Malaysia's next PM pledges racial equality

By Tuesday March 31st, 2009 No Comments

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia_Malaysia’s incoming prime minister reached out Tuesday to discontented ethnic minorities, saying his government will support all those in need “regardless of race or religion.”

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak made the comments during a visit to the office of Sin Chew daily, the biggest Chinese-language newspaper, where he showered praise on the Chinese community who make up a quarter of the population in this Malay-majority country.

“The Malaysian Chinese community has (played) and will forever play a vital role in the fabric of our nation,” Najib, who is expected to take over as prime minister this week, said during a meeting with the senior staff of the daily.

Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian minorities have long chaffed at what they see as arrogance of the Malay majority, who control the government and the politics. The minorities also complain of discrimination in jobs, education and religious rights.

“I have pledged to develop a government that respects the voices of all Malaysians,” Najib said.

“We have already instituted a number of policies … designed to support all those in need, regardless of race or religion,” Najib said, according to a statement by his office.

However, Najib did not explicitly say if he will abolish a decades-old affirmative action program that gives preferences to Malays in jobs, education, business, land purchases and other aspects of life. The program, called the New Economic Policy, is at the core of the minorities’ complaints.

Anti-government anger among Chinese and Indians, which has been building up over years, led to a significant loss of support for the ruling National Front ruling coalition in the March 2008 elections. The Front has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957 but there is no guarantee it will win the next elections in 2013.

In 2008, most minority voters migrated to Anwar Ibrahim’s three-party opposition alliance, which promises to abolish the New Economic Policy and build a racially fair country.

Najib will take over from Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is stepping down to take blame for the election losses.

Najib’s comments came a day after the minister scheduled to become his deputy said the government will end economic discrimination against the ethnic Chinese and Indians.

The government will ensure that the “economic cake” is shared equally in Malaysia, International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.

“We admit that we have weaknesses and have made mistakes in the past,” he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source : The Associated Press

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