12/05/2018, 15.08
MALAYSIA
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Islamists and opposition play race card against the government

Even though the authorities decided against ratifying the UN antidiscrimination treaty, a rally organised to protest against it will still take place. For many ethnic Malays, the treaty is a threat to their rights and to Islam’s influence. For one scholar, race and religion are sensitive issues, a time bomb ready to go off.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/CNA) – Islamists and opposition parties will flex their muscles next Saturday at a rally in Kuala Lumpur against the United Nations (UN) treaty on racism.

Analysts warn that seven months after a new government took power, race and religion have taken centre stage fuelled by interests that could threaten national unity.

In Malaysia, "race" and "religion" are official administrative criteria found on the national identity card of all citizens over the age of 12.

The notions of "Malay supremacy" and "Muslim supremacy" ("Ketuanan Melayu" and "Ketuanan Islam") are closely linked, since Malays are legally required to be Muslims.

Following sectarian violence in the late 1960s, the government adopted a series of policies in favour of ethnic Malays, who make up around 60 per cent of the country’s 32 million people. Ethnic Chinese are around 23 per cent whilst the Indian population stands at 7 per cent.

Contrary to what Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad promised in September, the government on 23 November announced that it would not ratify the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

Despite this, supporters of Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) continue to view the treaty a threat to the rights of the Malay ethnic group and Islam’s influence in the country.

In fact, despite the government's U-turn, opposition parties decided to go ahead with their rally, where "thousands of people are expected".

The capital’s police and city council gave the green light for the event, which will be held along Jalan Raja opposite Merdeka (Independence) Square.

“The ultra-Malay groups are trying to stir up racial issues to show up the new government, to prove that Pakatan Harapan cannot handle racial tension,” said Prof Syed Farid Alatas of National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Sociology.

For Prof Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, a political lecturer at the Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), the situation underscores the need for a new law against hate speech. The government must “put more efforts on unity and dialogue programmes among multiracial Malaysia,” he said.

Meanwhile, concern remains high among observers and in public opinion over the recent violence at the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple in Subang Jaya (Selangor).

On 26 November 26, the planned transfer of the place of worship triggered two days of unrest, resulting in damages and 68 arrests.

Before the unrest, 50 Muslim Malay men, hired by the company that owns the land, tried to seize the temple. Their presence infuriated Hindus, who are divided between those in favour and against the move.

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