KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 7 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has defended his government’s decision to allow angry Muslim groups to hold a nationwide protest against the “Allah” ruling, saying they have every right to do so.
"We cannot stop them, as long as it is confined within the mosque area," he told a press conference after launching his 1 Malaysia clinic campaign.
"Whatever it is, the authorities are prepared and I hope that it will not spill over into something more serious but precautions we have to take, we have," he added.
Security laws do not allow gatherings of five and above. Police normally crack down on gatherings, protests or demonstrations by opposition groups.
But Home Minister said the government had to balance the interests of those who want to express their feelings about the Dec 31 ruling that allowed Catholic weekly Herald to use “Allah” to describe the Christian God in its Bahasa Malaysia section.
The government yesterday won a stay of execution of the ruling after the Roman Catholic Church agreed not to object out of "national interest".
The Umno president's statement today shows he is moving to protect his position among party conservatives who have been unhappy with his indecision on the “Allah” issue.
His stance will lend credence to concern among non-Muslims that when push comes to shove, the Barisan Nasional-led government will put politics above fair play.
When asked to explain his stand, Najib reiterated that the groups have the right to protest and that his government cannot stop them from doing so.
Opposition leaders such as PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub have come out to slam Najib's stand, describing it as hypocritical.
"From the democratic perspective, the groups have every right to express their opinion but we want to tell Umno don't be a hypocrite," he told The Malaysian Insider.
"Don't use a different set of rules when something works in your interest," he said, adding that PAS will try and engage these groups as part of its effort to diffuse the tension.
Meanwhile, Najib again pleaded for calm, saying all quarters should adopt an attitude aimed at resolving the issue amicably.
But he continues to perplex the people by allowing the protest and getting the government to appeal against the “Allah” ruling.
Today he diverted questions on the matter by asking the public to let the legal proceedings take their course.
On his meeting with the King yesterday, Najib refused to disclose details but said that his Cabinet had been briefed on the matter.