UMNO'S youth and women's wings yesterday called for more aid for Malaysia's majority Malays and staunchly defended the controversial Sedition Act, echoing the hawkish stance taken by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin, Umno's deputy president, had stressed at the party general assembly on Tuesday night that the country's pro-Malay policies needed to be expanded.
This was even as Prime Minister Najib Razak, also Umno's president, had earlier on Tuesday asked party delegates at a closed-door briefing to explain his record in the last five years as premier that has seen billions spent in improving the incomes of the Malays, the backbone of Umno. His plea was a clear sign that he is bracing himself for a backlash from the community - which makes up three-quarters of the country's lowest earners - over surging inflation.
Mr Muhyiddin said the Sedition Act, which critics say stifles dissent, should be strengthened and bumiputera (a term for Malays and aboriginal natives) economic rights expanded.
Yesterday, youth wing chief Khairy Jamaluddin and women's wing head Shahrizat Jalil followed suit in calling for more aid for bumiputeras and stoutly defended the Sedition Act, which Mr Najib had promised to repeal as part of a reform package.
Mr Najib began democratic reforms by doing away with the Internal Security Act (ISA) - which allows for detention without trial - in 2011. But efforts to repeal the Sedition Act are facing strong opposition from within his Umno and right-wing Malays who insist the Act is crucial in defending their special rights and language, as well as the sanctity of the Malay monarchy.
"We call on the government to continue using the Sedition Act with improvements," Datuk Seri Shahrizat said, adding that her wing would "not compromise with any individuals out there who want to threaten or question" Malay privileges.
Mr Khairy said in his opening speech that Malaysia would be doomed without the law.
Both leaders also pushed for the recovery of land reserved for Malays, which studies claim had shrunk from about half of peninsular Malaysia's land area to just 12 per cent.
Mr Khairy also echoed Mr Muhyiddin's claims that the private sector discriminates against Malays and called for an anti-discrimination law for employment. "Yes, we have power but up to now, what have we done with it?" Mr Khairy asked.
Both Mr Khairy and Ms Shahrizat told reporters later that the majority of Malaysians want some curbs to freedom as outlined under the Sedition Act.
While Ms Shahrizat said her wing had given the government "an option", Mr Khairy said he was "sure the president will touch on it" after the grassroots had made clear their views.
This article was first published on Nov 27, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.