Thursday, March 25, 2010

[ZESTCaste] New group defends Malaysia racial economic perks

The Associated Press March 24, 2010, 12:24PM ET

New group defends Malaysia racial economic perks


A Malaysian nationalist group accused by minorities of fanning racial
intolerance will soon step up efforts to ensure the government retains
affirmative action policies for the ethnic Malay Muslim majority, an
official said Wednesday.

Perkasa, which means "mighty" in the Malay language, will hold its
first national congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city, on
Saturday with an expected attendance of 10,000 people, according to

The meeting will be its biggest platform so far to "fight for the
rights of the Malays according to the Constitution," Zubir Harun, head
of Perkasa's economic bureau, said.

It will be opened by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a strong
supporter of the group since its formation last year. Perkasa leaders
say more than 60,000 Malays have submitted applications to join the
organization in recent months.

Perkasa is led by Ibrahim Ali, an independent member of Parliament who
has drawn criticism, particularly from the ethnic Chinese and Indian
minorities, for insisting that Malays must step up efforts to defend
policies that give them wide privileges in jobs, education, housing
and business opportunities.

The policies were instituted in the early 1970s to help Malays -- who
comprise nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people -- catch up
with the more affluent ethnic Chinese, who make up about a quarter of
the population.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has rolled back parts of the policies in
the past year to boost the economy, including scrapping a requirement
for 30 percent Malay ownership in sectors such as health and
transport. Najib is expected to announce economic liberalization
reforms next week -- which could include more cutbacks to Malay perks
-- to make the country more competitive and attractive to investors.

Perkasa said changing the program could spark "a time bomb in society,
because dissatisfaction will rise among Malays and could cause
political and social unrest," said Zubir, the Perkasa official.

"If you open up everything, what is left for the Malays? Nothing.
Don't push us against the wall. Already the Chinese control every
sector of the economy," Zubir told The Associated Press.

Critics of the affirmative action policies, including some Malays, say
they mainly benefit a well-connected Malay elite and breed cronyism,
corruption and inefficiency.

Malaysia has nurtured decades of multiethnic peace, but some fear
divisive debates about ethnic issues, such as alleged discrimination
against minorities, could destabilize the country.

Zubir rejected accusations by many ethnic Chinese and Indian social
activists that Perkasa's leaders are racist and promote ethnic

"We are moderate Malays, we are not radical or aggressive," he said.
"We do research, we hold round table dialogues, we engage the
government and other races. We believe in peaceful engagement. We will
do more after (the) assembly."

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