Malaysia leader’s racial unity campaign hits snag

By Sean Yoong (AP)

A campaign by Malaysia's new prime minister to promote racial harmony received a jolt after a pro-ruling party newspaper Wednesday urged the Malay majority to "rise and unite" against demands by ethnic minorities.

In a front-page article, the Utusan Malaysia daily quoted several Malay politicians and activists as saying Malays should put aside their political differences so that they can jointly resist pressure from the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

"The Malays must rise and unite in facing the demands of other races that are now seen as increasingly excessive," the article's opening paragraph said.

It was apparently referring to recent calls by ethnic Indian government politicians for higher Cabinet posts and vocal complaints by minorities against longtime government policies that give majority Malays priority in jobs, education and business opportunities. The government says Malays lag behind minorities economically.

The timing of the article _ when Prime Minister Najib Razak is promoting unity _ reflects anger among many Malay leaders to the increasing boldness of minorities.

The Malay-language Utusan Malaysia is the country's most widely read newspaper and is controlled by the United Malays National Organization party. It dominates the ruling National Front coalition and claims to speak for many of the Malays who form nearly 60 percent of the population. Chinese are a quarter of the population and Indians some 8 percent.

UMNO's partners in the National Front are ethnic Chinese, Indian and other minority parties, which have faced increasing pressure in recent years from their constituents who complain the Malay set-aside programs are unfair.

In an attempt to heal the rifts, Najib started a campaign called "One Malaysia" after taking power earlier this month. Its aim is to propagate mutual trust and respect among races.

On Tuesday, Najib visited a Sikh temple and urged Malaysians to "break down any obstructions between the races and not view each other based on skin color."

Najib has not yet outlined specific measures to achieve the goal, and his slogan has drawn criticism from opposition politicians who have labeled it as vague rhetoric that is too weak to tackle racial disputes that have multiplied in recent years.

The Utusan Malaysia article appeared to have been partly prompted also by Chinese criticism earlier this week of Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's recent comments that Chinese voters seemed unappreciative of the government.

Jeff Ooi, an ethnic Chinese opposition member of Parliament, wrote on his popular blog Wednesday that Utusan Malaysia's article illustrated how Najib's "One Malaysia" slogan "is indeed different things to different people until Najib can define it properly."