Malaysia's agriculture minister will have to explain to the police his Facebook comments urging Malays to boycott Chinese businesses so as to force them to reduce prices in line with falling oil prices, news reports said on Monday.
Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had called on Malays, who form the majority in the country, to use their "power" to force the Chinese minority to cut prices.
"The majority of consumers are Malay, Chinese are a minority, if the Malays boycott their businesses, they will surely have no choice but to reduce their prices," Ismail, who was the domestic trade and consumerism minister, said in a posting on his Facebook account, the Malaysian Insider reported. It said Ismail had confirmed to the newspaper that the statement was made by him.
Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said later on Monday that the police would record a statement on the issue from Ismail, The Star reported. "The police will ensure that harmony between races is respected," Khalid tweeted on his Twitter account.
The post was not accessible publicly but was screen-captured and was in heavy circulation among pro-Umno blogs and social media, with many expressing support for the minister, Malaysiakini reported. But The Star reported later on Monday that the post had been deleted.
According to Malaysian Insider, Ismail had said in the post: "Forgive me for sharing my views, but besides the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism, which uses the Price Control Act and the Anti-Profiteering Act to act against traders who raise their prices indiscriminately, the greatest power lies with consumers."
The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a partner in the ruling Umno coalition, slammed Ismail's comments, The Star said.
"As a minister in the Cabinet, he should not make such ethnic generalisations. It is not as if only Chinese are businessmen," MCA deputy president Wee Ka Siong told reporters after visiting poor families in Yong Peng on Monday, The Star reported.
But Unity Minister Joseph Kurup defended Ismail, saying his comments were "well-intended" and aimed at galvanising consumers to avoid premises that hike up prices indiscriminately, The Malaysian Insider said.
The oil market has lost more than half its value since June last year, when crude was sitting at more than US$100 (S$125.03) a barrel, due to a supply glut and weak global demand.
Malaysia, which derives 30 per cent of its government revenue from oil exports, has been badly hit. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who is also finance minister, revised the Budget last month, cutting the country's growth forecast for this year to 4.5-5.5 per cent, from 5-6 per cent earlier. Inflation is also expected to rise to as high as 5 per cent this year, triple that of 2013.
Earlier on Monday, Ismail told The Malaysian Insider that his Facebook comment was directed at Chinese businesses whom he said were reluctant to lower their prices.
"As long as the Malays don't change, the Chinese will take the opportunity to oppress the Malays," said Ismail.
"I am referring to Chinese traders who are reluctant to reduce the prices of goods even though the price of petrol has come down.
"What I want to emphasise is for people not to depend solely on the government to ensure the price of goods comes down because as consumers, they can use their power to pressure businesses," he said.
The minister also singled out the Old Town White Coffee franchise for its "anti-Islam" link.
The chain is owned by OldTown Bhd, and Datuk Ngeh Khoo Ham, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party in Perak, owns shares in the company, said Ismail.
"Malays are still refusing to boycott (Old Town White Coffee) what more when its owner is said to be the DAP Ngeh family of Perak who are known to be anti-Islam," said Ismail.
The post has been shared numerous times by other Facebook users. Several commentors congratulated Ismail for being "bold" in his statement.