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Debate on removal of race column in govt forms rages in M’sia

A public debate is raging across multi-racial Malaysia over whether the race column should be removed from official forms.

KUALA LUMPUR: A public debate is raging across multi-racial Malaysia over whether the race column should be removed from official forms.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has defended the column, saying the information is necessary to ensure that no ethnic group is left out of the country's development.

The race column has been a standard feature of government forms even before independence.

Malaysians have to indicate whether they are ethnic Malay, Chinese, Indian or Others -- that is whether they are natives or offsprings of mixed marriages -- when they fill up the forms.

Many are now beginning to question whether it is really necessary to fill up the column when the country is trying to forge a national identity that goes beyond race or religion

It is a question which has been raised by some in the government, and there have even been calls from within the cabinet to do away with the race column.

However, Mr Najib maintains the information is important for statistics and research so that the government can better monitor the progress of ethnic groups, and ensure that no one is left behind.

Fifty-six years after independence, Malaysia is still governed along racial and religious lines.

Despite the government's 1Malaysia policy to emphasise national unity and ethnic harmony, the majority of Malays are still given preferential treatment in jobs as well as educational and business opportunities -- privileges that increasingly do not sit well with the rest of the country.

Underlying tensions are now threatening to boil over as this issue of race comes at a time when the country is also debating the sensitive issue of hudud, or Islamic criminal law.

The opposition Islamic party Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has said it will table a bill in Parliament next month to implement hudud in the state of Kelantan, which it governs.

If passed, the bill would have serious repercussions on multi-ethnic Malaysia, which is secular by virtue of its Federal Constitution.

Malaysian Chinese Association's former vice president Gan Peng Siew said: "It's a historical cross roads for Malaysia. This will become a new constitutional crisis in the country; once hudud is agreeable, many states will follow."

Centre of Strategic Engagement's chief executive officer Fui Soong said: "By and large, non-Muslims still feel very uncomfortable. No matter how you sugar coat it, the scary part now is you are pitting non-Muslims against Muslims."

Strains are already beginning to show within both the ruling Barisan Nasional and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalitions, with non-Muslim components of both coalitions threatening to withdraw, if the hudud bill is passed.

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