01 April, 2009

Najib mends fences with minorities.

Najib on Tuesday hailed the ethnic Chinese community's contribution to the nation, in a bid to mend ties with minorities who deserted the coalition in 2008 elections.

The comments from Najib, who is expected to be sworn into power later this week, came after an angry debate over the role of minorities in the multiracial country's independence struggle.

"I would like to thank the Chinese community for their many contributions to our nation's development,".

"The Malaysian Chinese community has, is now, and will forever play a vital role in the fabric of our nation," he added.

Najib pledged to "develop a government that respects the voices of all Malaysians" and said the government "recognises and respects the contributions of all people in building Malaysia."

His comments came after Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said at last week's UMNO assembly that independence and later developments were forged by "UMNO and our Malay rulers and no one else."

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a key member of the coalition, urged a stop to "rewriting the facts of history or denying the efforts of other races in helping to fight for the country's independence."

Meanwhile, Najib Razak is likely to announce his cabinet lineup within a week of taking office. He is expected to be sworn in on Friday.

Najib is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister I in the current 32-member Cabinet.

He is aided by two technocrats -- former central banker Nor Mohamed Yakcop, who is Finance Minister II; and former banker Amirsham Abdul Aziz who is Economic Planning Minister.

The three, along with International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who will be Deputy Prime Minister, oversee the bulk of Malaysia's economic management and policy planning.

Defence and Education are senior Cabinet portfolios traditionally reserved for top leaders in the main United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party. Both Najib and outgoing premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi have served in the two positions.

Observers expect a major Cabinet shakeup, mostly within the UMNO section of the line-up, as Najib looks to put his stamp on the government and woo back voters who handed the ruling coalition its worst ever results in the 2008 polls.

Najib could do this by breaking with tradition by opting for more non-UMNO technocrats, or prioritising ability rather than seniority.

Six of the 21 UMNO mnisters lost in party elections last week, allowing greater room for the incoming premier to appoint fresh faces.

A government source told Reuters last Friday that the Cabinet will also be leaner. With 27 Ministries, Malaysia's Cabinet has often been criticised for being bloated.

Some ministries, such as Education and Higher Education, are likely to be merged while a new Energy Ministry is expected to be set up.

Najib has pledged major political reforms to turn around UMNO and the National Front. He has warned party members that the choice is "change or be changed" by voters in the next general election due by 2013.

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