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Malaysian PM unveils 'reconciliation' cabinet

"It is time for all of us, in government and beyond, to put the bitterness behind us", Malaysian PM says

AFP , Wednesday 15 May 2013
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, right, speaks during the announcement of his new cabinet lineup as his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin listens in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Wednesday, May 15, 2013 (Photo: AP)
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Malaysia's premier on Wednesday unveiled a cabinet line-up which he said would help national reconciliation after a racially divisive election, but which was noticeably light on Chinese faces.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition, which has ruled multiracial Malaysia for 56 years, fended off the strongest opposition challenge ever in an election marked by anger over racially divisive policies.

Najib was abandoned by voters from the economically powerful Chinese minority that makes up 25 percent of the country's 28 million people, tarnishing his claims to multi-ethnic rule and sparking bitter comments from the prime minister afterward.

Barisan is controlled by Najib's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which represents Muslim Malays, Malaysia's majority demographic.

"Over the past months and years, divisions have opened up in Malaysian society. Now it is time for all of us, in government and beyond, to put the bitterness behind us," Najib said in introducing his line-up.

"Together we will act to bring about national reconciliation, secure Malaysia's economic future and build a stronger, more harmonious society."

However, for the first time in decades, the cabinet had no representation from the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA).

The Chinese party had long been a stalwart in the ruling coalition but is increasingly seen by Chinese voters as not willing to stand up for the community and has suffered declining support.

It was left with just seven seats in the 222-member parliament compared to 31 in 2004. Its president had vowed to accept no cabinet posts if its support further declined in the polls.

The MCA's decline has tracked growing resentment among the sizeable Chinese and Indian minorities over decades-old policies that favour Malays in business, education and other spheres.

After the election early this month, Najib ruefully blamed a "Chinese tsunami" of lost support for the government's worst ever ballot-box showing, triggering outrage from many who saw the comments as racially provocative.

The new cabinet has just one ethnic Chinese minister -- the president of the local office of anti-graft group Transparency International -- and one Chinese deputy minister.

The previous cabinet had four ethnic Chinese ministers and several deputies.

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