Fri, Jan 02, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Malaysian Chinese leader lobbying for meritocracy


A top ethnic Chinese leader in Malaysia’s ruling coalition indirectly called yesterday for scrapping an affirmative action program for the majority Malays in a rare challenge to the fount of government power.

With the global economy facing an uncertain future this year, Malaysia must “attract the best brains and professionals to help steer the ship away from rough, uncharted waters,” Malaysian Transport Minister Ong Tee Keat said in his New Year’s message.

“We have no choice but to embrace meritocracy in our practices,” said Ong, who is also the head of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the second-biggest party in the ruling National Front coalition after the United Malays National Organization.

It is the first time that an MCA leader has openly called for meritocracy, which can only be achieved by abolishing the affirmative action program that gives Malays privileges in state contracts, jobs, housing and education.

The program was launched following 1969 racial riots that were fueled partly by Malay discontent over Chinese financial clout. But now it has become a renewed source of social tension because of frustration among the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities who comprise 40 percent of the population. Malays are 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people.

Critics of the program, including some Malays, say it mainly benefits a well-connected Malay elite and breeds cronyism, corruption and inefficiency.

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