Dr Mahathir Mohamad's remarks on how the Malays were forced to accept orang asing (foreigners) during British rule in exchange for independence is downright insulting and unbecoming of a prime minister who represents all Malaysians, said DAP lawmaker Ramkarpal Singh.
Ramkarpal was referring to the prime minister's speech at yesterday's Malay Dignity Congress, where Mahathir said: “.. Orang asing berasa selesa dengan negara kita dan mereka ingin tinggal di sini. Nak tak nak pun, kita terpaksa terima, kalau tidak kita tidak akan mencapai kemerdekaan (The foreigners felt comfortable in this country and wanted to stay. Like it or not, we were forced to accept or we would not have achieved independence).”
Describing the statement as uncalled for, Ramkarpal said Mahathir should have known better.
“The PM should know that such remarks are highly sensitive and threaten racial harmony in the country and can lead to a divided nation along racial lines, which must be avoided at all costs,” he added.
The Bukit Gelugor MP also noted how Mahathir claimed he did not hear the organiser of the congress Zainal Kling's statement that “Malaysia belonged to the Malays” when opening the congress.
He said the prime minister should have corrected the academician and if it is true that he did not hear the remark, then he should set the record straight now.
Ramkarpal reminded Mahathir that he won the last general election largely because of the support of non-Malays.
“That support was to see reforms for the betterment of this country and to move it forward, not to see the country becoming divided along racial lines.
“I call on the PM to take the lead in narrowing the gaps among the races in the country and dispelling the false notion that the Malays are under threat.
“Reprimanding Zainal for his insensitive remarks would be a good start and I urge the PM to do so forthwith,” Ramkarpal added in a statement this afternoon.
Hindraf leader P Uthayakumar (photo) also censured Mahathir over the “orang asing” remark, saying the prime minister appeared to be giving the green light to others to make similar statements.
Uthayakumar pointed out that despite Mahathir claiming the congress was not racist, Tamil dailies had reported that among the resolutions presented were the closure of vernacular schools and that top government positions be reserved for Malays.
“But the said speaker (who raised this issues) would not be jailed under the Sedition Act as Umno jailed me... nor will Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador arrest anyone under Section 504 of the Penal Code and the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia (MCMC) Act for hate speech under Mahathir's pseudo rule of law,” he added in a statement.
In stark contrast, Ramkarpal's fellow Pakatan Harapan leader in Penang sees nothing wrong in Mahathir attending the event.
Seberang Jaya assemblyperson Dr Afif Bahardin said Mahathir has the right to attend the event as prime minister of the country.
"Dr Mahathir has attended events organised by the Chinese and Indian communities. He needs to engage with as many people as possible to gauge what the country needs," Afif told Malaysiakini.
Asked why he attended the event, which also saw the presence of rival opposition leaders in Umno and PAS, Afif (photo) replied, "I did it in my personal capacity as a Malay leader."
He said there were also several Pakatan Harapan leaders, academicians and community representatives.
"The congress was actually a platform to discuss the plight of the Malays, who are predominantly the biggest community in the country," Afif explained.
"What struck me most about the event was that it was mostly about self-criticism, the community is asking how they allowed themselves to be at a disadvantaged situation," added the Penang executive councillor.
Afif admitted that several controversial issues were raised, for example, the call to stop vernacular schools.
But to him, these proposals need further and deeper discussions with all sectors that are involved.
"Also, if we are calling for the end of one stream schools, we have to consider applying the same arguments to Muslim religious schools, and not just to Chinese or Tamil schools," Afif said.
"I do not see any problem with this congress. It should not be blown out of proportion."