Pardoned politician wants to scrap race policies
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Pardoned Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim said Thursday that decades-old affirmative action policies for the country’s Malay majority must be discarded in favor of a new program to help the poor regardless of race.
The prime minister-in-waiting also said he plans to run in a by-election this year to become a member of Parliament but that he isn’t in a rush to take over the top job.
Anwar, 70, was convicted of sodomy in 2015 in a case he said was politically motivated. His sentence expires June 8 but he was given a royal pardon on Wednesday and freed from custody after last week’s stunning electoral victory by his alliance led by former foe Mahathir Mohamad.
Anwar said poor Malays will benefit more from merit-based policies that are transparent. He said the New Economic Policy, instituted in 1971 following bloody riots fueled by Malay discontent with the relative affluence of ethnic minority Chinese, has been abused to enrich the elites.
The program, which gives preference to Malays in government contracts, business, jobs, education and housing, is credited with lifting millions of Malays out of poverty and creating an urban Malay middle class. It is also blamed for a racial divide between Malays, who account for two-thirds of Malaysia’s 31 million people, and minority Chinese and Indians who have long complained about government discrimination.
The policy is a sensitive issue, with many Malays fearing they will lose their privileges under a new government. Many ethnic minorities have left Malaysia in search of better opportunities elsewhere.
Anwar was convicted of homosexual sodomy and corruption after a power struggle in 1998 with Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003. He was freed in 2004 and convicted again in 2015 of sodomy, which he said was concocted to destroy his political career.