“Hussein Onn has regretted making Tun M deputy UMNO president in 1976”

MALAYSIA’S third prime minister (PM) Tun Hussein Onn told me after his retirement in the 1980s that his biggest mistake in life was making Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad the UMNO deputy president in 1976 for this allowed the latter to twice become the country’s PM which spans close to a quarter of a century.

That choosing Dr Mahathir as UMNO deputy president in 1976 after six weeks of indecision – by-passing Tun Ghafar Baba, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Tun Ghazali Shafie – was Hussein Onn’s biggest mistake was again highlighted yesterday (July 3) when Dr Mahathir alleged that promoting a multi-racial Malaysia runs afoul of the Federal Constitution and that DAP was a danger to the Malays and Islam.

Dr Mahathir alleged that it is against the Federal constitution to promote a multi-racial nation and that DAP is holding Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to ransom by wanting to replace Islam as the official religion with a secular state or country with no official religion.

Pic credit: Utara News

Dr Mahathir cannot be more wrong.

Did DAP which had 42 MPs after the 2018 General Elections – more MPs than now – held Dr Mahathir as PM of the 22-month Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to ransom to do away with Islam as the official religion?

When Dr Mahathir spoke at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September 2018 and promised to ratify international covenants – including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) – DAP knew nothing about the proposed ICERD ratification although it was subsequently the target of demonisation for being anti-Malay, anti-Islam and anti-Royalty.

Ignorance of Federal Constitution

Although Dr Mahathir was PM twice for close to a quarter of a century, he seems to be ignorant of the Federal Constitution.

I ask Dr Mahathir to read Article 3 of the Malaysian Constitution where there is no reference to any official religion.

Article 3(1) states: “Islam is the religion of the Federation but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation”.

There is no provision for any official religion in the Malaysian Constitution. But the understanding and tolerance of the non-Muslims in Malaysia to Islam is such that Malaysians, whether Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Sikhists or Taoists, have no objection to Islam becoming the official religion of Malaysia.

The same applies to the DAP. I do not know from where Dr Mahathir got the notion that it is against the Federal Constitution to promote a multi-racial nation.

Is Dr Mahathir saying that his Vision 2020 and its nine strategic challenges were unconstitutional? The first three Prime Ministers of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahmn, Tun Razak Hussain and Hussein Onn were multi-racialists.

Look at Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution which does not dictate the racial identity of who can be PM but states that it must be one who commands the majority support of the MPs who themselves must be voted in by their respective constituents.

Former US president Barack Obama

I reiterate what I said last year:

“In the US, a black man named Barack Obama became the president of the US but it took place some 230 years after the establishment of the US in 1776.

“While I hope Malaysia would not need 230 years before a non-Malay can become PM, I do not expect a non-Malay to become a Malaysian PM in the 21st century.

“Whether there will be a non-Malay PM in the 22nd or 23rd century will depend on whether the politics of identity will continue to be so primordial and elemental in the Malaysian political landscape as it is today.”

There is no animosity and hatred among the races and religions in multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural Malaysia. The country is well-placed to be the role model of the world in inter-ethnic, inter-religious, inter-cultural and inter-civilisation dialogue, understanding, tolerance and harmony.

But there are  personalities in the country who desire otherwise, who want to set race against race and religion against religion and want to exploit lies, falsehood, fake news and hate speech in the impending six state polls.

It is an added tragedy that such a personality includes someone who was twice PM for close to a quarter of a century – and who established a world record in losing his deposit in parliamentary elections.

DAP has been accused of exploiting the 3R issues which is untrue and baseless. In fact, right from the start of the first general election in 1969 which DAP contested, the DAP had fielded candidates representing all races and all religions.

It is a well-known and established fact that PAS president Tan Sri Hadi Awang had made all sorts of baseless and wicked allegations against the DAP and me personally – that I am anti-Malay, anti-Islam, anti-Royalty, a communist and promoting Islamophobia – but when repeatedly challenged to substantiate these preposterous allegations, he was unable to do so.

It is Malaysia’s shame and tragedy that Dr Mahathir is now in the same boat as Hadi. – July 4, 2023


Veteran lawmaker and retired DAP supremo Tan Sri Lim Kit Siang was the former MP for Iskandar Puteri.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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