SHAH ALAM - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Sunday (Oct 6) called on the Malay majority to redeem their dignity by grasping opportunities instead of lobbying for more aid.
This exhortation came after the Premier launched Malaysia's Shared Prosperity Vision on Saturday, an economic plan for the next decade which aims to increase Malay involvement in high-skill and technological sectors.
The 94-year-old said Malays were left behind because they failed to learn from history where foreigners were left to do "dirty, dangerous and difficult" work.
"We rely on those who are willing to work and gather wealth. When we allow foreigners to do this work, then as time goes by, the further we fall behind," he told more than 10,000 attendees, largely Malay undergraduates, at the Malay Dignity Congress (MDC).
Tun Dr Mahathir tried to divert blame away from his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition - which shockingly ended Umno's six-decade grip on power last year - over alleged erosion of Malay Muslim privileges that comes amid flagging support from the crucial majority community.
Last month, opposition Malay giants Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) joined hands in a Muslim unity gathering, vowing to reverse these claimed transgressions under the fledgling government.
"Malays don't want to work because the salary is only RM1,200 (S$395) monthly. We are ashamed to accept. But to get RM500 per year, we are so proud," Dr Mahathir said, a reference to cash handouts introduced by the previous government for about half of Malaysia's population.
He added that Malays have split into different parties to try to gain positions for themselves.
But this meant that despite making up 60 per cent of the population, Malays had to rely on the support of other races to form a government and became indebted to them.
"We did this to ourselves. Nobody did this to us. We ourselves caused this split," he said.
Top Malay leaders across the political divide attended the event, including PAS chief Hadi Awang, Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa and several current and former ministers.
The congress was co-organised by four public universities where Malaysia has long implemented Malay quotas, or outright exclusion of other races.
Head of the secretariat of the congress Zainal Kling opened proceedings by insisting Malaysia belongs to Malays and that the "social contract" under which migrant communities were given citizenship could be suspended if special Malay rights were challenged.
The social contract is a term used to describe how migrants who had already settled in Malaysia when it gained independence in 1957 were granted citizenship in exchange for certain constitutional guarantees for Malay and indigenous rights.
The crowd, which overflowed the Melawati Indoor Stadium, loudly supported this statement, as well as several pro-Malay Muslim resolutions that were presented.
These included excluding other races from scholarships by government agencies, such as national oil firm Petronas, and from top government positions, such as Finance Minister, Attorney-General and state-level chief minister, which are currently held by non-Malays in the PH government.
Dr Mahathir received these resolutions prior to his address and said the government would take them seriously as "this reflects the feelings of the Malays".
"It is a demand, but it doesn't tie the government down. We have to look into what we can do," he said.
He also insisted that the gathering was not racist in nature, as "we are not condemning Chinese or Indians. In fact we are condemning Malays".