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Opposition to unravel pro-ethnic policy


March 12, 2008

Opposition to unravel pro-ethnic policy

Malaysia's opposition said it would dismantle the country's controversial pro-ethnic Malay affirmative action policy in the states it has won control, reported Kyodo news agency.

Lim Guan Eng, the newly sworn chief minister of Penang State, said in a statement that the opposition, which controls five key states will run the government administration free from the New Economic Policy that breeds cronyism, corruption and systemic inefficiency.

The NEP, introduced in 1971, aimed to reduce racial economic disparities by giving preferential treatment to the majority ethnic Malays in terms of government contracts, loans and jobs among other advantages.

Malays constitute more than 60 percent of the country's 27 million people, the Chinese make up 25 percent, Indians 8 percent, and the rest are indigenous groups.

The policy, however, has come under heavy criticism for its opaque implementation that often enriched only well-connected Malays or cronies of the ruling party when public projects were doled out as a form of political patronage.

Lim's Democratic Action Party led the opposition to a stunning upset by breaking the National Front coalition's 39-year stranglehold on Penang.

Penang is a major industrial powerhouse in the country and home to such multinational corporations as Intel and Sony.

Together with other opposition parties, the People's Justice Party and the Pan Islamic Party, the opposition has also, for the first time, conquered Selangor, Perak and Kedah, all equally important industrial states.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is now the de facto opposition leader, said the opposition's Malaysian Economic Agenda "can be implemented at state level to reduce race-based affirmative action policies and begin to implement a more competitive, merit-based system.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that he would form a cabinet comprising "those who can work" to regain the confidence of the people.

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