Amidst rolling speculation of snap elections, and following provocative allegations that Malays are marginalised in Penang, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is expected to announce several initiatives to help the Malays there soon.
Abdullah told the New Straits Times the problems faced by the Malays on the island were serious and needed to be addressed. Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop said, “The Prime Minister is very keen to resolve the housing problems faced especially by the Malays in Penang,” and would soon announce several strategic initiatives to address this problem. He said the issue that disturbed him was that, "Most housing projects in the George Town city centre are way beyond the reach of the Malays. This resulted in the community living in uncomfortable flats and their children left with no choice but to move out,” and also, "…contributed to various social problems, in particular, drug addiction among the young."
This statement comes after Penang Umno Youth and several Umno politicians had criticised the Penang state government, in particular Chief Minister Koh Tsu Koon, for neglecting the Malays. Most provocative was UMNO Youth Deputy President and Abdullah’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin who created a storm with his allegations that Malays were marginalised in Penang. Against the backdrop of the recent furore sparked by Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s remarks that Indonesia and Malaysia “systematically marginalise” their minority Chinese populations, Malaysia’s parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang on Friday (6 October 2006) questioned why no similar action had been taken against Khairy if “marginalisation talk is incitement or seditious”.
It is interesting to note that the announcement of plans to help Malays in Penang also comes amidst Abdullah’s moves to publicly refute the controversial findings of a study by a think-tank, which concludes that the government's affirmative action policy has already exceeded its aim. The study conducted by the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) as input for the Ninth Malaysia Plan, concludes that bumiputeras own 45 per cent of the business equity in Malaysia. This data is crucial to the continuation of a government policy that helps Malays get a larger share of the economic pie. Abdullah rejected the independent study on Thursday (5 October) as baseless; calling it irresponsible and saying Malays are still far behind. What is likely to be more worrying for Umno politicians however, is the fact that the survey results have also drawn attention to the long-standing question of whether the affirmative action policy has in fact not helped the majority of bumiputeras, but has merely concentrated wealth in the hands of a few.
Meanwhile, Abdullah has denied recent speculation that he will call snap elections. The swirling speculation was sparked by the Umno supreme council’s recent decision to postpone its own party polls. He said Thursday (5 October) that he has no reason to go to the ballot box; arguing that the huge mandate he received following the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition’s landslide victory in 2004 was intact, and made clear that his focus was on making good his promises to the electorate. Political pundits and opposition politicians believed that Abdullah was keen to seek a fresh mandate after a few difficult months of criticism on his style of governing the country and having his leadership openly questioned by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Political observers here believe that the party polls were delayed to avoid a bruising internal fight before the general election. Mahathir was widely expected to play a major role in party polls, with some speculation that he was even prepared to support a challenger to Abdullah. By delaying the party polls, Abdullah has used a tried and tested method of uniting his party to prepare for a general election rather than having to deal with internal divisions.
While top politicians have downplayed the possibility of early polls last week, saying the focus should now be on strengthening the party, the major opposition parties - Parti Islam SeMalaysia and the Democratic Action Party - have begun preparations for early polls. The opposition is keen on the prospects of an early election because it believes conditions on the ground will help it recover seats lost during the 2004 election, reported the New Straits Times.
Drive to help Penang Malays: Details soon (New Straits Times, 8 October 2006)
Kit Siang questions PM's stand on 'marginalisation' (The Sun, 6 October 2006)
Piling on second Penang bridge to begin next month (The Star, 8 October 2006)
What is real stake of bumis in KL market? 45%? 18.9%? (The Straits Times, 7 October 2006)
Abdullah sees no reason to seek fresh mandate (New Straits Times, 6 October 2006)
Abdullah quashes early-poll rumours (The Straits Times, 6 October 2006)