KUALA LUMPUR - Close to 2,000 supporters of Malay political parties and groups gathered on Saturday (July 28) at a rally in Kampung Baru, a symbolic Malay enclave of Malaysia's capital city, claiming that their racial and religious interests are under threat.
The event drew leaders from Umno, part of the former ruling Barisan Nasional, as well as PAS, the country's largest Islamic party.
The organisers claimed that the interests of the Malay Muslim majority are being eroded after the Pakatan Harapan coalition led by Tun Mahathir Mohamad won the elections in May.
"Those who are speaking loudly today dare to threaten and insult our race and religion," said Darul Islah Welfare Organisation (Perkid) president Masridzi Sat.
The event was held at the Sultan Sulaiman Club, where Malay leaders decided to form Umno over seven decades ago and just a stone's throw from where the May 13, 1969 race riots began.
Among those who turned up were PAS secretary general Takiyuddin Hassan and information chief Nasrudin Hasan as well as Umno supreme council member Lokman Adam, who is the party's Sungai Kandis by-election candidate.
But the surprise was the appearance of former Umno minister Rais Yatim, who is now a member of Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).
At the gathering that lasted from 9am to 2pm, Tan Sri Rais spoke against the ruling coalition's decision to recognise a Chinese-language secondary level qualification used by private schools teaching in Mandarin - a move promised in its May 9 election manifesto.
"UEC is a question of sovereignty, race, nationhood and nationality," he said, referring to the Unified Examination Certificate used by 60 independent schools in Malaysia.
"What the voice of the majority is saying is we don't want it," he added.
The qualification is currently not recognised by public universities in Malaysia, except for a degree in Chinese language education, It is, however, accepted in Singapore and by top institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and California Institute of Technology.
The UEC has become a heated racial issue since Education Minister Maszlee Malik - Mr Rais' PPBM colleague - insisted on July 12 that the government would fulfil its election pledge.
Mr Rais had turned his back on Umno just before the May 9 elections and campaigned for PH.
Government sources told The Straits Times that he was slated to be president of the International Islamic University, but was asked to forego the appointment to be Speaker of Parliament instead.
However, he was eventually overlooked for this role.
Umno and PAS have continued with race and religious rhetoric after losing the general election, insisting that their campaign warnings that the Malay Muslim majority would find their special position diminished have come true.
Although PH won a comfortable majority on May 9, analysts say they took home only a third of Malay votes.