As the world celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – because of the death of 69 protesters at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa against apartheid laws in 1960 – Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) wishes to remind Malaysians that our country still fails to treat all Malaysians equally regardless of ethnicity and remains a long way from eliminating all forms of racial discrimination.
To date, ethnic discrimination in education, finance, the workforce and welfare remain a norm in Malaysia. This is mainly because racial politics remains the dominant ideology of successive governments, and there is no political party thus far that has the political will to reverse that trend.
The emergence of the Perikatan Nasional government is concerning, especially since the coalition was founded on the concept of Malay-Muslim unity and often portrays itself as a Malay-Muslim government.
Pas and Umno, which are part of this PN government, are the two political parties that were instrumental in organising the rally to oppose the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This led to the previous government reneging on its election manifesto by not ratifying the convention.
The PN’s Deputy Youth and Sports Minister, Wan Ahmad Fayhsal, was also caught saying he is a supporter of the abolishment of vernacular schools in Malaysia.
Racial remarks both on social media and open public discourse remain prevalent in Malaysia.
On July 2020, Umno’s Baling MP Abdul Azeez Rahim made a racist remark against his fellow parliamentarian, the DAP’s Batu Kawan MP Kasthuriraani Patto by saying the latter was too dark to see in Parliament and urged her to put on some powder.
We have also witnessed how social media are often a cesspool of racist comments, which is a sign of Malaysia’s deteriorating race relations.
The prime minister recently launched a national unity policy and National Unity Blueprint 2021-2030 and warned politicians not to stoop to racial sentiments to gain political mileage.
While this is a move in the right direction, we must also remember that this is the prime minister who once proudly proclaimed he is “Malay first” and has used racial sentiment to advance his own political interest.
If the PM is sincere in fostering racial unity among Malaysians, he should instruct the cabinet to begin enacting legislation that eliminates racial discrimination and remarks such as an equality act and an equality and human rights commission.
Racism and racial discrimination in Malaysia have been long-standing issues, and if the government is sincere about eradicating discrimination and fostering tolerance in our society, then it must propose appropriate bills to tackle the issue and root out institutional racism that has hampered the progress of a multiracial Malaysia where everyone is treated equally, as stipulated in the Constitution.