The controversy surrounding the usage of "Allah" by non-Muslims, particularly the Christians, in Malaysia continues to rage even as at the time of writing this article. The Malaysian Insider just reported that a ninth church - this time in Kota Tinggi, Johore - had been vandalised.
The year 2009 was about to end when Yang Ariff Justice Lau Bee Lan held that the word "Allah" may be used by the Herald in its newspaper. That decision has almost redefined the phrase "ending the year with a bang."
Viewed with the benefit of hindsight, there were of course political opportunity loss on the part of the Barisan Nasional. In a land where everything from the slaughtering of cows for distribution to the poor and needy to the building of a free trade zone are perfect fodders for politics, the Allah issue was never far from being one as well.
In the last half of 2009, I actually thought that the Prime Minister was in the political driving seat. He was in control. His 1 Malaysia concept and sloganeering, although leaving much to be desired from the view point of the urbanites, was gaining support from the heartland. The Chinese and Indian supports were slowly coming back to him and his government despite the impotence and lameness of the two most important protagonists which were supposed to represent the two races within the government, namely the MCA and MIC respectively.
The public relation machinations of the government were working full steam and in overdrive. The Prime Minister and his men were all over the place, winning nods of approvals from the people on the street.
In the meantime, power base in UMNO was being broaden. And his hard line approach towards the opposition was well received within the UMNO circle, especially at the grass root level. The Perak power grab, orchestrated and executed by him, although crude and almost unrefined, served to cement the belief among UMNO members that in Dato' Seri Najib Razak, UMNO has a powerful leader who is not afraid to use his power for the benefit of UMNO. Gone were the days of the lembik leadership that they had under the stewardship of Tun Abdullah.
And so, despite various issues ranging from Teoh Beng Hock's death at the MACC state head office to the PKFZ debacle, the Prime Minister was looking good.
On the corporate side, the Prime Minister, in not too long a time has also managed to straighten out the various important agencies and government linked companies to his liking. Top editors of major UMNO linked newspapers were replaced. The state mass media was in good hands in Minister Rais Yatim.
Khazanah Nasional was in control and ever willing to toe the line. The EPU was dismantled thereby getting rid of old and unwanted elements. Petronas was a bit more difficult to deal with as proven by the fact that the PM's favoured nominee for a board seat was rejected not once but twice. No matter what, the PM later managed to get what he wanted and Encik Omar now gets his board seat.
So, everything was going in accordance with plan.
In the meantime, the Pakatan Rakyat was in utter disarray. This was a party who perfected the art of shooting one's own foot, not once, not twice but continuously like they were using an Uzi instead of a revolver.
They had Hassan Ali and gang running riot against their own leadership. They also had Zul Noordin wanting to amend the Federal Constitution to make Islamic law the highest law of the land. Then they had Wee Choo Keong creating havoc. In the PKR front, Azmin Ali, Zaid Ibrahim, Jeffrey Kitingan and Anwar Ibrahim were locking horns. Then PAS lost a by-election in Negeri Sembilan. All hell broke loose.
The PR was losing ground. Everything was going haywire. In PAS, apart from the Hassan Ali and Nasa factor, there was also the Tuan Guru Nik Aziz controversy. That prompted a special muktamar to sort out various issues. Due to the shenanigans of Hassan Ali and cohorts, non-Muslims support for PAS was fast disappearing. It looked like it was difficult for PAS to regain the trust of non-Muslims after the hard line approach displayed by Hassan Ali and gang.
Within all these controversies surrounding the PR, the Prime Minister could continue to concentrate at rebuilding the support base for UMNO. And he was relishing the prospect. Surveys by independent pollsters actually showed that supports for the Prime Minister and his 1 Malaysia concept were actually improving with time. Malaysia apparently was warming up to him.
However, he made a mistake. And a big one that turned out to be.
The Allah issue was brewing in the Court. And on the last day of 2009, the issue exploded.
In hindsight, the Allah issue could have been used by the Prime Minister to score even more points, especially among the non-Malays. Had the PM thrown his weight in support of the Christians while at the same time used the massive public relation machinations to explain the real issues to the Malays and to pacify them, then the PM would have killed two birds with just a single stone.
However, that was not to be. The PM and the Home Minister had chosen to appease the Malays by initially taking a loose stand against those who were planning to demonstrate in various mosques around KL after the Friday prayer. At the last minute, the Home Minister appeared to have changed his mind and came out with another indecision and almost lame position. He decided to leave it to the police to decide, when in fact, the police came under his Ministry!
The move backfired spectacularly when churches were torched. As of now, the political damage to both the PM and the Home Minister, as well as to the government, is almost irreversible.
By pandering to the hard line Malays, the PM, Home Minister and the government was not winning any new support. That is because the hard line Malays (or ultra Malays) have always supported UMNO anyway. So there was not going to be any change in the support of UMNO or the government by adopting the stand against the usage of Allah by the Christians.
In contrast, if the PM had taken an opposite stand on the issue, new support from the Christians would have been forthcoming, giving a new dimension to the concept of 1 Malaysia which the PM is selling with absolute vigour nowadays. Apart from the Christians, non-Malays of other faiths would also see the PM's action as a sign of accommodation for themselves. And this will give the PM a consequential support from this group as well.
At the same time, the hard line UMNO supporters would not withdraw their supports for the PM. Any splinter group from within UMNO who might be unhappy for the PM's decision in that event could be persuaded and coaxed through the massive state controlled mass media, which include Bernama TV, RTM, TV3, TV7, TV9, NST, MM, UM and the Star.
The PM and the government would be swimming in this great tidal of supports. Alas, things were not to be. Instead now, we have a situation where supports from the hard line Malays remain unchanged. And the PM can forget about supports from the Christians and the non-Malays of other faiths. The Malay urbanites on the other hand would continue to be critical of the PM and the government.
The Allah issue is really and opportunity loss for the Prime Minister, UMNO, BN and the government.
On the other side of the fence, the Pakatan Rakyat, and that includes PAS, is coming out smelling like roses on a hot spring day. There is not much guessing to know why.
The BN is back to square one.