Posted: 13 August 2008 1511 hrs
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Premier Abdullah Badawi has vetoed a call to allow other races to enrol in a university that only admits Muslim Malays and indigenous groups, a proposal which caused a furore and a student protest.
The controversy has laid bare lingering racial tensions in Malaysia, where the population is dominated by Malays and where ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities are concerned over rising "Islamisation."
The chief minister of Selangor state, where the Universiti Teknologi Mara is located, triggered an uproar when he suggested on Sunday that the institution could offer 10 per cent of its places to other races.
"He has no power to do that. Matters related to (student) intake are under the jurisdiction of higher educational institutions," Abdullah was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times daily.
Selangor's chief minister, Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, reportedly said the move to include other races and foreigners into the university would allow students there to gain more exposure and be friendlier to people of other races.
Currently it is the only university in the country which is confined to Muslim Malays and indigenous races - known collectively as "bumiputra" or "sons of the soil."
Abdul Khalid's remarks triggered a protest by 5,000 students from the university who took to the streets Tuesday and marched to the chief minister's office, waving placards saying, "Do not seize our rights," and "Save UITM."
UITM vice-chancellor Ibrahim Abu Shah said the public university was reserved for bumiputras as a majority of students in leading fields of study in higher-learning institutions in Malaysia were non-Malays.
"Our constitution stresses balance. This is a statistic which should be understood by any leader, government or opposition body and nobody should begrudge UITM as the only public university for bumiputras," he said.
Ibrahim said he found it "weird" that the chief minister, being a Malay leader himself, should have made the suggestion.
"Abdul Khalid as a leader should think before making such a statement and not betray his own race," he said according to the New Straits Times.
Selangor is one of five Malaysian states which fell to the opposition alliance in the March 8 elections which saw the Barisan Nasional government coalition suffer stunning losses.