A senior official will be punished for his racist outburst warning Malaysia's ethnic Chinese minority not to become greedy for political and economic power, the prime minister said Tuesday. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the leaders of Malaysia's 14-party ruling coalition unanimously rejected Ahmad Ismail's remarks and that they "want swift and firm action to be taken" against him.
Ahmad, a district chief in the United Malays National Organization ruling party, claimed that the Malay majority was losing patience with minorities, particularly ethnic Chinese politicians.
"I urge the Chinese not to become like the Jewish in America, where it is not enough that they control the economy, but they also want to dominate politics," Ahmad told a news conference late Monday in northern Penang state.
"Consider this a warning from the Malays," Ahmad said. "The patience of the Malays has a limit. Do not push us against the wall, for we will be forced to turn back and push the Chinese for our own survival."
Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, an American Jewish advocacy group, called the remarks an example of "classic anti-Semitism." But he added: "I'm delighted to hear that there is at least a rejection from the prime minister of this bigotry and anti-Semitism. ... The most important thing is the voice of the prime minister saying that this is bigotry, this is racism, this is unacceptable."
The Muslim Malay majority makes up 60 percent of the Southeast Asian country's 27 million people. Most Chinese and Indian Malaysians are descendants of 19th and early 20th century immigrants who came as traders, laborers and miners during British colonial rule. Ethnic Chinese now comprise a quarter of the population, while Indians form less than 10 percent. They have grown increasingly vocal about alleged government discrimination in economic, social and religious policies.
Malays enjoy a host of privileges in jobs, education and business as part of an affirmative action program launched in 1970 following racial riots fueled by Malay frustration over the Chinese community's wealth.
In a country where racial tensions are palpable but never discussed publicly, Ahmad dropped a bombshell last month by describing the Chinese as "squatters" and "immigrants." The uproar over his comments had barely subsided when he gave a news conference on Monday.
The 14 parties in the National Front represent Malaysia's main races, the majority Malays and the minority Chinese, Indians and others. Ahmad belongs to the Abdullah's United Malays National Organization, the dominant party in the coalition.
Following the comments, the Chinese-based Gerakan party in the National Front severed ties with UMNO's Penang branch, raising fears that it would also do the same at the national level. Gerakan leader Koh Tsu Koon said Tuesday his party would determine its next move after UMNO decides on the disciplinary action against Ahmad.
Abdullah is struggling to hold the coalition together amid a threat by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to seize power by luring government lawmakers to his side by next week. Growing dissatisfaction about racial policies prompted many Chinese and Indians to vote against the government in March general elections. Many Malays also backed the opposition, causing the National Front to retain power with only a simple parliamentary majority.