Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad defended his decision to attend a controversial race-based forum earlier this month, saying it is his right as an ethnic Malay.
“I attended the Congress on Malay dignity because I am a Malay,” Mahathir wrote on his personal blog Chedet on Friday. “It hurts me to think in their own country the indigenous people are not supposed to have their own gatherings without being accused of being racist.”
The forum, organized by several local public universities, was attended by several politicians from Pakatan Harapan, the Malaysian Islamic Party and the United Malays National Organization.
Mahathir said he was “very surprised” when he was advised not to attend. “It cannot be that while other ethnic groups can have their gatherings to discuss their affairs, the Malays cannot, that their gathering is racist,” he added.
The organizers and attendees have come under fire by netizens for what they perceive as a racist conference.
Dr. Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News that the forum seemed “like a deliberate lining up of Malay political power.”
Harris Zainul, a researcher at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, told Arab News that Mahathir overlooked the racially charged speeches at the forum.
Some of the speeches called for suspending the citizenship of non-Malay minorities, lowering scholarship requirements for Malays, and reserving key government posts for them.
“By attending, and now defending his attendance, it can be seen as lending legitimacy to these kinds of racialized narratives, which is problematic for a multiracial country like Malaysia,” said Harris.