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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Get used to this - Umno Youth chief

STS (6/11/2007): Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein brandished the keris for the third year running at the party's annual youth assembly yesterday and told non-Malays to get used to his controversial act.

They should not see the Malay ceremonial dagger as a symbol of aggression but as one of unity and protection for all races, he argued.

'Take shelter under the protection offered by the royal Malay keris,' he said, addressing Malaysia's minority groups, saying they should not be afraid of shadows.

The 60-cm-long keris was carried into the hall with much fanfare at the start of the youth assembly and presented to Datuk Seri Hishammuddin on stage.

He unsheathed it and kissed it before raising it high to shouts of 'Hidup Umno' (Long Live Umno).

It was then sheathed and placed on a stand at the stage.

This is the third time in as many years that the keris was wielded in this fashion, although this year, the event was not televised live because of racial sensitivities.

Last year, the keris episode set the tone for the Umno assembly which sparked controversy after a few harsh speeches made the entire proceedings seem extreme.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin yesterday insisted that the dagger was a Malay symbol of dignity and honour and was also used by the Malaysian King at his coronation.

He went on to warn non-Malays not to get carried away with racial rhetoric and risk hurting the mutual respect among races in a country which was built with the sacrifices of the Malays.

'We have nodded in respect and agreement, and avoided strife. Do not misinterpret our silence as a weakness,' he said to loud cheers.

But for all his rhetorical flourishes, he also seemed keen to heed the call by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and his deputy Najib Tun Razak. They had urged delegates to tone down the Malay rhetoric, as race relations have become increasingly strained, especially after last year's assembly.

The bulk of the Umno Youth chief's speech was thus focused on multiracialism. He told delegates that they could choose to be confrontational, but at times, a wiser approach would be better.

'The honour of the Malays will still be preserved, harmony maintained and understanding reached,' he said.

The effort to tread the middle path was welcomed by Malaysian Chinese Association vice-president Chua Soi Lek, who was happy with Datuk Seri Hishammuddin's lengthy explanation about the keris.

'Most non-Malays know that the keris is not targeted at them,' he told The Straits Times, but added that the Malays should also know the Chinese are very sensitive about the display of an unsheathed keris.

But opposition Democratic Action Party leader Lim Guan Eng questioned the need to use a weapon of war. 'It seems that the leopard has not changed its spots,' he said.

Umno women's wing chief Rafidah Aziz, who is the Minister of International Trade and Industry, also opened her meeting on a note of conciliation.

'All Malaysians, regardless of descent, race or religion, have rights and a place in Malaysia,' she said.

Political analyst Karim Raslan said the messages coming from the top are clear.

'We have to let it trickle to the political mainstream and civil servants,' he said.

Most delegates, save for one or two, played it safe, although the handful who skirted close to the edge received the loudest applause.

Selangor delegate Ismail Ahmad was applauded for asking opposition party supporters to leave the country if they were not happy.

'These people, they come to a Malay area and they tell me that our country is not doing well and people are still suffering. Well, I will tell you - you can apply for citizenship in Singapore,' he said.


...the keris was brought into the hall by a troop of men in ceremonial Malay attire minus the usual fanfare.

The keris had been the object of great controversy in the previous assembly and Hishammuddin looked a little tense as he and his Youth executive council stood on the stage. He knew that all eyes were on him.

But those expecting high drama were disappointed. Only those on the stage shouted "Hidup Umno!" a few times as Hishammuddin lifted the keris, held it skywards very briefly and kissed it.

Then, it was over.

Hishammuddin was a model of decorum compared to last year when he had been widely photographed with mouth wide open and eyes alight with fire as he held up the keris.


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