Malaysian party tries to turn page on news tow


KUALA LUMPUR, Reuters

Malaysia’s main ethnic Chinese party wants to offload part of its newly acquired stake in two newspapers as bitterness over the deal spread alarm among partners in the ruling coalition, media reported on Friday.

Members of the Chinese community denounced last month’s takeover, saying it threatened the independence of the two Chinese-language newspapers.

Newspapers quoted Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) President Ling Liong Sik as saying buyers for part of the stakes had been invited to come forward in the next 10 days, and he did not mind which ethnic group any potential partner came from.

“This offer is open to everyone, whether it is a Chinese company, a Malay company or an Indian company,” Ling said, according to the Star daily.

Ling has been under fire within the MCA for pushing through a deal which risked alienating voters worried about perceived government attempts to control the media and could lose the party votes in elections due by the end of 2004.

MCA members from several states attended a meeting on Thursday to protest against Ling’s decision to buy the newspapers.

“Dr. Ling must get his priorities right … by calling off the deal as this is the wish of the majority of the community,” Lim Ah Lek, MCA deputy president, told Bernama.

Earlier this week Gerakan, another largely Chinese-based party and fellow member of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, called on the MCA to reconsider the deal.

And on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi asked MCA leaders to patch up their differences as the row would have an impact on the coalition.

“I am sad with what’s happening now following the acquisition of Nanyang Press, MCA is split into two factions and each wants to campaign,” Abdullah said, according to Bernama news agency.

“Whatever is happening will also affect BN (Barisan Nasional) and in this context I am giving my view,” he said.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which Badawi belongs to, heads the BN.

A split in the Chinese community, which stood solidly behind the BN in the 1999 general elections, would spell trouble for Mahathir, who has seen his Malay vote sundered by dismay over the treatment of Anwar Ibrahim, his former deputy who was sacked and jailed in 1998.

Huaren Management Sdn Bhd, the investment arm of MCA, bought a 72.35 percent stake in the Nanyang Press for 230.12 million ringgit (US$60.55 million) in cash. MCA also controls the largest English language newspaper, The Star.