Malaysian think-tank director quits amid furore over ethnic corporate equity report
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A Malaysian think-tank director resigned on Wednesday after the center retracted a study that sparked a furor among majority ethnic Malays who feared it may bolster arguments to do away with a decades-old system of privileges.
The recent study by the independent Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute titled Corporate Equity Distribution: Past Trends and Future Policies,’ estimated that Malays owned as much as 45 percent of the total equity of the stock market.
As such, it said an affirmative action policy that gives Malays special privileges in areas such as government jobs, housing, bank loans and contracts to help them catch up with the wealthier minority Chinese may be misplaced.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last week blasted the ASLI report as baseless. The government said Malays, while forming the majority of the Malaysian population, control only 19 percent of Malaysia’s corporate equity and still needed assistance from the government to achieve a 30 percent equity target by 2020.
But Lim Teck Ghee, who heads ASLI’s Centre of Public Policy Studies that published the report, stood by his center’s report and said the government statistics were flawed. He subsequently announced his resignation.
The ASLI report also sparked anger among Malay groups. Some community leaders accused ASLI of racial chauvinism,’ while others demanded that ASLI apologize and retract the report.
ASLI president Mirzan Mahathir, the son of former premier Mahathir Mohamad, on Tuesday expressed deep regret’ over the controversy and withdrew the report, saying it could not be vigorously justified.’
ASLI reports are widely respected in Malaysia.
Since I cannot agree with Mirzan’s statement … I regret to inform that I will be stepping down at the end of the month,’ Lim said in a statement.
It is the fundamental right of the Malaysian public to question all government statistics and policies, more so when these are not transparent or defensible.’
Malays make up about 60 percent of the country’s 26 million people, Chinese a quarter and ethnic Indians about 8 percent.
The ASLI report came after neighboring Singapore’s elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew threw the spotlight on Chinese here when he told a forum last month that the Indonesian and Malaysian governments have systematically marginalized’ them.
Lee had apologized for causing offense, but did not say sorry for the remarks themselves.
In Malaysia, racial discrimination complaints are almost never heard openly. The government has carefully nurtured racial harmony that has lasted decades, in a country often hailed as a shining example of peaceful coexistence among diverse ethnic groups.
The last major race riots, in May 1969, killed hundreds. The violence was triggered by economic disparity between poverty-stricken Malays and rich Chinese, who’d been promoted by British colonial rulers until independence in 1957.
Prime Minister Abdullah’s son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, on Wednesday urged Malaysian academics to be more careful while researching sensitive issues, especially those involving race.
We should not issue any reports that might trigger the people’s anger,’ Khairy said, adding that in ASLI’s case, the damage is done already.’ Khairy is the deputy chief of the youth wing of the United Malays National Organization which heads the country’s ruling coalition.
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