A predominantly ethnic Chinese party threatened yesterday to desert Malaysia’s ruling coalition if it does not curb racial discrimination, just weeks after another minority party quit amid growing dissent in the government.
Leaders of the Gerakan party estimate that more than half their members want the party to leave Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s National Front coalition, largely due to frustrations regarding policies linked to racial issues, party Vice President Teng Hock Nan said.
Abdullah has been struggling to keep the 13-party coalition together after it performed poorly in March general elections. The coalition retained power with less than its longtime two-thirds parliamentary majority and ceded five of Malaysia’s 13 states to the opposition.
Gerakan has two lawmakers in parliament and while the National Front would not lose its parliamentary majority if the party quit, the move would be a massive blow to morale — and could prompt more parties to desert the coalition.
Officials in Gerakan, which lost control of the northern industrial Penang state, believe leaving the National Front is “one of the options” if the coalition is “not willing to initiate drastic changes,” particularly to curb racial discrimination, Teng said.
Minority leaders accuse the Malay Muslim-dominated government of neglecting their communities in economic, social and religious policies. Discontent over issues such as an affirmative action program for Malays spurred minorities to vote for the opposition in March.
Earlier this month, the Sabah Progressive Party, a small, largely ethnic Chinese party, deserted the National Front to become independent because of disenchantment with Abdullah’s leadership.
Gerakan Secretary-General Chia Kwang Chye said party officials were likely to discuss the possibility of leaving the coalition at their annual congress on Oct. 11. Teng said the party has set no deadline for a decision, adding that it has no immediate plans to join opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s three-party alliance.
The National Front, dominated by Abdullah’s United Malays National Organization, has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957.