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New book reveals ties between ‘militant’; gangs and Umno

Groups like the Organisation of Islamic Welfare and Dakwah of Malaysia (Pekida) are part of an ethno-nationalist movement in the country created to aid Umno’s need for support, a French researcher has revealed in a book.

In the book titled “Misplaced Democracy: Malaysian Politics and People” released a few months ago, political researcher Sophie Lemiere wrote that these non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and Pekida specifically, are “connivance militants” whose discourse and actions serve the interests of the ruling party.

Lemiere explained in the book that connivance militancy is a secret political arrangement by which a formal political actor – be it a political party, a government or a politician – sub-contract actions serving its interests to groups or individuals. These actions may be legal or illegal and can range from advocacy to demonstrations and use of violence.

The book, a compilation of essays by various authors and of which Lemiere is editor, contains a chapter she also wrote titled “Gangsta and Politics in Malaysia”.

In it, she wrote that Umno’s ties to this ethno-nationalist movement are stronger than those of any other party. This is because the ruling party has created the need and has maintained a favourable context for its development.

In the Malaysian context, she said, connivance militants are like the “muscle” and “numbers” a formal political actor may need to face opponents, be it in elections, campaigns, demonstrations or controversies.

Lemiere holds a PhD and a Master in Comparative Politics from the Paris Institute of Political Studies (also called Sciences-Po) in France.

She noted that ethno-nationalist NGOs blossomed during the years that Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was prime minister, from 2003 to 2009.

She added that these NGOs used a rhetoric based on religion and identity that was previously unknown or non-existent.

“According to a Pekida group leader based in Subang Jaya, ‘The Abdullah years have been the golden age of Pekida; he is our godfather’.”

“In the early dates of his office, Abdullah was in need of strong support, and in order to maintain his party’s influence, Abdullah used the network of the organisation to which he was introduced as patron,” she wrote.

Lemiere said that the Perak crisis in 2009, when three Pakatan Rakyat (PR) assemblymen defected, resulted in several episodes of violence and demonstrations against PR leaders who were in favour of dissolving the state assembly after losing their representatives to the Barisan Nasional.

“It was at this stage that Pekida members appeared, publicly waving flags bearing their organisation’s colours (yellow, red and green), and wearing yellow headbands that read Daulat Tuanku.

“Despite their violence, none of the Pekida’s militants were arrested,” she wrote.

Soon after the events, several leaders and members interviewed in Perak, which is a stronghold for Pekida groups, mentioned BN’s takeover with pride and explained that they and “their guys” were involved in the violence, or that they would have been ready anytime if Umno politicians needed more “muscle”.

Lemiere said this arrangement with Umno allowed Pekida flexibility within the legal framework that governed the registration of NGOs.

Estimates of Pekida’s membership are difficult to confirm because it is a shadowy network, wrote Lemiere.

Her research found that Pekida members are all over Peninsular Malaysia, in every layer of society, among the rural as well as urban elite, and in every institution whether state, political, social or economic.

“Some famous individuals are alleged or proved to be Pekida members, they do not take part in any of its political activities, but rather use the networks to multiply business opportunities and for private protection: sons of politicians in power, hip hop and pop singers, politicians, businessmen, civil servants or army officers.

“So the social profile of members ranges from rural lower income to urban high elite and the network, while remaining mostly Malay, is after all relatively inclusive – Pekida may be one example of the cherished concept of Najib’s 1Malaysia,” Lemiere wrote, referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Most Pekida gang members do believe that their political activities and connections place them in a grey area above the law. As such, they are unafraid of police authority, she also wrote.

One avenue of recruitment is through martial art (silat) groups and numerous silat organisations are among Pekida’s NGO network. Lemiere sees this activity as a “natural” move into political militancy.

Pekida members have claimed responsibility for several outbursts of violence that were seen as ethnic or religious clashes, she wrote.

Lemiere also said that Pekida is often referred to as Tiga Line, as a symbol of the colours of its official flag – red, yellow and green.

In August last year, the Tiga Line group was one of 49 secret societies released by the Home Ministry after a crackdown on illegal groups.

Pekida president Jamaludin Yusof in October last year denied any connections with Tiga Line.

The book is published by the Strategic Information and Research Development Centre Malaysia. – September 6, 2014.

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