MALAYSIA - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced a slew of measures aimed at raising the stake of Malays in the economy, in what is seen as reward for their support of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) in the general election in May and an effort to secure their loyalty in the next.
In his first major policy speech since the BN was returned to power four months ago, he said on Saturday that the new economic agenda will include upgrading the skills of Malays and other indigenous races and helping them to own more homes and businesses.
But Datuk Seri Najib said the plan, called Pemerkasaan Ekonomi Bumiputera (Strengthening the Bumiputeras), should not be misconstrued as a move to deny the rights and interests of the non-Malays.
"After the general election, we heard various complaints, many cries for help and unhappiness, raised by the bumiputeras on their fate, future and direction," he said in a speech that was beamed live on radio and television, and streamed over the Internet.
"We hear you. We hear you loud and clear."
The bumiputeras comprise Malays, who form roughly half of the population, the aboriginal Orang Asli, and tribal groups in Sabah and Sarawak. Together, they make up about 68.9 per cent of all Malaysians, he said in a cavernous hall at Universiti Teknologi Mara, a giant college for bumiputeras, in the Selangor capital.
The overtly pro-Malay agenda comes a week before Umno opens nominations for its annual polls. The Premier is seen as having a weak grip on Malaysia's biggest political party, which has grown weary of his wooing of the Chinese and libertarians who rebuffed him in the general election, analysts and party members said.
Though unlikely to face a strong challenger, he needs to come out from the polls and Umno's annual assembly next month with a new set of party leaders who are fully behind him, they said.
He said a RM10 billion (S$4 billion) unit trust will be set up to raise Malay corporate equity stakes.
The government will also ensure that government-linked companies and the national oil firm, Petronas, will dish out more projects to Malay-owned companies, and will inject hundreds of millions of ringgit into agencies that help raise entrepreneurs.
All ministries must also set up a unit to ensure help for companies owned by Malays and other indigenous races. Existing agencies will make sure that more residential, office and industrial projects are developed and made available to bumiputeras.