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KK Mart episode shows that for Umno-DAP, never the twain shall meet

The 'Allah' socks affair only confirms that Umno and DAP are on two different poles despite the gestures of their top leaders.

3 minute read
Dr Akmal Saleh is seen as Umno's answer to some personalities in DAP such as Nga Kor Ming who are often entangled in race-related issues.
Dr Akmal Saleh is seen as Umno's answer to some personalities in DAP such as Nga Kor Ming who are often entangled in race-related issues.

Relations between Umno and DAP have failed to improve despite over a year of power sharing in Putrajaya, and in fact appear to have worsened over various issues related to race and religion, most recently the "Allah" socks controversy at convenience chain store KK Mart.  

There is also the issue of "national heritage" recognition for bak kut teh, a Chinese dish known for its main ingredient of pork, and the renewed debate on vernacular schools which have left Umno and DAP firmly entrenched in opposing positions. 

Umno Youth chief Dr Akmal Saleh appears to be the Malay party's answer to ministers often embroiled in racially charged issues, such as DAP leader Nga Kor Ming and Sarawak politician Tiong King Sing.

Such issues would appear to confirm that attempts by the Umno leadership, particularly its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, to portray DAP as a "friend" have been in vain.

"Umno and DAP have fundamental differences in their ideological approaches, which were not discussed in depth when the alliance was formed," said International Islamic University analyst Rabi'ah Aminudin.

Rabi'ah was referring to Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH), bitter enemies for decades which joined forces to form the federal government after the general election two years ago which ended with an impasse in Parliament. 

Since then, there have been some shifts among Umno warlords who are unhappy with DAP.

The "Allah" socks affair, in particular, put Umno in a tight spot, especially for Akmal.

When the socks were discovered at KK Mart, a retail chain owned by Chinese businessmen who are traditionally seen as supporters and funders of DAP, Akmal wasted no time championing the issue by calling on Muslims to boycott the company.

KK Mart has since apologised several times, including after a rare royal audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong granted to the owner, saying it had been negligent in not inspecting the socks.

Umno Youth's campaign meanwhile has failed to gain momentum, largely due to PAS' lack of interest in Akmal's boycott call.

Instead, the Islamist party has called for the company to be penalised through legal action.

For Bukit Gantang MP Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Syed Abdul Fasal, Umno should focus on other issues in order to win the support of the Malays.

Syed Abu Hussin, the Bersatu MP appointed to head a committee on food supply after defecting to support Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, cited as an example the problems in the rice industry that have affected Malay businesses but have not attracted attention.

"Umno should stand up for the rice issue because it does not have the problem of dissent among Malays. I urge Akmal to fight for the rice issue together and save the Malay industry," he added.

Despite criticism from both sides, though, Akmal has continued to defend his tough stance on the "Allah" socks issue.

Among others, he uploaded a picture of himself holding a sword on social media, along with the message that he would not budge from his stand.

"Better to die standing than live kneeling," wrote Akmal.

As condemnation of Akmal by PH has increased, DAP has moved to defend KK Mart, and launched a campaign urging people to shop at the chain store in a show of solidarity.

Rabi'ah said the unresolved ideological differences between Umno and DAP would determine whether the political cooperation between BN and PH would continue in future elections.

She said there was a clear polarisation at hand, as Umno tries to represent the sentiments of Malay Muslims while DAP defends a Chinese-run company.

Political observer Azizi Safar said DAP had no choice but to take a firm stand to counter Umno Youth's campaign.

"Lest DAP be seen by its supporters as too compliant with Umno's wishes and actions," added the former Penang BN secretary.

Malay political observer Ahmad Atory Hussain also said that Anwar Ibrahim's government had no choice but to maintain its current support from the non-Malays.

He said Anwar's government had been seen as inept in managing race-related issues in the country.

Akmal, Atory said, was isolated when it came to raising the "voice of the Malays" in the government.

"Of the 148 parliamentary seats backing Anwar, 73 are Muslim and 75 are non-Muslim. How will Akmal win support?"

Atory meanwhile said Anwar's "silence" in the wake of sensitive issues could tarnish his reputation among both Malay and non-Malay voters.

"He will be seen as trying to be neutral and allowing the issues remain at 'status quo' or even decisionless. This is aimed at securing the political interests of DAP in exchange for its continued support for him," he added.