Wading into Obama row, Dr M says Chinese are rich and Indians are lawyers in Malaysia

Tun Dr Mahathir speaking at the launch of Tan Sri Razali Ismail's book at the Institute of Diplomatic and Foreign Relations in Kuala Lumpur, April 30, 2014. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Tun Dr Mahathir speaking at the launch of Tan Sri Razali Ismail's book at the Institute of Diplomatic and Foreign Relations in Kuala Lumpur, April 30, 2014. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 — The United States is a country with no equality while Malaysia allowed the Chinese immigrants to get rich and those from India to become lawyers and doctors, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad argued today in defence of government policies seen as marginalising non-Muslims and non-Malays.

In a meeting with local students on Sunday, visiting US president Barack Obama said Malaysia cannot flourish if non-Muslims are sidelined. Obama also said that prejudices against people from different religions and races have no place in the modern world and must be removed.

The nation’s longest-serving prime minister compared it to the situation in the United States, which he said has no equality at all and where the richest one per cent of the population control all the wealth.

“In Malaysia, despite our policies and all that, do you see the Chinese as the poorest people in this country?” Dr Mahathir told reporters after a book launch at the Institute of Diplomatic and Foreign Relations here.

“And the Indians are the lawyers in this country, the professionals, doctors and all that. Those who didn’t come to Malaysia are not so fortunate.”

Dr Mahathir had quoted Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who mentioned the inequality in the US in his best-selling book The Price of Inequality.

Malaysia, which is 60 per cent Malay-Muslim, has come under global scrutiny with a series of controversies affecting the rights of non-Muslims, most notably a government ban against Christians from referring to God as “Allah”.

The US president’s statement drew immediate criticism from Umno leaders who pointed out that the US too practised affirmative action.

They denied that non-Malays in the country are being marginalised.

However, Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim agreed with Obama, and added that rural and poor Bumiputera are also marginalised in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s Bumiputera majority enjoys privileges under a system of preferential treatment in jobs, housing and access to government funding.

Among others, these have been blamed for Malaysia’s chronic brain drain that has seen its non-Malay communities leaving the country, with southern neighbour Singapore the main beneficiary.