Last updated Friday, October 31, 2014 01:12am

Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak inspects the honour guard during the United Malays National Organisation annual general assembly at Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur December 5, 2013. — Reuters picUmno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak inspects the honour guard during the United Malays National Organisation annual general assembly at Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur December 5, 2013. — Reuters picKUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — The economic empowerment of Malays and non-Muslim Bumiputera must remain the government’s main agenda if Malaysia is to progress holistically, Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today.

Malaysia’s dream of becoming a high-income nation would be meaningless if the country’s largest demographic group were left economically backward, the prime minister said in his opening speech at the 64th Umno assembly here.

“As the majority race, the economic empowerment agenda of the Malays and Bumiputera should be the core national agenda.

“What is the purpose if our country is advanced but its majority race is sidelined and unprotected?” Najib, who is Umno president, asked.

The term “Bumiputera”, which means “sons of the soil”, encompass the country’s indigenous groups and those of Malay stock, under the country’s constitution.

A renewed push for Bumiputera in be in business have stoked fears among investors that Najib may backtrack on his promise to open up the economy to more non-Malays.

On September 13, Najib announced a list of over RM31 billion in various loans, contracts and programmes that will be made available to Bumiputera, to strengthen their economic participation and boost their ownership of commercial property.

Analysts believe the move was only aimed at consolidating his position in the Umno polls last October, but today’s pledge, made despite Najib returning to power unopposed, would likely make investors believe that race-based affirmative action policies are here to stay.

Race-based policies are seen as among the chief reasons behind Malaysia’s slowing competitiveness.

But Najib said today that Umno would continue to do everything in its power to protect Bumiputera interests.

“As long as the moon and the stars are there, as long as there is life in this body as the Sabahans say, we will forever fight for the empowerment agenda for the Malays and Bumiputera”.

Najib’s Chinese and Indian colleagues in the government, however, have called on the prime minister to be more inclusive and implement developments for all instead of just the Bumiputera.

But Umno leaders in the government have insisted that any pro-Bumiputera policies was good to ensure “stability”.

Critics and the opposition have blasted Umno’s race-based economic policies as a a facade to enrich a select few Umno elites.

They cited the failure of the now defunct New Economic Policy (NEP) in raising Bumiputera corporate equity to 30 per cent despite implement the plan for three decades.

Najib upon taking office in 2009 had admitted on the need to dismantle race driven economic system but his government is seen flip-flopping on the issue as NEP-like policies continue shape policies.