PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Two major public rallies will take place in Malaysia's Klang Valley on Saturday (Dec 8), with both sides rallying to uphold human rights in their own context.
Opposition groups Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and Umno, along with Malay-Muslim non-governmental organisations, plan to hold a public demonstration at an open field in Kuala Lumpur.
In Petaling Jaya, about 16km away, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will be the chief guest in a celebration of universal human rights at a rally in an open field, in what is seen as a counter rally to the opposition gathering.
Both rallies have been given the green light by the authorities, in a signal of higher tolerance for freedom of expression under the six-month-old Pakatan Harapan government.
The opposition parties say their rally will gather half a million protesters at Dataran Merdeka in downtown KL.
They wanted to celebrate the Mahathir government's decision backing away from ratifying the United Nations' International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), an issue that has united strongly PAS, Umno and many Malay-Muslim NGOs.
Many Malay-Muslim groups are worried that ratifying the ICERD would dilute their rights by eliminating the longstanding bumiputera policy, reducing the role of Islam and the power of the Malay royal houses.
The anti-ICERD rally will begin at 2pm and end at 6pm that day.
About half an hour away by road in Padang Timur, Petaling Jaya, Tun Mahathir is expected to speak at a rally organised by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).
The rights group Suhakam supports the ratification of ICERD and said its rally was planned months ago.
But the coalition of Malay NGOs Ummah, the key organiser of the anti-ICERD rally, said it was not aware of the event in Petaling Jaya.
Both sides are calling on the other side to call off their event.
Said Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail: "This is a different Malaysia and we need to sensitise Malaysians on the need for human rights. We now have a healthy modicum of human rights, although we have not reached the ideal state and we should celebrate it.
"This is not a rally to complain to the government - this is a celebration of human rights in this country."
Ummah secretariat chief Aminuddin Yahya said the Suhakam rally should be called off.
"Come and support us instead," he said.
ICERD became a bone of contention recently when the Pakatan Harapan government mooted to ratify the UN charter, but the opposition parties Umno and PAS said it went against Article 153 of the Federal Constitution which uphold the rights of bumiputera - Malays and other indigenous races.
The Mahathir government on Nov 23 decided it would not ratify ICERD.