Liberasi is disappointed and disagrees with the Malaysian government’s current stance of not ratifying the ICERD. We believe that ratification brings several benefits to the country and the reasons of not doing are not justified.
However, we would like to recognise the Malaysian political climate currently and comment with more nuance on the matter. For this, we will refer to Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)’s statement on the signing of the ICERD as it provides for a deeper analysis on the rationale against the ratification of the ICERD. Having read through its entirety, Liberasi is moved to agree with several contentions therein but disagree with the idea that signing the ICERD is inconsequential. This, referring to our own statement on the matter, is to be celebrated as the different perspective demonstrated by PSM’s analysis gives deep insight to the matter.
Racial tensions will still exist without the ICERD
Liberasi would like to reiterate that it stands by the ratification of the ICERD as a positive step forward for Malaysia. While some people are rightly concerned with allaying the fears of the Malay populace, we are unconvinced that not signing the ICERD would do away with the underlying discomfort amongst the populace to do away with these fears in the first place. The Malaysian political scene is beset with opposition forces that stress upon and capitalise on racial politics. As history tells us, these forces will do anything in their power to skew the narrative of all non-race-based policies as steps to undermine the Malay populace. Where will we draw the line, then, when moving forward with good policies?
Letting go of the idea to ratify the ICERD is said to ease racial tensions. Liberasi contends that it is merely sidestepping the racial tension which are deeply entrenched within our society.. While the manifestation of racial tensions may be less pronounced, this does not mean they do not exist. One needs only to read Pusat KOMAS’s Racial Discrimination Report of 2017 to see this is the case. It is not as if the underlying causes of the racial tensions arise from the plan to ratify the ICERD, after all, and while it might be more uncomfortable to address these head-on, at some point there will be an impasse where it has to be done, whether through pursuing a class-based approach or some other policy in the future. Do we seriously believe that UMNO and PAS will stop bringing up racially divisive arguments when the government lets go of their commitment to ratify the ICERD?
Benefits of Ratification
We contend that if Malaysia does ratify this convention, what has been for so long been a hazy commitment to eliminate racial discrimination will be crystallised as something tangible. There will be a document by which Malaysia is bound to keep to its promises, whose adherence is a greater responsibility than election promises which can be simply dismissed as promises made to just get votes. Suddenly there is a vulnerability to the government as it is liable to be reviewed by the Committee on the ICERD (CERD). Cases such as biases in renting and discrimination in hiring can be dealt with effectively as there is a greater onus to do so. There is more of a case to enact Anti-Discrimination laws, effective measures to handle prejudices, steps taken to promote mutual understanding and, above all, be a shining beacon of hope to other countries around the world.
The ICERD and the class-based approach are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they complement each other quite well. For some forms of discrimination are not class-based. Can one say a Nigerian construction worker is viewed the same as a local one? Is one to ignore the racial biases in recruitment for companies? We should not be bullied into submission by those who utilise Malays as a means to their own ends nor should we disrespect Malays as monolithic entities who will not understand our arguments. We must remain honest in presenting our arguments and stances such that mutual understanding may emerge.
Having said this, we understand that the racial climate in Malaysia may warrant a clearer representation of what the ratification of the ICERD would entail to. In this regard, we strongly urge for the narrative to remain clear and the facts accurately presented.
However, the uncoordinated, disparate comments by the government on the ICERD have allowed the narrative to be skewed such that certain parties capitalised to stoke racial tensions for their own needs. What was necessary from our government was more synergy, an emphasis on grassroots uplifting and clear policy ideas which would employ the provisions within the ICERD. This was sorely lacking and now the ICERD has been personified as a neo-colonial attempt to strip away Malay rights.
Hence, we join the PSM in urging the PH government to ‘turun padang’ to the grassroots level to not just gain their confidence but also implement relevant policies that would help them. It is worrying to notice pro-rich tendencies being demonstrated by the current government, like their attitude towards the minimum wage and a housing scheme that fails to address the affordability of homes which the developer even admits is not for the poor. Echoing the PSM, the PH should definitely prove that they take seriously the spectre of Malay poverty through sound policies that tackle the inherent inequality between classes and not just perform lip-service through grandstanding as protectors of Malays just to score political points.
It is clear that Malaysians are being pitted against one another for the political gains of their lords. What was to be an unprecedented positive step in the right direction has now been corrupted. We are left to pick up the pieces. How will we move forward?
We do not wish for those who are truly interested in a united Malaysia to be disunited for that is what the other side wants. If it is to be that the ICERD is not ratified for the time being, we may disagree, but we are willing to accept a class-based approach to policy-making that will focus our attention upon the inherent inequality in the Malaysian society. We will remain committed to opposing the racial skew put on by certain parties to divide Malaysians.
We also urge all parties to remain vigilant on the matter. Racial divisions are imperceptibly deep and navigating around to fix them is bound to upset some parties. However, we should not be lulled into a stupor if racial tensions seem eased if the ICERD is left unratified. Rather Malaysians must act to bring together society in whatever way we can. When divisive voices are raised, we must be present our case as thoroughly to the people such that our intentions are clear, not simply drop our plans when we are criticised. A commitment to eradicating racial division runs longer than just our flirting with the ICERD and it is in what follows that matters the most.
United against racial discrimination,
Arveent Srirangan Kathirtchelvan, Michelle Liu & Goh Cia Yee of Liberasi.
Featured image from The Star Online (YouTube Channel).