Updated: Wed, 08 May 2013 07:51:44 GMT | By Agence France-Presse

Malaysia's Najib says opposition tricked Chinese voters

Malaysia's premier said in comments published Wednesday that Chinese voters who deserted him in Sunday's election had been deceived by "racial sentiments" stirred up by the opposition.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's remarks were the latest in a series of comments from government supporters directed at the nation's sizeable Chinese minority since the election.

Critics have condemned them as racially provocative.

Chinese voters turned their backs on the 56-year-old ruling coalition in unprecedented fashion, with Najib bitterly saying afterward that a "Chinese tsunami" of voters had opted for "extremism and racism".

"They have been taken for a good ride," Najib said of Chinese voters, according to Wednesday's government-controlled New Straits Times, adding they were taken in by the opposition's "racial sentiments".

The opposition's campaign platform had included calls for greater racial equality in the country.

Najib also hit back at criticism of a Tuesday headline in the pro-government newspaper Utusan Malaysia, which asked after the election, "What more do Chinese want?"

"You can blame Utusan, but what about the Chinese papers?" he said of the nation's Chinese-language media which are occasionally critical of the government.

Malaysia has avoided major conflict between its main races -- the Malay majority, the Chinese and the Indians -- for decades under the authoritarian Barisan Nasional (National Front) ruling coalition.

But tensions are rising as minorities increasingly chafe under Malay dominance.

In particular, impatience is growing with decades-old policies that prop up majority Malays to prevent Chinese dominance. Chinese control much of the economy despite making up just a quarter of the 28-million population.

Influential hardline former leader Mahathir Mohamad, a key architect of the Malay-dominated landscape, said Tuesday the election showed "many Chinese rejected the hand of Malay friendship".

The rhetoric has sparked anger in the active social media world, with users of all races rejecting the comments.

The vote was touted as the first in the country's history in which the opposition had a chance to unseat the ruling coalition, which has ruled since independence in 1957.

However, Barisan retained a firm majority in parliament despite winning less than half of the popular vote, a factor blamed on self-serving gerrymandering and redistricting by Barisan over the years.

Leaders of Najib's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the main coalition party, are frequently accused by critics of casting the Chinese as bogeymen in a bid to maintain support from Muslim Malays.

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