Special Rights In Malaysia?

The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, has had enough of racism and race-fuelled hatred in Malaysia.

In fact, he’s so sick of it, he made an impassioned Facebook post on Wednesday (16 Sept) calling for racial harmony and togetherness in Johor, just hours after a massive protest in Kuala Lumpur threatened to turn ugly.

And his comments were eagerly welcomed by netizens who did not wish to see a repeat of the 1964 and 1969 race riots:

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We wonder what Singapore’s late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew would’ve had to say about the situation in Malaysia.

To find out, we’d have to go 50 years into the past, back when Singapore was still a part of Malaysia.

Lee Kuan Yew, 50 years ago

On 9 May 1965, a confederation of political parties was formed in newly-unified Malaysia.

First Malaysian Solidarity Convention June 6, 1965 Photo Lee Kuan Yew

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The alliance was called the Malaysian Solidarity Convention (MSC), and was formed out of various multi-racial political parties. It was led by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party (PAP).

The MSC was formed in opposition to Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia, which was perceived to be unnecessary and racist.

The actual text of Article 153 states that:

The Bumiputras occupy a special position, and it is the job of the Yang-Di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia) to safeguard this special position. Specifically, quotas for bumiputras should be established in federal public service positions, federal scholarships, federal trade or business licences, and tertiary education enrolment.

Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP called for a ‘Malaysian Malaysia’, which asked for all races in Malaysia to be treated equally. This policy was in contrast to the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party philosophy of a “Malay Malaysia”, which provided for a special position for the ‘bumiputras’, or ‘sons of the land’ (this group includes ethnic Malays and the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak) in Malaysia.

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In December 1964, Mr Lee said, in the Malaysian Parliament:

Malaysia – to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker, Sir. But sometimes, sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be a Malaysian.

To Mr Lee, the memory of the 1964 racial riots, where over 300 people died, were still fresh. It was an incident he hoped never to see again in his life.

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The fear of future racially-charged violence between the Chinese and Malays was a major contributing factor to the Malaysian Federal Government’s decision to expel Singapore from Malaysia in August 1965, hence making Singapore an independent country.

The situation today

Today, Singapore continues to uphold the PAP’s meritocratic policies, advocating equal rights for all regardless of race, language or religion, and we think it’s safe to say that racial hatred is a thing of the past in Singapore.

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However, Malaysia has not quite been able to defuse its ethnic tensions, and race still plays a large part in Malaysian politics. UMNO is now part of Barisan Nasional, a coalition of parties which continues to advocate the special position of the Bumiputras.

The situation is tense in Malaysia now, where just last month (August 2015), the electoral reform group Bersih organised a rally calling for PM Najib Razak’s resignation. The rally was attended by an estimated 200,000 Malaysians and brought Kuala Lumpur to a standstill. It was attended mostly by ethnic Chinese who wore yellow shirts.

However, there were several ethnic Malays in attendance as well, including former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

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More recently, on Wednesday (16 Sep), tens of thousands of Malaysians, mostly ethnic Malays, marched through Kuala Lumpur in a show of support for the Najib administration. They were there also to protest against the Bersih rally that had called for Najib’s resignation. (Yes, it was a rally protesting against a rally…)

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The protests were less than peaceful, as riot police had to fire water cannons at protestors trying to break through barricades at Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown neighborhood. These protestors also denounced ethnic Chinese community and opposition party leaders. As a safety measure, shops and businesses in Chinese-dominated neighbourhoods were closed.

Various creative insults were thrown around, including one that was evidently not racist.

It was not a good day for Malaysia, which ironically celebrated Malaysia Day on 16 Sep.

On his blog, opposition leader Lim Kit Siang wrote:

Malaysians must conduct a national soul-searching as to what has gone wrong with over five decades of nation-building that there was a Red Shirts Malay rally replete with racial slurs and provocations on Malaysia Day itself and with government approval.

While there have been no reports of major injuries, these colour-coded rallies will just further colour the divide and fuel racial tensions between the Malay and Chinese communities.

Johor Sultan hints at anti-Bumiputra stance

As such, the Johor Sultan’s post has come at a welcome time, and we think Lee Kuan Yew himself would have been proud of those words.

The Sultan is certainly doing his part to wipe out racism and racial hatred, and we hope others follow his cue soon so things don’t turn ugly.

Because we know if MM Lee were alive, he would have sternly put the foot down on racism, as he had several times in his political career.

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Featured image via Sultan Ibrahim Ismail’s Facebook
With reference to Wikipedia, Al-Jazeera, Malaysia Federal Constiution, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail’s Facebook