SHAH ALAM: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has defended his decision not to ratify an international rights treaty which led to a mammoth rally held earlier today, saying the Malays must be given a leg-up.
Otherwise, they risk being left behind, he said.
Speaking at UiTM Shah Alam, Mahathir said opportunities must be given to the Bumiputera Malays who are poor and unable to get jobs so they can catch up with the other races.
“If we want them (the Malays) to be able to catch up with those in front of them, they must be given the opportunity to catch up,” he said, adding not all races are on the same standing in terms of opportunities.
“If we don’t give to the Malays a little more opportunities than the other races, if we believe we must give everyone the same thing, to give in to equality, then only those who are able to do so will succeed.
“Those who are not will fall behind.
“That’s why we cannot accept ICERD,” he said to applause from the 1,000-strong crowd.
Putrajaya’s controversial decision to originally ratify the ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) led to protests.
The government later made an about-turn on the decision. This led the organisers to instead host a “thanksgiving” rally today that saw a 55,000-strong crowd in the city centre. The rally went on without causing any disturbances.
Specifically, the ICERD obliges parties to eliminate racial discrimination in all forms, including in public institutions as well as in government policies, the issue at the heart of the opposition from Malay groups.
They said ratifying the ICERD would undermine the special position of the Malays, including provisions to allow quotas in public institutions, as spelt out in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.
They also opposed the ICERD’s timeline on member countries to end affirmative action programmes, which they said would be the death knell for Malaysia’s decades-old Bumiputera policy.
Mahathir today said the constitution would not be amended in any way.
Earlier in his speech, Mahathir said it was time for the Bumiputeras to face the fact that a majority of them are falling behind and not on a par with the other races.
“The fact is in our country, the Bumiputeras, the sons of the soil, the Malays, are left behind. We can deny it but the fact is most of us are in the outskirts of the cities where access to infrastructure is poor,” he said.
“Yes, today we are in power politically and with this power we can give help to the Bumiputeras, but if you don’t get scholarships what will happen?” Mahathir asked, adding most parents may not be able to fork out the money.
“I don’t believe the Malays are stupid. They have the same abilities as others but intelligence only with no efforts will not lead to success,” he said.
“I don’t know about you but I feel ashamed that in our own country we are left behind.
“We see foreigners coming to our country who are more successful because they work hard.”
Excel and compete
Mahathir said when he was studying at the King Edward College VII in Singapore, he was the best out of seven Malay students and received three distinctions.
But others in his class got seven to eight distinctions, proving he had to do better.
Some of these students even made fun of Mahathir and stereotyped him as a padi farmer and fisherman because of his Malay roots.
But this made him work 10 times harder and he urged the crowd of mostly UiTM students to do the same.
“Once I read a textbook page 10 times to the point that in an exam, I could almost see the page along with the pictures on the exam sheet. That’s why I could pass with 3As,” he said.
He said that this would even help the Malays land spouses, adding that was why his wife fell for him.
However, he declined to state how many As his wife got, but that she was part of the seven Malays in his class.
Mahathir also said that the government should always aim to improve the education system to empower all races at all times, but said a proper national curriculum was needed in order for this to happen.
“But if you focus only on one race then you cannot expect other races to come together in the same school.”
Mahathir launched the Himpunan Mahasiswa, Graduan dan Profesional Muda Bumiputera event at the Dewan Agung Tuanku Canselor, UiTM Shah Alam.
He was flanked by his wife, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, Rural and Regional Development Minister Rina Harun, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Deputy Economic Affairs Minister Mohd Radzi Md Jidin.