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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 — Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad questioned today why the Malay Dignity Congress was labelled racist when other ethnicities have held similar assemblies, in a rebuttal to critics who saw his attendance as an endorsement of Malay political supremacism.
Expressing this view in his blog, the PM again stressed how Malays have recognised the right of minority groups to assemble, calling it a “measure of tolerance of the indigenous people of Malaysia”.
Yet when the Malays gather to speak of the problems facing their own, they are condemned as racist, the 94-year-old prime minister said, adding that he was surprised when advised against speaking at the congress.
“It is a measure of the tolerance of the indigenous people in Malaysia that gatherings which are confined to the different ethnic groups are accepted as normal,” he wrote.
“I am therefore very surprised when I was advised not to attend this Malay Congress to discuss their dignity. Obviously they are concerned over their possible loss of dignity, whatever that might mean.
“It cannot be that while other ethnic groups can have their gatherings to discuss their affairs, the Malays cannot, that their gathering is racist.”
Vocal minority leaders from within Dr Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition have criticised the congress, drawing attention to the content of speeches delivered by several speakers which they felt promoted Malay political supremacy.
The congress was attended by some 5,000 people, including top Umno, PAS and Pakatan Harapan leaders.
But to the prime minister, the criticism was unwarranted. Highlighting this in his post, Dr Mahathir said he felt the tone of the congress was “balanced”, even as the views expressed by some were thought to be “extreme”.
“As usual there were extreme views but on the whole they were balanced.”
What upset critics most is that the congress was organised by public universities funded by taxpayers’ money. Detractors argue that learning institutions should be free from racial politics, even more so under a new government that pledged inclusive ideals in place of communalism.
The main organiser of the congress was Universiti Malaya’s Malay excellence studies centre, and co-organised by Universiti Teknologi Mara, Universiti Putra Malaysia and the Sultan Idris Education University.
Dr Mahathir asked why there were calls for UM vice-chancellor Datuk Abdul Rahim Hashim to be removed simply for organising a gathering that the Bersatu chairman felt was merely to address the weaknesses of the Malay community.
“Now there is even a demand that the Malay initiator of the gathering should be sacked for attending.”
Dr Mahathir also reminded critics that the country’s minorities have been accorded rights and freedom not seen even in the most advanced democracies.
Here, he said a million of non-indigenous people were given citizenship even though they were not qualified, and are allowed to manifest this ethnic link through their language, culture, schools and ethnic organisations.
But Dr Mahathir suggested any effort by the Malays to organise are often viewed with suspicion and quickly labelled racist.
“It hurts me to think in their own country the indigenous people are not supposed to have their own gatherings without being accused of being racist,” he wrote.
“And now of course I will be labelled a racist for writing this.”