Racial tensions are not new in a country with various ethnic and religious groups. From time to time, senior government officials spark the tensions with comments that insult the Chinese and Indian minorities by claiming they are not patriotic. They are blamed for any and all ills in Malay society. But Malaysians have shown to the world that they are resilient people and appreciate racial harmony. The trouble is, politicians continue to stoke the fires of nationalism and "Malayness", leaving this quality under scrutiny.
In the March 8 election, voters from the minorities shattered the National Front's grip on power, which it has enjoyed continuously for the past five decades since independence. But political discourse in Malaysian society has changed radically towards more openness and now touches on sensitive issues as never before. The current most popular topic is the changing of the country's guard. It will be sooner than later.
All Malaysian media reported the government's action with much surprise, although they did not criticise too much, except for the online media. But they know deep in their hearts that the use of the ISA is aimed at highlighting the danger of racial discord and the Pakatan Rakjat opposition's plan to unseat the government, which is supposed to occur today. Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim reiterated over the weekend that his coalition has the number of cross-over votes to form a new government, but at this time he would rather tackle the issues related to political stability and security first and foremost. It was clear yesterday that Anwar's ambition will not be realised by the stated deadline.
Whatever the government has tried to do, it has backfired and greatly damaged the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Already, discord among the leaders of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has reached the breaking point. Several leaders have already come forward to urge Badawi to resign so that a new leader can be elected.
The current appointed successor, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, the son of the country's second prime minister, who was supposed to succeed Badawi in 2010, is no longer in a waiting mode either.
Other contenders, including Tenku Razaleigh Hamzah and International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, are also challenging Badawi. Worst of all, there is a growing chorus within UMNO that the only way to salvage the party is to invite ex-prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad to return as leader.
The National Front, the ruling coalition party with UMNO, has become complacent and has consistently ignored the concerns of Malaysians. Corruption and cronyism are rampant in this country with many mega-projects. With the ongoing infighting within UMNO and the use of the ISA, Anwar's chance of becoming the next leader has increased many-fold. Of course, there are still many hurdles for the opposition to cross.
Malaysians in general want assurances and tangible evidence that their country under a new leader will be more equal, while still as vibrant and dynamic as before.