23 February, 2008

2008 Election: showdown with Islamic party over key state

Coffee shops are abuzz with talk of the fight for the hearts and minds of Malay voters in March 8 general elections in which the Barisan Nasional coalition is intent on claiming the only state left in opposition hands.

A victory would be a huge morale boost for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose United Malays National Organization (UMNO) leads the coalition which is expecting to lose some of its majority in federal parliament.

“The coming election will really see whether Malays have lost faith in PAS’s religious and development agenda or whether they think UMNO will make a better alternative,” says political analyst Shahrudin Badarudin.

“Either way, it is going to be a tough call in Kelantan as the battle between religion and development continues,” he says.

“PAS today is viewed differently from when we came to power in Kelantan in 1990, as back then people thought we were very fundamentalist and too conservative,” says Takiyuddin Hassan, 61, a senior executive councilor.

“We are trying to provide a balance between economic development and spiritual development.”

If PAS retains Kelantan, they are pledging free education and hospital care and a reduction in petrol prices which are set to rise elsewhere in the country.

Meanwhile, The Straits Times reported that Malaysia's Islamic opposition party has warned its supporters could 'run amok' if the election authorities block its candidates from standing in next month's general election.

Saying that Malaysia should avoid post-election violence that gripped Kenya, leaders of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) told a rally late on Friday that the March 8 election could turn into one of the country's dirtiest.

'We anticipate this election will not be free and fair,' party leader Syed Azman Syed Ahmad told the 5,000-strong rally in Kuala Terengganu, the northeastern city that saw a violent anti-government protest last September.

With national elections nearing, independent daily newspapering in Malaysia appears to be an endangered species with the recent purchase of the only unfettered English-language daily, The Sun, by controversial tycoon Vincent Tan, who reportedly has already begun to make distressing changes. Outspoken political editor Zainon Ahmad has been relegated to “consultant editor” and a new editor-in-chief, Chong Cheng Hai, replaced the respected Ho Kay Tat....(more from Asia Sentinel)

AS far as complex plural societies go, Malaysia has to be one of the most complex and plural societies in the world at the moment. There are few countries with a racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious mix like Malaysia’s and I have to confess that I am more than annoyed when I meet Middle-Eastern friends who occasionally offer me nuggets of wisdom when they pontificate about how religious pluralism can and should be managed in Malaysia.

Thus, it is with these considerations in mind that we look at the election campaign in Malaysia today. Over the past few weeks, a host of religious lobby groups and NGOs have called upon the government to take up the concerns of their respective members and constituents.

We are all familiar now with the demands of the Malaysian Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), that were couched in terms of a somewhat sectarian communal demand for the respect and protection of Hindu temples, among other things. The Malaysian Council of Churches have called on Malaysian Christian voters to vote wisely; while the Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism have called on the members of their respective faith communities to pray for the nation’s betterment and for election candidates who will uphold freedom of religion in the country. At the same time a coalition of Muslim NGOs and lobby groups have likewise issued their demands, calling on the political parties that are contesting in the elections to address their sectarian concerns which include the rejection of the idea that Malaysia is a secular state and of religious pluralism if it implies that all faith and belief systems are equal.What do these developments tell us about the state of Malaysia’s populist politics today? ...(more from The Other Malaysia)

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