Why ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ must go with BN’s fall

NOVEMBER 4 — Last week, the Islamist lobby took protesting to an absurd new level by actually bringing along a coffin while marching towards Parliament.

The protest was a snapshot of the bizarre landscape of mainstream Muslim activism in Malaysia: racist, regressive and incendiary. But above all, staunchly opposed to equality and fairness.

Led by Muslim groups coalition Ummah and opposition party PAS, they were protesting against the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), a United Nations core human rights treaty that as its name suggests, is aimed at vanquishing racial discrimination.

But one can also argue that it is not exactly ICERD that they are rallying against. After all, the Islamist lobby has always been vocal against racial discrimination, when it is the Malays and Muslims who are being discriminated against.

To put it simply: They are not opposing ICERD. Instead, they are demanding to be allowed to racially discriminate. And they do not wish to be stopped from doing so.

You can see it from their fears, in their propaganda of what they think they will lose if ICERD is ratified: Malays’ exclusive entry to UiTM, preferential treatment for Malays to enter MRSM, abolishing scholarships exclusive to Bumiputeras, an army regiment exclusive just to Malays, housing discounts for Bumiputeras, Malay reserve in housing projects... and so on.

They are all material privileges which they just cannot bear to share with others.

ICERD itself is not new. It was adopted back in 1965 and came into force in 1969.

Ummah and Pas — complete with coffin — tried to make their way to Parliament last week. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Ummah and Pas — complete with coffin — tried to make their way to Parliament last week. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

For almost five decades, Malaysia has not had the will to ratify it, since it was under the rule of Barisan Nasional (BN) — whose survival depends on the racial line.

That must change, and would change now that Pakatan Harapan (PH) is in power.

Nor has PH suddenly made this decision to ratify ICERD. The pledge to ratify the core international human rights conventions has been part of its election manifesto, just as much as “restoring the dignity of Malays” was.

In promise 26 to “make our human rights record respected by the world”, PH said “suitable international conventions that are not yet ratified will be ratified as soon as possible.”

And “as soon as possible” starts now.

During a recent chat with Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, I asked him why this is being brought up now by the Islamist lobby and its ilk?

“Politics,” he replied curtly, warning against that toxic mix of racial politics with religion.

And at the core of this is “Ketuanan Melayu” or “Malay supremacy”, that assumes the Malays as the masters of this land, and all others as immigrants and second-class citizens.

“Ketuanan Melayu” is also a myth that has been perpetuated by BN and Umno, and it is heartening to see PH politicians making a strong stand to let the myth die.

Youth minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman told the Youth Economic Forum that PH rule will mean the end of “Ketuanan Melayu” as it shifts towards “shared prosperity” to ensure equity and equitable distribution of wealth across all segments.

And what he said was a clear distillation of what increasingly many young Malaysians, even young Malays, believe — no longer burdened by old expectations and a racial worldview.

Even Rais Yatim, himself formerly in Umno, and long-time staunch supporter of Malay rights, has seen it fit to remind Malays that “Ketuanan Melayu” has no place in the Constitution.

“Article 8 gives fair legal treatment to all citizens. Malay Supremacy is only a political cry,” he said on Twitter.

And on this point, Rais cut the argument right to the bone. Article 153 of the Constitution, used for so long by Malay supremacists as a golden pass for overt racism, does not magically grant Malays special treatment, but rather just ensures “quotas” in certain issues for not only Malays, but natives of Sabah and Sarawak.

Lest we forget, Article 153 has been amended twice: once in 1971 to insert “natives of any Borneo states”, and in 1976 to change it to “states of Sabah and Sarawak”. Note that there is no mention of the Orang Asli in the Article.

Saifuddin himself has also stood his ground in recent days, saying while he may fight for the Malays and Muslims, he will not back “Ketuanan Melayu.”

All “Ketuanan Melayu” has achieved so far is propping up BN and Umno, and in turn letting elite Malays reap rewards while the poor and less fortunate stay in their same old rut — supreme or not.

All it has done is give ammunition to those who hide behind the facade of Islam to oppress minorities of all sorts and shove their beliefs on others -- supreme or not.

It has to die to give PH and other political parties room to breathe, so they will no longer be baited to contend on racial grounds.

It has to die, so this reborn Malaysia can grow into an egalitarian, progressive society where nobody is left behind, and all are equal under the sun.

One of the ICERD preambles say it best: “Any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere.”

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.