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KL plays up nationalistic card in Sabah issue
Publication Date : 11-03-2013
Over the past few days, Malaysian television has been airing videos of its soldiers patrolling Sabah to the beat of the patriotic national song, Inilah Barisan Kita (This Is Our Battlefront).
"If we died in battle, shower our graves with petals. We are all praying, let Malaysia be victorious", say some of the lyrics.
Added to this are pictures, also shown regularly on TV, of the eight Malaysian policemen who were killed in Sabah by Filipino gunmen last week, sometimes followed by another patriotic song, "PahlawanKu" (My Warrior).
These visuals, along with the Malaysian government's call for unity amid the clashes between its security forces and Filipino gunmen, have raised a wave of nationalism ahead of soon-to-be-called elections.
Government ministers said Malaysians have supported its decision to reject a ceasefire with the Filipino gunmen, who are still holed up in Sabah.
"Thank you to all Malaysians for supporting the government's decision to not compromise," Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi said on Twitter yesterday.
Analysts said such feelings of nationalism are likely to boost the ruling Barisan Nasional government's popularity, especially among Malays, as many of the soldiers and policemen are from the community.
"We should stand up when Malaysia is being attacked, regardless of our background and political affiliations. Sabah is part of us and Malaysia," retiree Piara Singh Gill was quoted as saying in The Sunday Star newspaper.
A stronger sense of nationalistic fervour usually translates into higher support for the incumbent government, analysts say.
Still, the nationalistic feelings could be fleeting, analysts say, with questions raised on whether the government was too slow in taking action against the militants.
Additionally, there is renewed anger among Sabahans over the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos believed to have been given Malaysian identity cards under a clandestine government programme called Project IC.
Comments made by Filipino officials last week that there were some 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah confirmed the fears of Sabahans about their state being populated by peoples from across the border. Sabah has a population of 3.2 million today, five times more than 650,000 people 42 years ago in 1970.
Professor James Chin, an analyst at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said playing up nationalistic sentiments might not work well in Sabah amid complaints about lax border checks and free citizenship given to foreigners.
Added Shaharuddin Badaruddin, an analyst at Universiti Teknologi Mara: "The fact that the government has let the militants stay in Sabah for several weeks before mopping them out has many Malaysians concerned with its weak leadership, especially when facing a security crisis."
The government has said that it delayed military action as it wanted to avoid bloodshed with citizens from a neighbouring Asean country who are also Muslims.