Author

Arunima Gupta

Arunima Gupta

Manager | VIF

Mahathir Mohamad And The Diminishing Dream Of A ‘New Malaysia’

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Snapshot
  • Are minority communities being sidelined in Mahathir Mohamad’s Malaysia?

Minority communities have long desired socio-economic equality and greater cultural freedom in the Muslim-majority Malaysia. The dominant Malay-Muslim community, which comprises 67 per cent of the population, has enjoyed greater socioeconomic privileges including greater access to business and education opportunities as well as seats in public administrative services, as enshrined in Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution.

The minority community, primarily comprising of 24 per cent Chinese and just 7 per cent Indians have long been denied these rights, despite being accorded citizenship status. The elections in May 2018 offered them new hope. The victory of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition was eagerly welcomed by the Hindus, Chinese and other minorities. Mahathir Mohamed committed to bridge the country’s racial and ethno-religious divide and promised to build a “New Malaysia”.

In particular, the PH’s election manifesto promised ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which is a UN convention that promotes understanding amongst races and penalises racial crimes and institutional affiliations. The ratification could have paved the way for greater political representation of the minorities and improved access to educational opportunities.

However, recent events in Malaysia, including the Mahathir Mohamed government’s decision to put the ratification of the ICERD on the back burner, make this clear.

In late November, the government was forced to defer its plans to ratify the ICERD, after it became a campaign issue for the opposition. In particular, the largest opposition party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the Islamist party Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), and some ethno-religious groups were up in arms against the UN convention. They argued that the ratification of the ICERD will dilute the constitutional provisions that discriminate in favour of the ethnic Malays, who are mostly Muslim.

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