Mus­lims stage rally to up­hold priv­i­leges in Malaysia

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

>> 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.

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