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Ethnic cracks widen in Malaysia’s ruling coalition

Posted on: 9 September, 2008

By SEAN YOONG,Associated Press Writer AP – 2 hours 15 minutes ago

      KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysia’s governing coalition sought to defuse a racial row Tuesday after a Malay official made a stunning outburst by warning the ethnic Chinese minority not to become greedy for political and economic power.
Ahmad Ismail, a district chief in the United Malays National Organization ruling party, claimed that the Malay majority was losing patience with minorities, particularly ethnic Chinese politicians.

“I urge the Chinese not to become like the Jewish in America, where it is not enough that they control the economy, but they also want to dominate politics,” Ahmad told a news conference late Monday in northern Penang state.

“Consider this a warning from the Malays,” Ahmad said. “The patience of the Malays has a limit. Do not push us against the wall, for we will be forced to turn back and push the Chinese for our own survival.”

Gerakan, an ethnic Chinese-based party in the National Front coalition government, later announced it was severing ties with Ahmad and Malay officials in Penang who publicly backed him. Gerakan leaders have recently warned they may consider quitting the government, largely due to dissatisfaction over racial issues.

The National Front comprises 14 groups spearheaded by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s Malay party, which shares power with parties that have traditionally represented ethnic Chinese, Indians and other minorities.

The dispute is a fresh headache for Abdullah, who is struggling to hold the coalition together amid a threat by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to seize power by luring government lawmakers to his side by next week.

Growing dissatisfaction about racial policies prompted many Chinese and Indians to vote against the government in March general elections. Many Malays also backed the opposition, causing the National Front to retain power with only a simple parliamentary majority.

     Abdullah said he was “utterly unhappy” with Ahmad’s comments and promised to “take stern action over the matter.”

Chinese officials are likely to pressure Abdullah at a National Front meeting Tuesday to penalize Ahmad, who rankled ethnic Chinese last month when he described them as “squatters” and “immigrants.” Police said last week they were investigating Ahmad for possible sedition, which is punishable by three years in prison.

Most Chinese and Indian Malaysians are descendants of 19th and early 20th century immigrants who came as traders, laborers and miners during British colonial rule.

Ethnic Chinese now comprise a quarter of Malaysia’s 27 million people, while Indians form less than 10 percent. They have grown increasingly vocal about alleged government discrimination in economic, social and religious policies.

Malays, who constitute about 60 percent of the population, enjoy a host of privileges in jobs, education and business as part of an affirmative action program launched in 1970 following racial riots fueled by Malay frustration over the Chinese community’s wealth.

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