Of late there has been much debate, confusion and acrimony over Malaysia’s stated intention to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms or Racial Discrimination.
Opponents of the convention have argued strongly that ratification by Malaysia may lead to the negation of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution. Article 153 spells out in no uncertain terms the responsibility of the Yang DiPertuan Agong “to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities…”
Meanwhile proponents lobbying for the ratification of the convention have offered reassurances that Article 153 would not be jeopardised nor stand out as a contradiction should the government decide to ratify the convention.
In the face of rising protest rallies, heated arguments and discord, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement on 23 November stating that “the government will not ratify ICERD and (instead) continue to defend the Federal Constitution that contains the social contract that has been agreed u by representatives from all races during the formation of this country”.
Aliran would like to see our country stand firm and resolute against all forms of discrimination, signifying a clear commitment by ratifying the convention. But recent events indicate that as a nation we are not yet ready nor sufficiently mature to accept the convention.
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While we acknowledge the democratic right of those who oppose the convention, hate speech and other forms of incendiary expressions calculated to incite anger and hatred should not be brooked by the authorities. The unrestrained and conscious effort made to stir up enmity between Malays and non-Malays with repeated references made to the May 13 racial riots in 1969 is reprehensible.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government must be politically more astute regarding opportunities given to and attempts by irresponsible quarters to stir up ethnic and religious tensions. The manipulation of ethnicity and religion is an oft-replayed scenario by those who are skilled in its practice over many years. The sad thing is that it still manages to gain traction.
It is here that the PH government and concerned groups must acknowledge and tackle the insecurity and real needs among many Malays. Only then will such manipulation lose its power. As argued eloquently by Parti Sosialis Malaysia chairman Nasir Hashim – and Aliran echoes his sentiments – the PH government must take clear steps to allay the fears (real or perceived) of many Malays.
While the proposed ratification of the convention takes a back seat, the key focus should be directed at coming up with plans and policies that provide affirmative action for those who are truly in need ie the bottom 40% (B40) of our country. This will ensure greater equity and better distribution of the country’s resources.
Indeed if all forms of affirmative action are clearly directed at the deserving based on need, poor Malay farmers, smallholders, workers and fishermen will definitely benefit. The upside of an affirmative action policy that is colour blind is that it will also ensure that poor non-Malays are taken care of.
For us to move forward as one nation towards the coveted status of developed nation, policies and structures must be put in place to create a socio-political environment where different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds are no longer a divisive factor.
To do what is proposed will take strong political will and astuteness on the part of the PH government, which campaigned on a platform of creating a Malaysia baru.
Aliran executive committee
24 November 2018