Ethnic Chinese flay leader's remarks
Kuala Lumpur: Ethnic Chinese politicians yesterday denounced a Malaysian ruling party official who reportedly described the minority Chinese as "immigrants" who should not receive equal treatment with the Malay Muslim majority.
The uproar has rekindled debate about the rights of ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities who have grown increasingly vocal about alleged government discrimination in economic social and religious policies.
Ahmad Ismail a northern district chief in the United Malays National Organisation party incensed minorities after local media quoted him as telling a largely Malay audience in a speech on August 25 that "as the Chinese were only immigrants it was impossible to achieve equal rights among races".
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak made a rare public apology to minorities late on Tuesday saying Ahmad's statement was "totally unwarranted and does not reflect the position and the attitude" of the ruling party.
"We regret it very much" Najib was quoted as saying by the national news agency Bernama. "They [the minorities] are Malaysian citizens who have aaaa rights and we will definitely safeguard their interests and their dignity."
Most ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians are descendants of 19th and early 20th century immigrants who came here as labourers and miners during the British colonial rule. The Chinese now comprise a quarter of Malaysia's 27 million people while Indians form less than 10 per cent.
Malays who constitute about 60 per cent of the population enjoy a host of privileges in jobs education and business as part of affirmative action policies launched in 1970.
Growing dissatisfaction about racial favouritism prompted many ethnic Chinese and Indians to vote against the government in March general elections. Many Malays also backed the opposition causing the ruling coalition to retain power with only a simple parliamentary majority. Gerakan an ethnic Chinese-based party in the ruling coalition said in a statement that the furore over Ahmad's comments proved that the government "will continue to lose support".