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Malaysian PM accused of stoking racial tension

Remarks on Chinese support for opposition lead to street confrontations

Malaysian PM accused of stoking racial tension

Malaysian PM Najib Razak greets media on his May 7 election victory (Picture: AFP/Mohd Rasfan)

Mike MacLachlan, London

May 13, 2013

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Malaysia's prime minister, Najib Razak, has been accused of heightening racial tensions in the country after making a controversial statement on Chinese support for the opposition in the wake of elections earlier this month.

Najib described the surge in support for the opposition in the May 5 polls as “a Chinese tsunami,” referring to backing for the Anwar Ibrahim-led opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) among many Chinese disenchanted at the government’s pro-Malay policies.

The remark has increased racial tension, according to the Global Bersih group, an overseas offshoot of the Kuala Lumpur-based Bersih (“Clean” in the Malay language), which campaigns for electoral reform in Malaysia.

“Global Bersih is most disturbed that Malays on the street are now openly confronting Chinese strangers as a direct result of Najib’s shocking statement,” it said at the weekend.

Close to seven million Malaysian citizens, or one quarter of the population, refer to themselves as Chinese. Most descend from immigrants who arrived in the country in the early 20th century.

Global Bersih appealed to “all bloggers and social media participants to refrain from racist, ethnic or religious taunting.” It added that, “Millions of Malaysians are now standing up to be counted by nationality rather than race, religion or ethnic background.”

It also asked world leaders not to “welcome” the election result without expressing concern at how the poll was conducted. To do so would set “a dangerous precedent in world governance.”

The election resulted in a narrow win for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) amid opposition claims of electoral irregularities, intimidation and vote-buying.

The United States has already expressed concern over these allegations. Global Bersih said that “if other nations don’t follow Washington’s example they will open the door to corrupt, dictatorial and authoritarian regimes who seize and hold on to power by any means.”

It ascribed to “gerrymandering” the fact that the BN took 133 parliamentary seats with only 47.4 per cent of the vote, while the opposition Pakatan Rakyat took only 89 seats with nearly 51 per cent of the vote.

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