Human rights activists as well as certain quarters of the newly minted cabinet proposed to the Malaysian government to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The United Nations convention ensures that everyone, irrespective of their race, would be entitled to equal rights, a concept that potentially clashes with Malaysia’s constitution which allows for affirmative action for Bumiputeras since the 1970s.
On 23 November 2018, the Prime Minister’s office announced that the new government would not ratify ICERD. Some have said that this move was motivated by the desire to preserve peace in the new government.
On the same day, Dr Mahathir was reported saying that ICERD could not be ratified by the government as it would contradict Article 153 of the Federal Constitution and explained that the article which granted privileges to the indigenous community could not be amended at the moment, despite acknowledging that it promoted freedom and eliminated (in principle at least) discrimination. Complicating matters, his government does not have a two-thirds majority in parliament and opposition leaders from Barisan Nasional are strongly opposed to ICERD.
A fence separates two sides and on one, there are those who think ICERD should be implemented, like former advisor of DAP and current MP for Iskandar Puteri, Lim Kit Siang. The biggest opposers of the ICERD came from Islamic party PAS, whose stronghold is in the rural areas of northeast peninsular Malaysia. This disparity of thought and philosophy seems to be between rural versus urban centres and is an issue consistently shared with many nations that are modernising. Lim questioned its leader, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang in parliament and asked for an explanation for their opposition, explaining that 55 Islamic countries have already ratified ICERD.
In response, Abdul Hadi said it was compulsory for Muslims (citing religious duty) to oppose ICERD as its ratification is neither religious nor humane. He added that implementing ICERD would place Islam on an equal footing with other religions in the country and that it encourages people to forsake religion and morals. He also sees ICERD as a Zionist agenda and said that the rally would “save Malaysia from being re-colonised”. However, Abdul Hadi neglected to mention whom he felt was the coloniser in this context.
The anti-ICERD rally is scheduled to take place at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur on 8 December 2018 with the intended purpose of celebrating the government’s decision to not ratify ICERD. This move has garnered immense support, especially from Barisan Nasional leaders. Beleaguered former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, fresh from his indictments from MACC, was among those who pledged his attendance for the event which is expected to draw over 500,000 participants.
With the support of UMNO and several other Malay NGOs, PAS has even declared Saturday a public holiday in the state of Kelantan so that its citizens can join the rally. Terengganu, which is run by the same party is expected to follow suit.
Another rally organised by the Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) to celebrate human rights on the same day (but at a different venue) has been postponed, citing serious security risks that bordered on national security. Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed was originally scheduled to attend the SUHAKAM rally on 8 December. The gathering has now been postponed to the same time on 9 December.
Another nation taking the rallies seriously is Singapore. Their Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised that all Singaporeans defer all non-essential travel to Kuala Lumpur. “As with large congregations or demonstrations, there is a possibility that limited and isolated skirmishes might take place,” said a statement which added that Singaporeans should stay vigilant and avoid large gatherings.
Upholding their commitment to free speech, the new administration has committed to not preventing any of the gatherings from taking place.
Source: The Star, New Straits Times, SUHAKAM