Racial politics heats up

In his efforts to boost appeal across races, Mr Najib Razak launched 1Malaysia, a programme that promotes inclusion and 'Malaysian' values. –PHOTO: REUTERS

A SHARPENING of racial language from Malaysia's largest ruling party may put at risk Prime Minister Najib Razak's efforts to win back support from ethnic minorities and dampen his economic reform plans.

Mr Najib's United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the country's main ruling party, has ramped up language designed to to appeal to majority Malays who make up 55 per cent of the Southeast Asian country's 27 million population.

The move comes after the National Front coalition made a surprisingly strong showing in a state by-election last month in a Malay seat and ahead of another state seat vote on Aug 25.

Senior Umno leaders have described the rainbow three-party opposition group led by Anwar Ibrahim, which offers itself as a less racial alternative to the ruling coalition, as being traitors to the Malay race.

'If there are trouble makers who create controversy and racial issues, we regard them as traitors to our race who need to be fought to the end,' Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Sunday.

His views are echoed by the country's pro-government Malay language newspapers, which have portrayed the opposition and Anwar as being anti-Malay.

'What the Chinese, Indians and PAS (Pan Malaysian Islamic Party, an opposition party) want right now is larger political and administrative powers. Not justice and democracy,' read a column in the Umno owned Malay daily Utusan Malaysia on August 4.

Umno has led the government for 51 years and is engaged in a battle with the Islamist PAS for Malay votes and its interests sometimes run counter to the other 12 race-based parties that represent ethnic Chinese and Indians in the National Front. The coalition stumbled to its worst showing in national and state elections in parliament in 2008 and Mr Najib took office in April this year pledging a more inclusive approach to ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

He has liberalised financial services and ended some rules binding companies to 30 percent Malay ownership, partly dismantling a 40 year old policy introduced by his father, Malaysia's second Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein.

These measures, Mr Najib argued, would create wealth by attracting foreign money and boosting domestic investment so the Malays would become richer and more competitive. — REUTERS