Malaysian Mus­lims rally to de­fend priv­i­leges amid grow­ing ten­sions

First ma­jor rally since Ma­hathir won a shock vic­tory in May

Kuwait Times - - International -

KUALA LUMPUR: Tens of thou­sands of ban­ner-wav­ing Mus­lims ral­lied in the Malaysian cap­i­tal yes­ter­day to de­fend their long-cher­ished priv­i­leges, at a time of grow­ing racial ten­sions in the multi-eth­nic coun­try.

About 55,000 peo­ple dressed in white flooded a his­toric square in down­town Kuala Lumpur, ac­cord­ing to po­lice, chant­ing “God is great” and bran­dish­ing ban­ners that read “Long live the Malays”.

Large num­bers of po­lice were on the streets and ma­jor roads were closed for the event, which was the first ma­jor rally since Prime Minister Ma­hathir Mo­hamad won a shock elec­tion vic­tory in May and top­pled the scan­dal-mired old regime. Race and re­li­gion are sen­si­tive in Malaysia, which is home to size­able eth­nic Chi­nese and In­dian com­mu­ni­ties, and the Mus­lim Malay ma­jor­ity ap­pears to be feel­ing in­creas­ingly in­se­cure un­der a new gov­ern­ment that is more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of mi­nori­ties.The rally was orig­i­nally in­tended as a protest against a plan by the gov­ern­ment to rat­ify a UN con­ven­tion which aims to elim­i­nate racial dis­crim­i­na­tion. Au­thor­i­ties aban­doned the plan af­ter op­po­si­tion from con­ser­va­tive politi­cians and Malays, who feared the treaty could erode their priv­i­leged po­si­tion in so­ci­ety. But Mus­lim groups pushed ahead with Satur­day’s demon­stra­tion, which-along­side the con­ven­tion-be­came about the big­ger is­sue of de­fend­ing Is­lam and decades-old af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion poli­cies that ben­e­fit Malays.

“If Is­lam is dis­turbed, is race is dis­turbed, if our rights are dis­turbed, then we will rise,” op­po­si­tion leader Ah­mad Zahid Hamidi, whose United Malays Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UMNO) party was ousted at this year’s elec­tion, told the gath­er­ing. Par­tic­i­pant Arif Hashim, 26, told AFP that other races must not “chal­lenge the rights of the Malays. As a Mus­lim, I want Is­lam to be the first (pri­or­ity) in Malaysia.”

Ousted party in cri­sis

Among those at­tend­ing was dis­graced ex-pre­mier Na­jib Razak, who has been ar­rested and charged over the scan­dal sur­round­ing state fund 1MDB since los­ing power in May. Po­lice said the gath­er­ing passed off peace­fully and the crowds dis­persed in the late af­ter­noon. Malays-who make up some 60 per­cent of the coun­try’s 32 mil­lion peo­ple-have for decades en­joyed sub­stan­tial state ben­e­fits, such as fi­nan­cial hand­outs and help get­ting gov­ern­ment jobs. Crit­ics ar­gue the sys­tem has been abused by a cor­rupt elite and is in ur­gent need of re­form, al­though there is no in­di­ca­tion Ma­hathir’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is about to make ma­jor changes in such a sen­si­tive area. UMNO-which ruled Malaysia at the head of a coali­tion for six decades until its elec­tion de­feat-was a ma­jor backer of the rally, with an­a­lysts say­ing it was us­ing the event to di­vert at­ten­tion from its trou­bles.

The party, long a cham­pion of the Malays, has been en­gulfed in scan­dal and in­fight­ing since be­ing ousted.

As well as Na­jib, new leader Ah­mad Zahid has been charged with cor­rup­tion. Poli­cies fa­vor­ing Malays were in­tro­duced af­ter ri­ots be­tween members of the Malay and Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties in 1969 that left nearly 200 peo­ple dead. —AFP

KUALA LUMPUR: Pro­test­ers dis­play plac­ards dur­ing a rally or­ga­nized by Mus­lim politi­cians against the sign­ing of the UN anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion con­ven­tion (ICERD) at Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur yes­ter­day. —AFP

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