Racial and religious tensions have increased in the past year as minorities have become more vocal in their complaints about an affirmative action program that they say unfairly favors Malays. They also complain that their religious rights are being ignored.
In an unprecedented comment on current affairs, the sultans of nine states did not directly accuse the Chinese and Indian minorities of stoking anti-Malay feelings, but said recent statements and forums “held by certain quarters” had “caused provocation and uneasiness among the people.”
Questioning the special position of Malays “can lead to disunity and racial strife that can undermine the peace and harmony,” the state rulers said in a statement.
The warning underscores the social tensions in Malaysia, where Muslim Malays are about 60 percent of the nation’s 27 million people. Chinese and Indians, who are mostly non-Muslims, comprise a third of the population and friction among the three ethnic groups is always below the surface.
The lengthy statement issued Thursday night follows a two-day meeting of the sultans, known as the Conference of Rulers. The hereditary sultans, who are Muslim Malays, occupy ceremonial offices but wield considerable moral authority among Malays.
“It (the warning) is quite unprecedented and I think it is coming in response to what the country is facing â€” what the rulers perceive as the fracturing of racial harmony,” said Tricia Yeoh of Center for Policy Research think-tank.
Last month, an ethnic Chinese opposition lawmaker was accused by a Malay newspaper of being anti-Islam. She was detained by police for a few days but no charges were filed. In August, lawyers were forced to abandon a conference on religious conversion after protesters stormed the forum.
The statement reiterates the supremacy of Islam, the special position of the Malays and the guarantee to protect minority rights â€” all enshrined in Malaysia’s constitution.
“Non-Malays should not harbour any apprehension or worry over their genuine rights because these rights are guaranteed,” the statement said.