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Pecat Rafidah - Mahathir

Malaysia's Mahathir: Fire Trade Minister

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 10 (AP) - Former leader Mahathir Mohamad has called for Malaysia's long-serving trade minister to be sacked, claiming she was abusing her power and undermining affirmative action policies for the ethnic Malay Muslim majority.

Mahathir, who appointed Rafidah Aziz as trade minister in 1986, reiterated that Rafidah's ministry has allowed a select few well-connected Malay businesses to import cars at cheap prices, according to an interview published Thursday by Malaysiakini.com, an independent news Web site.

Asked how such abuses could be curbed, Mahathir said, "Very simple. Remove the minister."

Rafidah has repeatedly denied allegations by Mahathir and opposition leaders that the ministry has allowed corruption to fester in its policy of issuing car import licenses, known as "approved permits," or APs.

The APs are given only to Malay companies as part of the country's affirmative action policy.

"When the ministry gives thousands of APs to one person, knowing full well that person is selling the APs (to unauthorized agents), that is aiding and abetting abuse" of affirmative action policies, Mahathir told Malaysiakini.com.

The decades-old import license program is meant to help poor ethnic Malays break into the auto industry to catch up with the economically dominant Chinese minority.

Mahathir, who retired as prime minister in 2003 after 22 years in power, has over the past year made repeated attacks on his hand-picked successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and other Cabinet ministers. But Rafidah has been his choice target.

In his interview with Malaysiakini.com, Mahathir expressed bitter disappointment about how government ministers have treated him following his retirement.

"When I stepped down, I thought I was going to have a good time being at social meetings with these people. Maybe they might even ask me my opinion," Mahathir said.

"But the moment I stepped down, I was cut off dead. They don't see me at all. From the first day, I was shocked. I thought these were my friends."

Mahathir also said it is time to dismantle parts of the affirmative action policy, known as the New Economic Policy, or NEP, for shortcomings.

"I think we should restudy it because there are certain weaknesses that have to be corrected. There are still certain areas where you have to preserve this affirmative action and certain areas where we should discard (it)," he said, without elaborating.

"Wholesale withdrawal of the NEP, I think, is not a good idea at all," he said, pointing out that the policy was responsible for uplifting many Malays, who came from villages with little opportunities and ended up being successful professionals and businesspeople. AP

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