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NEWS UPDATES 8 April 2010

Malaysia PM says party supports overhaul of preference system

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the ruling UMNO party backs his controversial plan to dismantle a decades-old system of preferences and quotas for the Malay majority, reported the Associated Press.

"So far, I think they have accepted it," Najib said Tuesday at a dinner with the foreign media in Singapore. "They will realise the policies are sound and can be accepted by all groups in Malaysia."

The United Malays National Organization is the country's biggest party and hard-liners within it may resist ceding institutionalised privileges for Malays.

Malays comprise 60 percent of the country's 28 million people and have benefited from a slew of privileges in jobs, government contracts, education and housing under a program started in 1971 by Najib's father, Abdul Razak, who was Malaysia's second prime minister.

Najib, a 56-year-old Malay, said powerful businessmen may try to undermine him to keep the affirmative action programme in place.

"The rent seekers are quite politically connected," Najib said. "I could be very vulnerable if I keep on attacking those rent seekers."

Najib, who is UMNO's president, didn't specify who the rent seekers were or who within UMNO supports the reforms.

The preference system was initially intended to uplift poor Malays. But critics say the program has become a tool for political patronage and has mostly benefited rich and well-connected Malays while discriminating against the minority ethnic Chinese and Indians.

Najib said affirmative action helped create a Malay middle-class, but going forward government preferences should be given to the poor, no matter their ethnicity.

"It will be more market-friendly, more merit-based and more transparent," Najib said "But affirmative action will remain because we want a fairer society."


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