Muslims stage rally to uphold privileges in Malaysia
>> KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad faced his biggest rally since taking power in May, as opposition parties led thousands of ethnic Malays in Kuala Lumpur to protest a UN convention against racial discrimination.
The capital was flooded with protesters dressed in white, who were bused in from around the country to assemble from yesterday afternoon. The United Malays National Organisation, which lost its six-decade hold on power in the general election, had vowed to bring 200,000 supporters, and said co-organiser PAS, an Islamist party, would mobilise another 300,000.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination became a hot-button issue last month. Malay-based opposition parties and groups voiced fears that it would threaten Islam’s position as the official religion and erode the special privileges of the Malays, which make up the biggest ethnic community in Malaysia.
“The anti-ICERD rally is meant to be a show of strength by the country’s two largest Malay political parties,” said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, an analyst with BowerGroupAsia risk consultancy, referring to PAS and UMNO. “It will be a numbers game and the crowd size will reflect the strength of the UMNO-PAS partnership.”
About 30% of Malay voters supported the ruling Pakatan Harapan in the general election, according to a survey by pollster Merdeka Center in June, underscoring the shaky support Dr Mahathir has from the country’s biggest ethnic group. Rumbles of concern over threats to the Malay-Muslim identity and religion have increased since the poll, Serina Rahman, a visiting fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, wrote in September.
Leader in waiting Anwar Ibrahim said last month concerns over ICERD were “real” and its ratification should be postponed. “They are worried that the principles in our constitution are not accepted and threatened at the international level,” he said on Nov 18, even as he maintained he was anti-discrimination.
When Malaysia reversed its decision to ratify ICERD on Nov 23 after mounting backlash, organisers of the rally shifted gears. The assembly, initially meant to pressure the government not to ratify the convention, would go on, its organisers said, with the new aim of “thanking” the government for aborting ICERD.
The government was not supportive of the gathering. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said the rally was irrelevant in a statement.
MAKING DEMANDS: Protesters display placards reading ‘No To Icerd’ during a rally organised by Muslim politicians in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.