Former Malaysian PM Apologizes Over ‘Keling’ Reference to Indians

Mahathir Mohamad was widely criticized for using the term "keling" to refer to Indians.


Facing criticism from all corners, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on April 9 issued an apology to the Malaysian-Indian community for referring to them as “keling,” the New Strait Times reported.

Mohamad, who is the chairman of the political alliance Pakatan Harapan, and the Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate, said at a press conference that the term was “widely used” when he was a boy.

“I would like to apologize to the Indian community because I used the derogatory term. I never meant to insult anyone but when I was a boy, we used that word but it is now considered derogatory. I apologize if I have caused any problems to them,” he said at a press conference held at Yayasan Selangor in Petaling Jaya in Malaysia.

Mohamad was criticized by netizens, non-governmental groups, and politicians for using the term at an event on April 7. While National Human Rights Society (Hakam) chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan asked him to stop using the word, political party Makkal Sakti lodged a complaint against him at the Butterworth police station.

Sreenevasan said that even if the word was commonly used in the former minister’s home state of Kedah, and not considered insulting there, it was still unacceptable and hurtful to the Indian community.

Among those who attacked Mohamad over the issue was P Waytha Moorthy, the chairman of Hindraf, a coalition of Hindu non-governmental groups, who said that using the term was unbecoming of the 93-year-old leader.

Mohamad had initially refused to apologize, saying the term did not have negative connotations where he was raised. This is also not the first time he has been embroiled in a controversy for using the term “keling.” A 25-second long video clip showing him skewering Prime Minister Najib Razak’s handling of Islamic State terrorist network surfaced in 2016, in which he was shown to have said: “On Najib fighting IS, we can see Najib holding a rifle to fight IS. What do the keling say, ‘podah’ (get lost). All lies.”

This time, he used the term when talking in Muar town about Pakatan Harapan, which needs approval from the Election Commission to use a common logo for all its component parties. On April 10, Mohamad said People’s Justice Party (PKR) president Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is prepared to sign 700 credential letters to allow all of the coalition’s hopefuls to use her party’s symbol.

Mohamad is set to contest the upcoming elections from Langkawi, Kedah, Channel NewsAsia reported. Malaysia goes to polls on May 9.

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