Aug 28, 2006

Malaysia's coalition embroiled in row triggered by PM's son-in-law

(Channel News Asia) KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysia's ethnic Chinese party pledged its support for the dominant UMNO Sunday after the ruling coalition was rocked by a row triggered by the prime minister's controversial son-in-law.

Khairy Jamaluddin, 30, a businessman and ambitious emerging politician, has already been forced to deny that he is the power behind the throne in the face of concerns about his influence over Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

In the latest upset, Khairy caused uproar in the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) by saying that if the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) became weak other parties could seize the opportunity to make demands.

Khairy, who is the deputy leader of UMNO's influential youth wing, said this could lead to instability in the multi-ethnic National Front coalition.

The balance of power between the races is an extremely sensitive issue in Malaysia, where the population is dominated by Muslim Malays living alongside ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

MCA members have demanded an apology from Khairy, saying that the party had always stood firm behind its coalition partner and that his comments had hurt the feelings of the Chinese community.

In a bid to lessen the row, Abdullah said Sunday at MCA's annual general assembly that all parties should stop raising sensitive issues related to religion and race.

"Do not create a situation that can lead to difficulties. Difficulties will make everyone apprehensive," the premier said in an opening speech.

He said that any attempt to amend controversial articles in the constitution related to race would "cause a storm if left unchecked".

The MCA also attempted to calm the issue, pledging its support for UMNO's role as the linchpin of the coalition.

"MCA, as the political representative of the Chinese community, would want to see a stable and strong UMNO," president Ong Ka Ting told the assembly. "We stand by together and provide support."

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