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Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Thursday, 21 May 2009 16:00 UK

Malaysia's PM vows ethnic reforms

Najib Razak, March 09
Since taking over as PM, Najib Razak has already altered the policy

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has outlined plans to dismantle the decades-old preferment system for ethnic Malays.

He told newspapers in Singapore that the long-term benefits of ending the scheme would outweigh the "pain".

The affirmative action programme, launched in 1970, remains one of the most divisive aspects of Malaysia's multi-ethnic society.

It uniquely favours the Malay majority over the Chinese and Indian minorities.

Malays can buy homes at a discount and have privileged access to higher education and certain employment sectors, among other benefits.

'Warlord'

In an interview for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, Mr Najib said that ethnic quotas damaged his country's competitiveness and ran counter to global trends.

He framed his move in combative terms, describing himself as a "warlord" who would face down opposition from smaller chiefs in his party.

Mr Najib's comments were made to reporters in largely Chinese Singapore, and analysts say his words may have been bolder than they would have been at home.

Since coming to power in March, Mr Najib has already altered the system slightly by removing the obligation for firms in some sectors to have at least 30% Malay ownership.

But if he abandons the policy completely, he is certain to expect anger from the Malay community which provides the bulk of support for his ruling Umno party.

By contrast, his actions may prove attractive with Chinese and Indian voters, who largely support the opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim, and have long denounced ethnic quotas and advantages as racist.



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