WHEN controversy over the front-page of The Star broke‎ over the weekend, Perkasa was at the forefront of the campaign to get the newspaper suspended.

‎When there was an outcry against a caricature of PAS president Hadi Awang in Nanyang Siang Pau in April, Jaringan Muslimin Pulau Pinang led the charge against the Chinese-language newspaper.

When Bersih took to the streets to demand free and fair elections, Gerakan Merah Malaysia led the sabre-rattling on the ground.

Welcome to the new Malaysia, home to an increasing number of Malay civil society organisations ‎being set up to ostensibly defend Malay rights and Islam’s position as the official religion.

These groups have a slew of similarities: they prefer threatening and cowering their opponents into silence, they appear well-funded, each claims to have tonnes of members and supporters but usually have difficulty ‎proving that strength, they have little fear of the police and even the most minor outfit seems to be able to get favourable coverage in the mainstream media. And oh yes, most of them are fans of the Najib administration.

Their numbers have increased significantly in the last 12 months and with race and religion shaping up to the one of the main issues in the 14th general election, expect the number of the Malay NGOS to swell further.

Expect also the threats against the opposition and non-Muslims who challenge the status quo to increase.

Major Razali Zakaria of Gerakan Memartabat Pejuang Negara said: “We are defending the struggles of nationalism and if someone slanders the prime minister, we will defend him.”

The group, which claims to have 100,000 members, recently gave producer David Teo three days to apologise to Prime Minister Najib Razak for being rude at a 2050 National Transformation (TN50) event.

Political analysts believe that these civil society groups will wage a proxy war on behalf of certain political parties in the run-up to GE14.

Professor Dr Ahmad Atory Hussain, a former lecturer of Universiti Sains Malaysia said: “Many of these groups are taking advantage of the weaknesses existing among Malaysians. They harp on sensitive issues like race and religion.”

Ahmad Atory would not state how many of these groups were being funded by political parties but said many of them had strayed from their original goals.

“I once came across an association formed to aid diabetic patients, which touched on political matters,” he said.

The five best-known groups are Gerakan Merah Malaysia (GNGMM), Perkasa, Pertubuhan Pembela Nasib Melayu, Gerakan Memartabat Pejuang Negara (GMPN) and Jaringan Muslimin Pulau Pinang – which all fight for Malay rights.

Joining the fray are newbies, such as Gerakan Ahli Akar Umbi, Gerakan Pemikir Muda and Sekretariat Bertindak.

Ahmad Atory said there are about 80,000 groups registered with the Registrar of Societies five years ago and the number is rising.

“The government supports the creation of civil society groups as they are considered a third party. They are a good platform for the community to provide input and voice their grievances. We could say their establishment was to defend the rights of certain groups.”

Some had dubious motives and were out to sow chaos, he said.

“Some of them made public statements claiming to be representing a certain Malay group but we can’t be sure if that’s the case.”

Another political analyst, Prof Awang Azman Awang Pawi, said the rise of pro-Malay groups is based on the theory of social movements.

According to his research, politically opportune moments allow social movements to break through.

Umno’s political ideology is based on struggles for Malay rights, hence right-wing groups could also build on that and rise up, he said.

“This is not limited to Umno, as PAS has given birth to Pertubuhan Generasi Warisan Kebangsaan (Generasi),” said the Universiti Malaya lecturer.

Awang Azman said a civil society group can act as a proxy for the party’s ideology by working behind the scenes, so as not to upset other component parties.

“There are also groups that feel their political party has strayed from its original ideology because of compromises in coalition politics. This can be seen in the birth of Perkasa by Ibrahim Ali.”

Perkasa president Ibrahim Ali (second from left) during a BERTINDAK meeting at Sultan Sulaiman Club in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, on May 13. The Malay group is one of the best-known pressure groups in the country. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Kamal Ariffin, June 1, 2017.
Perkasa president Ibrahim Ali (second from left) during a BERTINDAK meeting at Sultan Sulaiman Club in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, on May 13. The Malay group is one of the best-known pressure groups in the country. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Kamal Ariffin, June 1, 2017.

The five best-known Malay pressure groups:

* Gerakan Merah Malaysia (GNGMM)

The group has been active about four years and is known to oppose the electoral reform movement Bersih 2.0.

Its chairman, Jamal Yunos, claims that 400 groups are under the GNGMM umbrella and another 200 are under the Gabungan NGO Selangor movement.

They are also the prime mover behind the red shirt assembly last year while Gabungan NGO Selangor has been active in protests against Selangor Menteri Besar Mohamed Azmin Ali.

* Gerakan Memartabat Pejuang Negara (GMPN)

GMPN, led by Razali, has been active for seven years and is part of the red shirt movement, Gerakan Merah Malaysia.

According to Razali, GMPN was formed to raise Malaysians’ dignity and claims a 100,000-strong membership.

The group receives funds from corporate bodies and the government for some of its charity programmes.

* Pertubuhan Pembela Nasib Melayu

The group also known as “Gerakan Merah” was founded by Mohd Ali Baharom or Ali Tinju, who courted controversy in 2012 with his “butt exercises” in front of the then Bersih co-chairman Ambiga Sreenavasan’s home.

PPNM, like GNGMN and GMPN, is against Bersih and was also involved in a red shirt gathering.

“We are against illegal assembly and we have lodged police reports on any gathering which is against the law,” he said.

The group claims to have up to 100,000 members nationwide. It lodged a police report against street artist Fahmi Rehza, best known for his clown caricatures of Prime Minister Najib Razak, last February.

* Perkasa

Perkasa is the pioneer Malay pressure group in Malaysia with an estimated membership of around 700,000.

Formed in 2008, Perkasa fights for Malay and Bumiputera rights, and defends Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.

Its secretary-general, Syed Hassan Syed Ali, said: “Perkasa wants to be the voice of Muslims, Malays and Bumiputeras… uphold the Federal Constitution, empowering Malaysians and above all, protect the institution of Malay rulers and the nation’s sovereignty.”

* Jaringan Muslimin Pulau Pinang

There are nine groups under the Jaringan Muslimin Pulau Pinang. The group is led by Mohamed Hafiz Mohamad Nordin and is identified as pro-PAS and Umno.

In April, it led a protest against Chinese daily Nanyang Siang Pau over its satirical cartoon depicting PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia as monkeys during the tabling of RUU355 or the bill to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.

Recently, a supporter of Hafiz slapped the Penang chief minister’s information officer Zaidi Ahmad after the latter asked Hafiz to explain how the state government meddled in a fatwa.