KUALA LUMPUR Malaysia's opposition indicated on Friday it was softening its stand towards the government for the first time since a disputed May election, saying it was willing to help tackle a range of problems.
The opposition led by former finance minister Anwar Ibrahim has refused to accept the election victory of the ruling coalition, which extended its 56-year rule but saw its parliamentary majority reduced.
Anwar said in an Independence Day message that the opposition maintained its "strong protests about the validity" of the vote, but, for the first time, he indicated willingness to heal divisions the election brought.
"We are prepared to put aside our differences for the sake of the nation's wellbeing and future," Anwar said.
Prime Minister Najib Razak's coalition lost the popular vote in the election, although it still won the most seats, and the opposition maintains it was cheated out of victory by widespread fraud. It has yet to concede defeat.
Anwar listed problems facing the country including flagging public finances, slowing economic growth, surging rates of crime and corruption.
He also referred to an increasing number of media reports of "race baiting".
"Not only is there a lack of leadership in ameliorating the situation but it appears that the government is encouraging this phenomenon to worsen," Anwar said.
Relations between majority ethnic Malays and ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian minorities are a sensitive issue.
Ethnic Malays tend to support the ruling coalition while many members of the economically important ethnic Chinese minority rallied to the opposition in the last polls.
"We believe that it is imperative for the prime minister to convene without the slightest delay a round-table meeting between the ... government and Pakatan Rakyat in order to deliberate on the issues raised and formulate a comprehensive solution," Anwar said, referring to the alliance he heads.
Government spokesmen were not available for comment.
(Reporting By Siva Sithraputhran; Editing by Robert Birsel)