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Najib defends 'Malays first' policy
Publication Date : 06-12-2013
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has said the United Malays Nasional Organisation (UMNO) will continue to strengthen the economic interests of the Malays and other bumiputeras, returning to a familiar theme of going back to the party's roots after being largely abandoned by Chinese voters at the May general election.
UMNO is a component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, representing the Malays in Malaysia.
In a closely watched speech at his party's annual meeting, he also took swipes at the opposition, including accusing them of scaring away 40 billion ringgit (US$12.4 million) in investments by Taiwanese companies in Johor.
Najib, as UMNO's president, was speaking at the opening of the party's assembly before 3,000 party leaders who were dressed in Malay baju, with most of the men wearing black songkoks and the women in red tudungs (head scarf).
The delegates earlier sang the UMNO anthem heartily while waving Malaysian and party flags, setting off a festive mood in the cavernous hall at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur where the party has its headquarters.
The Malays form about 60 per cent of Malaysia's population of 29 million, while Muslim and non-Muslim bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak add nearly 8 per cent more.
"Considering the fact that 67.9 per cent of the nation's population is made up of them, enhancing their economy should be the primary agenda of the nation as it is pointless to have a developed nation where the majority are neglected.
"With that in mind, the Barisan Nasional and UMNO have worked in creating multiple mediums to serve as an instrument to defend the rights of the Malays," he said.
His speech echoes another in September when he launched a bumiputera economic empowerment programme to ensure that the bumiputeras are given plum projects and easy loans by government agencies. This is despite protests from the opposition and a section of the Malays that the time has come for the BN government led by UMNO to do away with race-based policies.
As political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said: "At the end of the day, he has to decide on whether he wants to be leader of the Malays or of Malaysians."
Still, Najib's speech on Thursday and the one in September reflect the current thinking in UMNO that it must strengthen its Malay and bumiputera base, as it is unlikely that the Chinese voters would return to BN by the next general election in 2018, analysts say. The Indian vote leaned slightly towards BN in the May election.'
"As long as there are stars and moons, and we are able to, we will fight for the empowerment of Malays and bumiputeras," Najib said to cheers.
The three-day assembly of the UMNO that ends on December 7 comes at the tail-end of a tough year of key elections for the 60-year-old prime minister.
He managed to ward off the opposition's determined push to take over the federal government in the May general election. And in October, his allies won all the key posts in the UMNO polls.
Najib in his speech claimed that Malaysia lost 40 billion ringgit in investments for a petrochemical and petroleum refinery project because "a group of opposition members went around scaring investors away". He called the act "betraying the nation".
He also played a video of opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim alleging that the government brought in 40,000 voters from Bangladesh in the May polls, showing up Anwar, who had denied making such allegations. Party leaders said privately that more such spirited attacks against the opposition can be expected.