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NGO Coalition Accuses Malaysia’s New Government of ‘Sidelining’ Malay Majority

Ali Nufael
Kuala Lumpur
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Malaysian police use tear gas to break up a rally by ethnic Indians demanding racial equality, in Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 16, 2008.
Malaysian police use tear gas to break up a rally by ethnic Indians demanding racial equality, in Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 16, 2008.

A loose coalition of 350 Malaysian NGOs on Friday accused the new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of marginalizing the nation’s Muslim majority and warned that recent appointments of non-Malays to high-ranking positions could fuel Malay anger.

Gerakan Pembela Ummah, a Malay name for the grouping of non-government organizations, also attacked three laws being proposed against discrimination and religious hatred, alleging that the pieces of legislation were meant “to suppress the Malays and Islam.”

“We feel that in less than 100 days, Pakatan Harapan’s government has already sidelined the Malays, as well as Islam as the official religion of this country,” Aminudin Yahya, Gerakan chief secretary told BenarNews.

He was referring to the coalition that handily won the May 9 general election against the Barisan Nasional bloc, which ruled Malaysia for nearly 61 years. Barisan was anchored by the Malay Muslim-dominated United Malays National Organization party (UMNO).

“We want to send a clear message to PH that we not happy with the way Islam and Malays are being treated,” he said.

To protest what it perceives as efforts to undermine Malay Muslim interests, the coalition, which was established in May 2017 in effort to empower Malays, said it would organize a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, less than two weeks after the Malaysian king appealed for calm amid growing racial tensions. Police told BenarNews they would allow the Gerakan to hold the rally, but authorities would monitor it.

“The country is being controlled by DAP,” Aminudin said, using the acronym for the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party, whose secretary-general, Lim Guan Eng, became finance minister after the May 9 general election catapulted Mahathir back to power.

“The Malays are feeling it,” Aminudin said.

On July 17, King Sultan Muhammad V urged Malaysians to preserve and strengthen the nation’s “peace and unity,” in an inaugural address to lawmakers that underscored that race and religion were closely intertwined with Malaysian politics.

Aminudin said the proposed bills would not lead to racial harmony in the nation, which experienced deadly Sino-Malay sectarian riots in May 1969.

“These laws are meant to suppress the Malays and Islam. We can no longer express our dissatisfaction and if we do, we will be charged under the law,” he said. “This is dictatorship."

Malays and other indigenous groups account for nearly 70 percent of Malaysia’s population of 32 million, with ethnic Chinese making up 23 percent and ethnic Indians and others the remainder.

Aminudin criticized the appointments of Tommy Thomas, who is of Christian-Indian descent, as the country’s attorney-general; and Richard Malanjum, who was sworn in this month as chief justice minister, and Liew Vui Keong, as minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Malanjum and Keon are non-Muslims.

Those appointments are among many reasons that may fuel the Malay anger, Aminudin said.

Last month, the king assured Malaysians that the appointment of an ethnic Indian Christian did not threaten Islam or herald the end of special protections for Malays and indigenous people.

“The Yang di-Pertuan Agong [the king] also called on all Malaysians to accept that the appointment of the Attorney-General should not create religious or racial conflict as every Malaysian should be fairly treated regardless of race and religion,” a palace statement said.

On Wednesday, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, minister in the PM’s Department in charge of religious affairs, announced that the government was planning to table three new bills in parliament – the Anti-Discrimination Act, National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Act, and the Religious and Racial Hatred Act.

Under the new laws, those guilty of humiliating any religion and race can face a jail sentence of up to seven years or a fine of 100,000 ringgit (about U.S. $25,000), Mujahid told reporters.

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