07 October, 2007

Race, religion still divisive issues in Malaysia

Fifty years after independence, race and religion remain divisive issues in Malaysia, with the nation at times coming "close to the brink of disaster," Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.

"We have been solving one racial issue after another. That is a fact," Abdullah told a meeting of the mainly Chinese-backed Gerakan party, a component of the ruling coalition.

"I do not want to pretend that everything is great and there are no problems, no weaknesses and no flaws. I do not want to be in a state of denial," he said.

“People tell me ‘it’s nothing. Don’t worry, Pak Lah. Everything’s okay.’ But the more people tell me not to worry, the more I worry. Because some people just say that to reassure me.

“But I say ‘tell the truth even if it’s painful’,” he added.

He said the country was now facing a “disappointing” mindset and attitude with regards to racial and religious issues.

“It is regretful how readily and very quickly we respond to what we see as a racial or religious issue or what is done by others who do not like us, which is turned into an (ethnic) issue,” he added.

Abdullah said it was not only political parties that behaved this way but also the public.

Touching on last year’s Umno general assembly which was televised live, and during which some speakers took a racial tone and caused concern among the other races, Abdullah stressed that they were in the minority and numbered not more than five.

As a Prime Minister with “big ears,” Abdullah said even at other Barisan Nasional component parties’ assemblies, there were speakers making religious or racial slants to play to their respective galleries.

“Let me just say when you make speeches like that, don’t go to the extent of trying to sideline the interest or cast aside the aspirations of other races,” he said.

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