Umno labels Anwar a traitor and accuses him of favouring powerful Chinese minority
Baradan Kuppusamy in Kuala Lumpur
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is under attack as a 'traitor to the Malay race' as part of a campaign being orchestrated by the dominant Umno party.
Members of the party are accusing Anwar - who was a champion of Malay rights when he served as Umno deputy president - of promoting policies that favour the economically dominant Chinese minority.
On Sunday about 400 Umno delegates in Johor state held a meeting where former Umno minister Shahrir Samad led the attack.
'Let us all rise and say out 'Anwar Ibrahim, a traitor to the Malay race',' said Mr Shahrir, according to a report carried by Bernama news agency. The audience responded with the chant simultaneously and unanimously, the report said.
In an interview yesterday, Mr Shahrir said Umno members had a right to speak their minds.
'He has deviated from the struggle for the Malays. We speak the truth and are ready to face any legal action from him,' he said.
The campaign was triggered by comments from Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who first labelled Anwar a traitor in the aftermath of a major August 1 protest against the use of a draconian security law to suppress political opponents. The protest was organised by Anwar.
Other Umno leaders including Deputy Trade Minister Mukhriz Mahathir, son of ex-PM Mahathir Mohamad, repeated the charge before Umno branches took up the cause.
Mr Muhyiddin has refused to retract his comments or apologise - prompting Anwar to announce he will file a M$100 million (HK$221 million) defamation suit against the deputy prime minister.
Chinese and Indian minorities have rallied to Anwar's 'all Malaysians are equal' agenda but Malays generally fear that their special rights and status as natives would be eroded if Anwar became prime minister.
'By attacking Anwar and saying he favours the Chinese, Umno is driving a wedge between Anwar and his Malay vote bank,' opposition lawmaker Tian Chua said.
Malays account for 65 per cent of the country's 13 million registered voters. But while rural Malays remain solidly behind Umno, urban Malays mostly voted for the opposition in 2008 polls.
Anwar campaigned on the claim that rich Malays had hijacked the benefits of affirmative action and made most Malays poorer. He also promised to share the same benefits with needy Chinese and Indians.
Some opposition lawmakers, bloggers and journalists have rallied behind Anwar, rejecting the 'traitor' label. They say Anwar's economic policies favour all Malaysians.
'The policies are based on need, not right. The policies promote fairness and justice,' lawyer and opposition lawmaker Sivarasa Rasiah said.
However, a University of Malaya academic, who declined to be named, said Umno's campaign to politically undermine Anwar appeared to have worked.
'Rural Malay support for Umno which was about 50 per cent in the 2008 general election has risen slightly to about 60 per cent now. The rise can be seen in Malay voting patterns in five by-elections in the past 16 months,' the academic said.
Umno only lost by 65 votes in the July Manik Urai by-election, a traditional opposition stronghold.
'This indicates many Malays who voted opposition in 2008 had switched to Umno 16 months later.'