Sabah rights activist criticises Dr M's notion of Malay 'owned' Malaysia

KOTA KINABALU: Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has misplaced the notion that Malaysia belongs to the Malays, says a Sabah rights activist.

Datuk James Ligunjang, also a former state assemblyman, said Malaysia’s population is a rich tapestry, woven largely from the threads of migration throughout South-East Asia.

“A significant portion of the Malaysian Malay population traces its lineage to regions like Aceh, Java, Sulawesi, and other parts of Indonesia, as well as Pattani in Southern Thailand,” he said.

This diverse heritage is reflected in public statements from figures such as Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who, in an interview with an Indonesian TV network years back, identified himself as Javanese, he said.

Ligunjang said this blending of cultures and ancestries is central to the Malaysian identity.

He said the mosaic of Malaysia’s citizenry includes descendants of Indonesian, Chinese, Indian, and Thai origin, among others.

“These groups settled in various parts of what is now Malaysia at different times over the past two hundred years.

“The indigenous tribes of Sabah and Sarawak, along with the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia, are considered to be the land’s original inhabitants,” added Ligunjang.

Given this rich tapestry of historical movement and settlement, he said the notion that Malaysia is exclusively “owned” by those who identify as Malay lacks substantial grounding.

He stated that the country’s narrative is one of pluralism and shared heritage, acknowledging that the current demographic landscape results from centuries of migration and intermingling.

“Therefore, it is essential for us to recognise ourselves as Malaysians sharing a common purpose, embracing and celebrating our plurality,” Ligunjang said.

Recently, Dr Mahathir faced backlash from various leaders after he claimed in a recent interview with a Tamil news channel based in Chennai, India, that Malaysian Indians were not completely loyal to the country because they still identified with their country of origin.

He also said that a person should identify as Malay to have the right to call the country their own and that non-Malays should fully assimilate and “become Malay”.

He has since defended his remarks and said he is ready to meet with National Unity Minister Datuk Aaron Ago Dagang.

Aaron said in a post on X that his ministry is willing to meet with Dr Mahathir if he continuously voices sensitive issues that could disrupt the harmony between races.