Cacophony in Dewan Rakyat as Opposition brand unity minister ‘racist’, ‘liar’

Opposition lawmakers from PAS and Barisan Nasional ganged up against the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department today. — Picture by Razak Ghazali
Opposition lawmakers from PAS and Barisan Nasional ganged up against the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department today. — Picture by Razak Ghazali

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 — Opposition lawmakers from PAS and Barisan Nasional (BN) ganged up today against Senator P. Waytha Moorthy in Parliament, calling the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of unity a “racist” and a “liar”.

Chants of “Racist! Racist! Racist!” filled the Dewan Rakyat. Speaker Datuk Arif Md Yunus sought to contain the clamour, reminding the MPs that they should behave in a more dignified manner, telling them to sit down, but he was ignored.

The vitriol began with Tumpat MP Che Abdullah Mat Nawi from PAS and his party colleague, Kubang Kerian MP Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man while Waytha was trying to reply questions on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

“The minister’s answer is polemic. I propose he is not qualified to answer and propose that the [prime] minister answer [on ICERD],” said Tuan Ibrahim who was referring to Waytha’s interview with a Dutch broadcaster 10 years ago, which resurfaced on social media recently.

At the time of the interview, Waytha was leading rights group Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) which galvanised nationwide Indian support for the then Opposition Pakatan Rakyat during the 2008 general election.

Earlier today, during his wind-up debate, Waytha tried to explain that the government would hold a discussion and dialogue with the public in the first quarter of 2019 over the ICERD ratification.

“This matter has been brought to the attorney general’s attention and if there are any conditions where Malaysia must make any adjustments on Article 153, the government will not ratify ICERD. That is a guarantee.

“The government believes that with the dialogue, discussion and consultation sessions with the public, they will be able to accept the government ratifying this human rights instrument,” said Waytha.

He also gave his “personal” view that Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which allows for Bumiputera privileges, does not discriminate.

This was quickly questioned by BN lawmakers, Kepala Batas MP Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican and Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, who pointed out that personal views should not be allowed in Parliament.

Reezal also asked whether or not Article 153 had a lifespan now that the government was looking at the possibility of ratifying the ICERD.

One of the clauses under the convention requires that all forms of discrimination, including positive ones, must have a timeframe and be eliminated in time.

Tanjong Karang MP (BN) Tan Sri Noh Omar then blasted Waytha for previously insulting Islam during his Netherlands interview, implying that the latter was inconsistent.

“I just want to ask one thing, everyone has seen the viral video. Why did you say something else in the Netherlands, saying there are those who are forced to embrace Islam, but in this House, you say something else?

“Don’t insult the nation, insult Islam, and while you are in this House, you said there’s no discrimination [in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution],” said Noh.

Waytha then pointed out that he stood by his statement saying that under BN rule, the Indian community was discriminated against, which immediately triggered cries from the Opposition.

Lenggong MP Datuk Shamsul Anuar Nasarah demanded Waytha show evidence to back up his statement, triggering another shouting match in the House.

Noh had also asked Waytha if he thought Article 153 in the Constitution discriminates against others.

When the minister denied it is discriminatory, Noh pointed out that there were multiple clauses allowing for positive discrimination of the Bumiputera.

The minister could be seen speaking but what he said went unheard, as the Speaker silenced all the microphones in the House in a move to regain control and restore order, which was in vain.

In the end, Waytha was unable to continue with his winding-up speech on the Budget and told the Speaker that he will issue written replies to the questions that arose during the debate.