Par­doned politi­cian wants to scrap race poli­cies

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By Eileen Ng Eileen Ng is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

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.

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