New DPM vows racial equality

A SENIOR Malaysian minister has vowed to end economic discrimination against the country's ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities in a bid to revive government support, an official said on Tuesday.

Malaysia, which has a substantial population of minorities, has a system of affirmative action that gives preference to its Muslim-Malay majority in awarding contracts, government jobs and scholarships.

Ethnic Chinese and Indians, who together make up a third of the country's 27 million people, want to see an end to the policy. Many are also non-Muslims and complain that their religious rights have also been threatened.

International Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin pledged the government would ensure that the 'economic cake' was shared equally in Malaysia, where Malays comprise 60 per cent of the population, said an aide to Mr Muhyiddin who declined to be named, citing protocol.

Mr Muhyiddin, who last week was elected deputy president of the ruling party, is expected to take over as deputy prime minister this week. He replaced Najib Razak, who was elected party president, and succeed Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

'We want to implement more effective social programmes. We begin by having a new leadership,' the New Straits Times quoted Nr Muhyiddin as saying. 'We admit that we have weaknesses and have made mistakes in the past.' His aide confirmed the comments.

His comments, while speaking to reporters on Monday, come at a crucial time for the ruling National Front coalition. The alliance, which has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957, has lost significant support recently to Anwar Ibrahim's three-party opposition alliance amid rising complaints by the minorities. Last year the coalition saw its worst election results ever, and since then it has lost two other by-elections.

Mr Muhyiddin is currently leading the National Front's campaign for special elections in northern Malaysia. The contests for one vacant parliamentary seat and two state legislature seats are to be held on April 7.

Mr Muhyiddin said the special elections were the right time for the new government leaders to show their commitment to reforms.

He did not, however, offer any specifics. — AP