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Mar 21, 2008


No protests in Penang over plans to scrap NEP

AN ATTEMPT to stage a protest in Penang against the state government's plans to scrap an affirmative action programme failed yesterday, a day after police warned that demonstrators could be arrested under the Internal Security Act.

An SMS was widely circulated urging Malays to take to the streets, but the protest never took place, prompting some observers to view this as a sign that the Malays are prepared to give the new government's race-blind poverty eradication policy a chance.

No protesters were seen at the Penang state mosque or the Kapitan Kling Mosque - both in Georgetown - where the protests were supposed to have taken place after the traditional gathering to mark the birthday of Prophet Muhammad yesterday.

Political analyst Mohamad Agus Yusoff said that he believed the demonstrations have fizzled out because the Malays are willing to give the Democratic Action Party-led government a chance to prove itself.

'The new Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has said that he wants to look into the plight of all races. He has also pledged to help lift poverty for all,' Dr Mohamad Agus of the National University of Malaysia told The Straits Times.

He added that although many Malays still felt that the New Economic Policy (NEP) would safeguard their rights, many of the poor had not benefited from it.

'There is a perception that only those politically linked stand to gain from the policy,' he added.

Since taking power after the March 8 election, Mr Lim has promised to get rid of the NEP, a policy which favours the Malays on matters such as state contracts, education opportunities and government employment.

The policy, he had said, breeds 'cronyism, corruption and systemic inefficiency'. This sparked protests from Malays, especially within the ruling Umno party, who felt that their rights were being questioned.

Last Friday, Penang Umno leaders organised a demonstration outside the Chief Minister's office but it drew only about 1,000 people, mostly Umno members, including former deputy chief minister Abdul Rashid Abdullah. A similar protest in Shah Alam, Selangor, on the same day drew less than 100.

On Wednesday, about 500 people gathered in front of the Shah Alam Square to protest against scrapping the NEP.

But Dr Mohamad Agus said: 'I don't think the protesters can sustain the momentum. People want to move on.'

Since his controversial comments, Mr Lim has toned down by stressing that the Penang government is 'the government of all the people of Penang, irrespective of political background, race or religion'. - THE STRAITS TIMES


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