Mahathir’s ‘racist’ remarks provoke outrageJune 17th, 2008 - 5:21 pm ICT by IANS
Kuala Lumpur, June 17 (IANS) Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s comments demolishing the notion of a composite Malaysian identity has triggered fresh controversy about relations amongst the country’s major ethnic groups, prompting criticism from Indian and Chinese leaders. The former prime minister had said majority Malays were “willing to admit other races into the country and endowed them with rights”, the New Straits Times said.
He also demolished the notion of Bangsa Malaysia, or the composite Malaysian identity, and said Malaysians must accept the fact that they were “just too different to be known as one race”.
The Malays, the Muslim majority who account for over 60 percent, had every reason to fight for their rights, Mahathir was widely reported as saying.
“We (the Malays) are not the type to protest and have accepted those who came to the country. We even accorded them rights unlike other countries,” he said at a talk last Saturday.
Mahathir’s remarks drew flak from non-Malay groups, who felt that national unity was crucial for the country to meet its future challenges.
The comment prompted S. Samy Vellu, senior Indian leader who served as minister under him, to say that Mahathir had “failed” the Indian community while in office — Mahathir stepped down as prime minister in 2003 after 18 years.
Vellu, who is the president of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), said Monday that Indians have had to struggle on their own for more than 140 years and achieved success only through sheer hard work.
“Despite the MIC appealing again and again for help, he refused to budge,” Vellu said, reacting to Mahathir’s remarks during a talk last Saturday.
Vellu said Mahathir should not be taking “racist approach” at a time when Malaysians were working hard towards unity.
Indians, numbering an estimated 2.6 million, form eight percent of Malaysia’s multi-ethnic population of 28 million.
Malaysian Associated Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry president Kenneth Eswaran reacted by saying that the special rights of the Malays had never been questioned, at least in Barisan Nasional (BN), the coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence.
“There is no basis whatsoever to Dr Mahathir’s claims. The Indian community, at least those in BN, has never questioned the economic rights of the Malays. Dr Mahathir should know this better as he was part of the system at one time,” he said.
Vice president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) vice-president Fong Chan Onn added: “Now is not the time to distinguish between Malays and non-Malays.”
The MCA, a component of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional like the MIC, claims to speak for the ethnic Chinese who constitute roughly 33 percent of Malaysia’s 28 million population.
While Mahathir has been unapologetic, there has been no reaction from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, or any major Malay leader.
Reacting to widespread criticism, Mahathir expressed sadness at being termed a racist each time he spoke on the rights of the Malays.
“When they speak of their rights, people say it is all right as we live in a multiracial country. I am extremely sad but we have every right to speak in defence of the Malays,” he said.
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