PORT MORESBY - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Sunday (Nov 18) that Malaysia's plan to ratify a United Nations human rights treaty may be abandoned as it would be "almost impossible" to amend the federal Constitution to accommodate it.
His comments on the treaty, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or ICERD, backtracked from what he had said at the UN general assembly in September.
He said then that Malaysia, under his new government, would ratify all remaining UN human rights conventions as part of its international commitments.
But this speech has led opposition groups in Malaysia including Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) to pounce on the issue.
They claimed that his government is trying to reduce the rights of Malays and Malay royalty, and dilute the role of Islam, by ratifying the ICERD.
The treaty, once ratified by a state, is binding.
The ICERD requires the signatory UN member state to set up legislation that prohibits racial discrimination and related acts. This would likely go against Malaysia's longstanding bumiputera policy that reserves education and job spots for Malays and other indigenous races.
Umno and PAS leaders met on Saturday to discuss the matter and agreed to hold a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 8 to protest against the government's plan to ratify the treaty.
Tun Mahathir, speaking to Malaysian reporters in Papua New Guinea at the end of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation 2018 meeting, said: "This matter is sensitive to the Malays, we understand that."
He was quoted by Bernama news agency on Sunday as saying: "In my speech at the United Nations, I mentioned about the complexity of implementing ICERD. So, we didn't commit that we are going to do it."
Dr Mahathir said it would be almost impossible to change the federal Constitution to accommodate ICERD, as it would need support from two-thirds of MPs in Parliament.
The ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition that he leads has 127 out of the 222 seats in the federal Parliament. A minimum of 148 votes are needed for a two-thirds majority to change any part of the Malaysian Constitution.
"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," PM Mahathir said.
Bernama said there were reports that Dr Mahathir's son, Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir, and Cabinet minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, had expressed reservations about ICERD.
Both are MPs in Dr Mahathir's political parties.