Opposition lawmakers from PAS and Barisan Nasional (BN) ganged up today against Senator P Waytha Moorthy in Parliament, calling the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of unity a “racist” and a “liar”.
Waytha blasted for:
- misleading replies on ICERD
- giving personal view, which is not allowed in Parliament
- insulting Islam 10 years ago
- being consistent in his statements
- claiming Indian community discriminated against
Chants of “Racist! Racist! Racist!” filled the Dewan Rakyat, with opposition MPs ignoring Speaker Datuk Arif Md Yunus’ order to behave in a more dignified manner and sit down ignored.
The vitriol began with Tumpat MP Che Abdullah Mat Nawi from PAS and his party colleague, Kubang Kerian MP Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man while Waytha was trying to reply questions on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
“The minister’s answer is polemic. I propose he is not qualified to answer and propose that the [prime] minister answer [on ICERD],” said Tuan Ibrahim who was referring to Waytha’s interview with a Dutch broadcaster 10 years ago, which resurfaced on social media recently.
At the time of the interview, Waytha was leading rights group Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) which galvanised nationwide Indian support for the then Opposition Pakatan Rakyat during the 2008 general election.
Earlier today, during his wind-up debate, Waytha tried to explain that the government would hold a discussion and dialogue with the public in the first quarter of 2019 over the ICERD ratification.
“This matter has been brought to the attorney general’s attention and if there are any conditions where Malaysia must make any adjustments on Article 153, the government will not ratify ICERD. That is a guarantee.
“The government believes that with the dialogue, discussion and consultation sessions with the public, they will be able to accept the government ratifying this human rights instrument,” said Waytha.
He also gave his “personal” view that Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which allows for Bumiputera privileges, does not discriminate.
This was quickly questioned by BN lawmakers, Kepala Batas MP Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican and Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, who pointed out that personal views should not be allowed in Parliament.
Reezal also asked whether or not Article 153 had a lifespan now that the government was looking at the possibility of ratifying the ICERD.
One of the clauses under the convention requires that all forms of discrimination, including positive ones, must have a timeframe and be eliminated in time.
Tanjong Karang MP (BN) Tan Sri Noh Omar then blasted Waytha for previously insulting Islam during his Netherlands interview, implying that the latter was inconsistent.
“I just want to ask one thing, everyone has seen the viral video. Why did you say something else in the Netherlands, saying there are those who are forced to embrace Islam, but in this House, you say something else?
“In your video, you insulted Malaysia, you insulted Islam. Here in the Dewan Rakyat, you want to act as if you are a hero.”
After listening to other questions on the video clip, Waytha said Malaysia had no discriminatory policies but that the previous government had discriminated against the Indian community.
This caused another ruckus, with BN MPs calling him a “kuey teow minister” and demanding his resignation.
Lenggong MP Datuk Shamsul Anuar Nasarah demanded Waytha show evidence to back up his statement, triggering another shouting match in the House.
The Speaker silenced all the microphones in the House in a move to regain control and restore order, which was in vain.
In the end, Waytha was unable to continue with his winding-up speech on the Budget and told the Speaker that he will issue written replies to the questions that arose during the debate.
Meanwhile, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said implementing the ICERD would entail amending the Federal Constitution, and this is an almost impossible thing to do.
The prime minister pointed out that a two-thirds parliamentary majority was needed for this to happen.
This, he said, was nearly impossible with the current composition of the Dewan Rakyat from the government and the reaction shown over the matter from the opposition as well as members of government.
“Only with the support from the opposition can we have a two-thirds majority, and even then government members themselves may not support (it). So I feel that it’s almost impossible for us to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary (to amend the constitution),” he said.
It was reported that Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir and Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman had expressed reservations about the ICERD, as opposition parties planned to organise a joint rally next month against a proposed ratification of the convention.
Mahathir acknowledged that the ICERD was sensitive to Malaysia’s Malay community and that the government was not rejecting the views expressed by the people on the matter.
“This matter is sensitive to the Malays, we understand that. In my speech at the United Nations (general assembly), I mentioned about the complexity of implementing ICERD. So, we didn’t commit that we are going to do it,” he said.
Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Nov 17 that the Malay-Muslim community would “run amok” to protest the Pakatan Harapan government’s pledge to ratify the ICERD.
To this, the prime minister said: “Unless Zahid stirs up trouble, there will be no riot (over ICERD).”
At the PKR congress, party president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the government needs to assure Malays they would not lose their special rights, as well as the position of Malay Rulers and that the Malay language would not be undermined.
“People want to know that their rights are protected as enshrined in the Constitution,” said Anwar.
He hit out at PAS and Umno, saying that both parties were exploiting the ICERD issue to create the impression that the Malay position would be compromised.
PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali reminded leaders not to succumb to the pressure of a small group which raised other issues that were not government agendas.
“Do not bow to the big powers. In the ICERD issue, it is not necessary to hastily ratify,” he said.
In George Town, DAP said it would leave the issue to the Prime Minister.
Party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said DAP would not want to be drawn into a racial debate by certain political parties.
“Let’s not add unnecessary pressure on the heated issue as certain parties, which had lost the general election, are bent on creating a racial issue out of this.
“DAP members should refrain from commenting too much on the issue,” said Lim when addressing the delegates at the Penang DAP convention.
Malaysia is among a handful of countries that have not ratified the treaty.
The treaty provides individuals worldwide with a mechanism for complaints about issues of racial discrimination, among others, and is enforceable against member states.
Specifically, it 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.
Those opposing the ICERD said it 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 are also opposed to the ICERD’s timeline on member countries to end affirmative action programmes, which they say would be a death knell for Malaysia’s decades-old Bumiputera policy.