PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wants Malaysia's young citizens to forget racial origins and think of themselves as "pure Malaysians".
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia on Monday (Jun 25), Dr Mahathir was asked what he could promise millennials about the Malaysia they will be living in in the years to come.
"(Malaysia is) not only multiracial, it is multilingual, multireligious, multicultural," he said.
"Despite the differences, we still live together, more or less at peace with each other (but) of course, there are little conflicts ... and I think this is what they are going to inherit."
He said Malaysians "have to learn to understand each other".
"And to forget - slowly forget the racial origins and think of themselves as pure Malaysians."
Ethnic Malays like Dr Mahathir and indigenous people make up close to 70 per cent of the population with almost a quarter of the country Chinese. The rest are Indians as well as from other ethnic groups.
Verbal tensions have flared on occasion but actual altercations have been rare, with the last major race riots in 1969.
Malaysia had, however, been governed by the largely race-based Barisan Nasional coalition since independence but this ended on May 9 this year, when Pakatan Harapan won the elections for the first time.
Dr Mahathir had been part of BN's component party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) himself, but then left to form Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia - also primarily for ethnic Malays but with associate membership opened up to others. The remaining parties in his new coalition are not race-based.
The new government has promised to uphold the rights of the Malays and indigenous people as enshrined in the constitution. Dr Mahathir told Channel NewsAsia of the need for continued affirmative action policies for them.
However, PH has said it would not neglect other ethnic groups at the same time.
YOUNG AND OLD COMBO A WINNING FORMULA
Aside from being multi-ethnic, more than 40 per cent of the electorate are under 40 years old. PH believes it was this demographic that helped propel them to power.
When Channel NewsAsia asked Dr Mahathir what a 92-year-old could offer them, he said: "I have this belief that the young have ideals, the old have experience," he said.
"If it's only the young, they may have ideals which are impractical. For the old people, they may be too negative about new ideas. But when there is a combination between the young and old, then I think we can resolve things much more easily, due to experience on the one hand, and idealism on the other hand."
Channel NewsAsia understands at least two Cabinet members to be announced on Monday will be under 40 years old.
Sources familiar with the matter say Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, 25, will be Youth and Sports Minister - Malaysia's youngest full Cabinet minister in recent history.
Yeo Bee Yin, 35, will be Minister for Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment. This is the first time climate change has been formally incorporated into a ministerial portfolio.
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia in April, Saddiq said Dr Mahathir had already been receptive to ideas from the young in his coalition.
"One thing about Dr Mahathir is that he listens and he listens well, especially if it comes from young people and he knows that the suggestions do not come with any personal motive or hidden motives behind it," he said.