia, with political cronies engaging in corrupt practices and channelling funds to their own while others struggle to make ends meet.
“Even if Mr. Najib steps down, tensions are likely to increase for some time. After the Prime Minister sacked his deputy and rival, Muhyiddin Yassin, in July and purged other reformers from Umno, Malay chauvinists have moved into positions of power.
“Malaysia’s minorities have good reason to fear they will again be scapegoats in the country’s power struggles,” it said.- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/wsj-ethnic-minorities-hurting-as-najib-clings-to-power#sthash.coDP1A1v.dpuf