KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, AP
Officials from Malaysia’s ruling party on Friday demanded that the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad crack down on a powerful fundamentalist Islamic opposition group.
Delegates to the general assembly of the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, urged the government to jail leaders of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party — including Muslim clerics — by using a tough security law which allows indefinite detention without trial.
Such a move would significantly harden the government’s line against the Islamic party, which has made strong inroads into UMNO’s supporter base among Malaysia’s predominant Muslims but which has been protected from crackdowns on other opposition groups due to fears of a backlash.
Rashid Abdul Ngah, an UMNO leader from one of two states controlled by the Islamic party, said the government should not balk at targeting the clerics, known as ulamaks, who lead it.
“They have twisted Islam for their own interests and they are responsible for many of the negative developments in the country,” Rashid said during debate at the conference. “The government should not hesitate to use the ISA against these ulamaks.”
It was the first time Mahathir’s party has urged him to use the Internal Security Act against the Islamic party.
Senior minister Rais Yatim said later that the government would not shy away from using the security act against any person who threatened national security. “It doesn’t matter whether the person is an imam, ulamak or minister, if public order or internal security is undermined, he can be probed and detained under the ISA,” Rais was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama.
UMNO is looking for ways to arrest a decline in support in recent years, which has fueled unease about Mahathir’s leadership, when the 75-year-old leader will step down and who will succeed him.
“At the moment our succession is based on the number two man,” Mahathir told reporters at a news conference Friday. “If I’m not around the number two man, Abdullah, will takeover.” Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is Malaysia’s deputy prime minister.