Najib moves to ease race tension

(The Malaysian Insider) – Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak today moved to smother the build-up of angst and confusion surrounding his One Malaysia concept, urging his Cabinet to view all citizens as Malaysians.

While he did not flesh out the concept during the first Cabinet meeting, he told his ministers to think of everyone in this country as members of the one team, instead of describing their constituents as Malays, Chinese and Indians.

This reminder was issued in the wake of a growing disaffection among non-Malays toward the Barisan Nasional government and a percolating debate among various groups in the country of what the One Malaysia concept really means.

Umno and Malay groups believe that the concept reaffirms the affirmative action programme but allows for help to be given to the underprivileged, regardless of race. The Opposition and non-Malays say that the policy means equality for all citizens.

Najib, who has made One Malaysia the theme of his administration, also told his ministers that everyone starts with a clean slate, and he was not interested in past performances or affiliations. Every one of them was a member of his team.

And what mattered was the key performance index set for each minister, warning them that there would be dire consequences if targets were not met.

Najib did not elaborate on what the consequences would be but it is understood that underperforming ministers could be shown the door by the end of the year.

Several ministers told The Malaysian Insider that the PM urged them to focus on the economy. He believed that BN’s fortunes at the next general elections will be decided largely by whether the government is able to chart a speedy recovery from the economic slowdown and how successful the government is putting money into the pockets of Malaysians.

In its latest report, the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research said that it expected the economy to record negative growth of -2.2 per cent this year. Economists also believe that the rate of unemployment will spike to over five per cent in 2009, double the usual rate of unemployment.

After chairing the Cabinet meeting, Najib met senior editors of the mainstream media. He was expected to tell them to focus on bringing Malaysians of different races together, instead of highlighting differences.