Why minorities did an eye-roll over Umno PM’s ‘apartheid’ remark

Ismail speaks of Palestinian oppression yet what is happening in his backyard?

COMMENT | The systematic oppression of Palestinians over many years through discriminatory policies, denial of basic civil rights, imposition of harsh conditions, large scale land confiscation and inhumane acts committed against them is tantamount to the crime of apartheid, said Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob in a video speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday (Sept 25).

Syabas! An admirable position was taken up by the Umno man – but you know what else is tantamount to the crime of apartheid? – dividing Malaysians by race, depriving Orang Asli of their hereditary lands, sitting idly by as one Indian after another suffers a mysterious death in police lockups and leaving Sabah and Sarawak decades behind in development despite their lands being resource-rich.

It is absolutely shameful that every single premier of the country thus far has belonged to a Malay-rights party and not an ideological one like a conservative, liberal or social-democratic party – what does it say about the insecurity of a voter base that is so comfortable with electing ethnic champions?

To be fair, Ismail Sabri’s speech was spot on – he said that Malaysia has always been a firm believer in all efforts and initiatives that promote peaceful coexistence between nations, different peoples, faiths and cultures.

Perhaps in his righteous indignation over the suffering of the Palestinians, the Bera MP has forgotten about the strife that followed in 2018 when the Pakatan Harapan government proposed that Malaysia sign the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd).

Malaysia is one of only two Muslim-majority countries in the world that has not ratified the treaty after the Harapan government decided against acceding to Icerd following weeks of racially and religiously charged protests in which backwards-looking Umno and PAS members held the nation to ransom.

The other is Brunei.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia, Palestine, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey are among the 55 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries that have ratified Icerd.

Icerd was initiated by the United Nations (UN) in 1965 to deal with global racial intolerance but in Malaysia, it was portrayed as a threat to bumiputera special privileges (Article 153) and Islam.

So while Ismail Sabri very nobly wants to champion the cause of those Palestinians who are being oppressed by a brazen and often cruel Zionist regime – his own record, and that of preceding premiers like ‘Malay-first’ Muhyiddin Yassin, ‘Apa lagi Cina mau’ Najib Abdul Razak and the pioneer of racial hate-speech Dr Mahathir Mohamad – is not very convincing.

PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, who himself used to belong to a race-based party, has at least often championed the transition from race-based affirmative action economic plans to one that is needs-based since he left Umno in 1998.

Indeed it became a fundamental pillar of his party’s platform upon the formation of PKR in 2003 that Malaysians are helped based on economic needs rather than their race.

Perhaps that is why he is destined never to become prime minister.

Anwar has said that the New Economic Policy, which was conceived in the 1970s, is now obsolete, but it can be dismantled with a firm commitment to needs-based affirmative action involving both the public and private sectors.

Is Ismail Sabri willing to do that to create awareness that Malaysians – the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans and Kadazans and the multitude of other groups – should be seen as one community with equal rights and privileges?

What we had is a succession of pathetic leaders who indeed have kept their own masses marginalised while enriching an elite group of cronies.

Many are trained to accept and not challenge this false wisdom and only raise their voices to threaten others as we saw during the anti-Icerd protests, rather than question abuse of power or theft.

Identity politics 101 is the name of the game as the majority race controls almost every important position yet somehow feels it’s under threat.

Nor do we see our brethren from the majority speaking up as alarming proposals such as the Act 355 amendments on Syariah Courts are being discussed.

From education quotas to bumiputera-only institutions funded by taxpaying Malaysians of all races, to discounts for property and preferential treatment in the civil service, we have allowed a system that drives talented Malaysians away in droves.

Personally, I haven’t seen my sisters in years as they live and work in London and Washington DC, and close to 80 percent of my generation has already migrated thanks in no small part to our outdated racist systems. This is despite the fact that my great-grandfather chose Malaya as home in the 1890s.

If Ismail Sabri is really sincere about ending apartheid-like systems, he could look a little closer than Palestine.

By : MARTIN VENGADESAN (An associate editor with Malaysiakini) – MALAYSIAKINI

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