Asia

Malaysia trying to cool controversy over varsity head's pro-Malay views and right to protest

KUALA LUMPUR -Malaysia’s Education Ministry is mediating between a graduate and his university in a raging controversy over strong pro-Malay views uttered by the school’s vice-chancellor and the right to protest against it.

Universiti Malaya’s (UM) Wong Yan Ke received his scroll on stage on Monday (Oct 14) during its convocation ceremony.

But as he was walking away, he unfurled a placard on stage asking UM vice-chancellor Abdul Rahim Hashim to resign for making a controversial speech about Malay rights at the Malay Dignity Congress earlier this month.

Mr Wong, 23, a civil engineering graduate, said he was protesting against Datuk Abdul Rahim’s speech that he claimed was racially charged.

On Friday, Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching said the ministry is engaging with both UM and Mr Wong to resolve the matter, according to Malaysiakini news site.

“We are still in the process of engaging both parties to solve this matter amicably. We need both sides to engage and not to be enraged.”

The university has refused to give Mr Wong his academic transcript, which could make it tough for him to look for a job, amid heated debate in Malaysia on whether he should have protested on stage during the convocation ceremony.

There have been calls for UM to strip him of the degree.

UM, one of the country’s top universities, has also lodged a police report against the graduate.

Asked to comment on UM’s police report, Deputy Minister Teo said she personally didn’t agree with it.

Mr Abdul Rahim had allegedly claimed at the congress that Malay dominance in politics had been eliminated after the 2018 General Election, and warned ethnic minorities not to challenge Malay privileges under the country’s social contract.

The congress on Oct 6 was organised by four public universities including UM, to discuss problems faced by the majority Malay community.

Questions have been raised by the Malaysian opposition on whether the universities – supposedly a bastion of free speech – should have organised an overt political event with racial overtones.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad gave the main speech at the congress that was attended by leaders of Malay Muslim parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

UM has issued a statement saying while it supports freedom of expression, it denounced Mr Wong’s actions for not respecting the ceremony.

Human rights organisation Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) has called for the UM vice-chancellor to resign, if he is unwilling to provide a safe space for students to engage in discourse.

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