PUTRAJAYA, April 24 — Senator P. Waytha Moorthy declared the country to be less polarised today, despite claims that he failed to deal with several racially-charged issues in the ten months since he assumed the role as national unity minister.
The former Hindu Rights Action Force leader told reporters in a group interview here that his interaction with thousands of grassroots groups in recent months showed a starkly different reality from that often painted by social media or in the press — that they are far more united.
Waytha Moorthy said only politicians claimed there is division in an attempt to sow racial discord, since their political survival depends on fear and communal insecurity.
“Yes, racism is getting rampant (but) on social media but this is usually created by people without a face, people who deliberately create problems by creating fake accounts to upset the close relationship shared by all communities in the country,” he said.
“Because politicians have raised many racial issues until the public thinks that there are serious things affecting them... but when I go to the ground and talk to them, the people are united.”
Critics accused Waytha Moorthy of conspiring to dismantle Bumiputera privileges after the Pakatan Harapan administration said it would ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
Detractors claimed the United Nations treaty was a back door to subverting Malay political and economic power by giving minorities access to key institutions otherwise reserved for them.
The anti-ICERD movement drew huge support among Malays that cut across partisan lines, which moderate politicians like prime minister in waiting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Umno’s Khairy Jamaluddin said reflected “genuine” grouses that the PH government should heed.
The PH administration eventually postponed signing the treaty.
But during today’s interview, Waytha Moorthy said he felt the morass around ICERD was dealt with well.
Claiming he will only agree to ratify the treaty if there were public consultation, the senator suggested the government heeded the backlash and promised that any move to adopt the ICERD will hinge on getting popular support in Parliament.
However, he did not state if the government had engaged all stakeholders when it said it would ratify the treaty last year.
“During Question time in Parliament (November) I answered very clearly on the government’s stand: that we will not proceed to ratify unless and only after we get engagement with the public done in the first quarter of next year,” he said.
“We have not started any engagement yet... but they twisted the whole thing to make it look as if we are going to pass something in Parliament that is not acceptable by the people.”
Waytha Moorthy then claimed this part was not reported by the press.
“People go for sensational news. Of course the media reports sensational news and not much is reported on the explanation,” he said.
The senator has faced growing pressure to step down following the ICERD controversy and the Seafield Temple riots, which resulted in the death of a Malay fireman. Critics claimed the country was more divided after the two incidents, and Waytha Moorthy should take responsibility.
Yet during the interview, the senator said the purported unity shown at grassroots level proved his success.
Waytha Moorthy said residents associations and neighbourhood groups have volunteered to become “agents” of PH’s unity-themed programmes, a sign that his policies resonate well with the people.
He called this his “biggest achievement” to date.
“It’s not just me explaining to them, they are coming forward to become agents of unity,” he said.
There are some 16,000 RAs and neighbourhood groups throughout the country, according to the minister. Waytha Moorthy said the PH administration sees community groups and the private sector as the best catalysts for unity, and will continue to collaborate with them.
*Editor’s note: In a previous version of this story we used the headline 'Waytha Moorthy: Nation more united under my watch as minister'. It has since been pointed out to us that the minister did not mean his words that way and that he did not make such a claim. We apologise for the distress that may have been caused.