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Najib clarifies position on NEP - (ref. malaysiakini)

Referring to the last report on that I credited (here), Najib has come out to clarify his statement. Malaysian Insider reports:

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 —Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has said he is ready to dismantle a decades-old policy favouring Malays, marking a significant change from the government's staunch defence of the policy in the past.

A close aide to Najib, however, told The Straits Times that the Deputy Premier had said there would be a “gradual liberalisation of some of the elements of NEP”, and not the entire programme.

This could take place in the “not-too-distant future”, Najib had earlier said of the New Economic Policy (NEP) set up in 1971 by his father, Tun Abdul Razak, the then-premier, to help the country's Malays.

His remarks appear to be aimed at appeasing disgruntled non-Malays as well as disillusioned Malay youth who say the NEP serves only the interests of a select few, say observers.

“If we do not change, the people will change us. In the not-too-distant future, we will see all the elements of the New Economic Policy being replaced,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg.

The policy favours ethnic Malays and indigenous groups, or Bumiputeras, in public offerings, housing, government scholarships, procurement and employment. It has repeatedly drawn criticism from non-Malays, who complain it has led to distortions in the economy and cronyism.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had also capitalised on unhappiness with the NEP while pushing his multiracial platform — which contributed to his coalition's surprise victory in the March polls — and said he would scrap it if he seizes power.

With his latest comments, Najib — who is slated to take over from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi in March — is beginning to sound like Anwar. His remarks could be part of Umno's efforts to stem a slide in support, which saw it suffering major losses at the polls.

Some analysts remained sceptical, however, over Umno's readiness to give up the NEP, noting that it has helped many of its members.

James Chin, political science lecturer at the Monash University Malaysia Campus, said Najib was simply making the right noises to impress the non-Malay electorate as well as the global business community.

“Najib's statement was aimed at the business community. He understands that with the financial crisis the world is facing, Malaysia has to reform, especially on its NEP in order to attract new foreign direct investment,” he told The Straits Times.

“‘Not-too-distant future’ can mean any time between now and 100 years.”

Najib yesterday was also quoted as saying it was time for Umno leaders to conduct themselves in such a way that they would appeal to a wider audience, if they wanted to stay in power.

He was responding to former deputy premier Tun Musa Hitam's stinging criticism this week that the party was “too introverted” and suffering from old-age sickness.

Another Umno politician who is now whistling a different tune is Khairy Jamaluddin, the 32-year-old son-in-law of Abdullah. A year ago, he was taking the ultra-Malay approach of many politicians but now he is all for multiracial politics.

“The level of multi-ethnic camaraderie within BN is still lacking. It is as though we come together only for electoral purposes because we are part of this pact, the same coalition,” he said in an interview published in The Sun yesterday.

“There is no genuine feeling of a shared destiny, of a common future. That's something we have to change and I feel very strongly about that.”

But critics say the change could be too little, too late to save Khairy's reputation.

Even within Umno, he is struggling to garner nominations in the race with Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, son of former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for the post of chief of Umno Youth. — Straits Times