Malaysia's MCA to discuss minister's 'boycott Chinese traders' call at Cabinet meeting

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Ministers from Malaysian party the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) will raise the issue of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's "boycott Chinese traders" remark at the Cabinet meeting today.

Party president Liow Tiong Lai said the remark had incited racial hatred, which was detrimental towards maintaining harmony.

"MCA remains firm in its stance that one must always be careful of one's words in a multi-racial society such as ours in order to prevent instigating racism.

"His (Ismail) racial rhetoric has only served to deeply hurt the Chinese community," he said after the party's presidential council meeting yesterday.

Datuk Liow said that during the meeting, the council unanimously expressed its utmost regret over the remark.

"MCA urges the Inspector-General of Police to swiftly investigate the comment lest it serves to undermine our national harmony. MCA ministers will also be raising this issue at the Cabinet meeting," said Mr Liow.

On Monday, Datuk Seri Ismail had written on his Facebook page calling on the Malays to boycott Chinese businesses that refused to reduce their prices despite the drop in fuel costs.

He later removed the post and explained that it was only directed at Chinese entrepreneurs who had refused to reduce their prices.

Saying that MCA should have made a similar call to Chinese consumers to pressure the traders, Mr Ismail criticised MCA Youth chief Chong Sin Woon for not having the "Barisan Nasional spirit" and being complicit with Democratic Action Party (DAP) on this matter.

Mr Liow also said it was "simply nonsensical" for Mr Ismail to accuse the MCA and the DAP of secretly working together.

"MCA is only performing its duty in defending the Chinese community after he baselessly accused the Chinese businessmen.

"MCA also fully supports our government agencies in taking action against businesses which have unscrupulously raised prices - regardless of race - but we will not condone any accusation directed at a certain race," he said.

Party vice-president Chua Tee Yong said it was wrong to blame race and politics for the fact that some businesses had refused to reduce prices.

"It should not be an excuse to attribute these high prices solely to one race as it is detrimental towards national development and racial unity. Do not turn this issue into a racial one or attempt to politicise it.

"Polarisation in business will hurt the country's business and economy and at the end, the people will suffer," he said, adding that it was necessary instead to teach the public to be smart consumers and spend their money wisely.

Urging Mr Ismail to stop being stubborn and admit his mistake, Mr Chong said MCA Youth strongly disagreed with his call and would continue to oppose such racism.

Mr Ismail Sabri Yaakob said he will offer his full cooperation to the police over his Facebook posting.

Mr Ismail said although he had yet to receive a phone call from the authorities, he saw the tweet posted by the Inspector-General of Police that he would be called in for questioning.

"I have not given my statement to the police yet. But when (I am) called, they will let me know the date and time. If it fits my schedule and theirs, I will meet them and give my full cooperation," he told reporters at the Putra World Trade Centre after meeting a group of his supporters yesterday.

Asked on MCA's reaction to his remark, he declined to comment, saying this was "not the Barisan Nasional way of doing things".

"In Barisan, we have principles. If there are problems, we resolve it among ourselves. The Prime Minister always reminds the ministers not to quarrel openly as it does not reflect well on the Cabinet and him," he said.

Earlier, his supporters, comprising former Umno youth leaders, said Mr Ismail's remark merely reflected reality as most sundry shops and businesses were owned by the Chinese.

"For those of us who know him, he is not a racist," said spokesman Datuk Zulkefli Alwi, who is former Umno Youth secretary.

In Kepala Batas, Penang Umno information deputy chief Reezal Merican Naina Merican said as the former Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister, Ismail would know of "manipulation" by suppliers, especially cartels.

"I find his call to boycott irresponsible traders very sensible. Maybe the cartels are from specific groups - maybe of a certain race - and he should know best.

"The consumers are the ones who can teach inconsiderate traders a lesson. That is what he meant in his message," said Datuk Seri Reezal.

Selangor Umno information chief Noh Omar said the statement had to be read in context.

"If we boycott rising prices, the people will benefit. It doesn't matter if it is Malay, Chinese or Indian," he said.

Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) Youth chief C. Sivarraajh said that since traders in Malaysia were mostly Chinese and consumers mostly Malays, the message that Ismail wanted to convey came out "distorted".

Meanwhile, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said public statements on the "boycott issue" were hurting the country's racial harmony.

Tweeting on his @KBAB51 Twitter account, he advised everyone to stop airing their grouses publicly.

"Boycott issue. @PDRMsia asks all parties to immediately exercise restraint in making public statements. It hurts our racial harmony," he wrote.

Global Movement of Moderates chief executive Saifuddin Abdullah said he was saddened by the statement.

"It is okay to call on Malaysians to boycott businesses that are unreasonable in their pricing of goods and services, but you just don't pit Malay consumers against Chinese businesses," said Datuk Saifuddin.

Leaders, he said, had the responsibility to promote national unity and integration as well as prevent unfair discrimination.

Parti Islam SeMalaysia national unity bureau chief Mujahid Yusof Rawa said there was no need to single out any ethnic community when lashing out against unscrupulous businesses.

"Such a statement can create hatred and racial provocation. If there is any evidence of wrongdoing or exploitation of the halal logo, which the minister alleged, the matter should have instead been referred to the authorities," said Datuk Mujahid.

He was referring to how Mr Ismail, on his Facebook page, questioned the halal status of certain Chinese-owned eateries.

Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming said the Prime Minister should instruct Mr Ismail to retract his statement and apologise for his allegations.

Former MIC strategic director S. Vell Paari said errant traders existed in all communities and that they cheated their customers "regardless of race".

"Use the law to take action and don't turn it into a racial war. This is not in the spirit of the Prime Minister's 1Malaysia vision," he said.

A group of individuals calling themselves "Anak Muda Harapan Malaysia" said they felt embarrassed that there were still leaders who played the racial card. They demanded that Ismail apologise and retract his statement.

In a Facebook posting, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin wrote about price hikes without referring to Ismail or his comments.

He said when it came to price hikes, the main issue was the power of consumers.

"In a situation where the price of oil is falling, consumers must play their role to pressure businesses to lower their prices," he said.