25 February, 2008

2008 Electon: Polls turn into fight for moral high ground

Malaysia's election is turning into a battle for the religious high ground among majority Muslims, with the prime minister's party offering to build or repair at least 500 mosques to woo voters.

Malaysia goes to the polls on March 8, with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's UMNO party seeking to regain the northeastern Kelantan state from an Islamic party that has been in power there since 1990.

The fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), led by clerics who promote "purer" Islamic values, is locked in a tough poll battle with UMNO now playing the same religious card.

"If we want to build mosques, is there something wrong with it?" said Awang Adek Hussin, a deputy minister heading the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) campaign in Kelantan.

Awang Adek, a former central banker, recalled that the first thing Prophet Mohammad did when he migrated to Madina from Mecca was to build a mosque.

"When we win, we will usher in a new era in Kelantan by building a grand mosque," he said on Sunday in Kelantan's capital, adding that UMNO has also pledged to repair some 500 old mosques in the state.

The fight for Muslim votes is also an issue in neighbouring Terengganu state, traditionally a PAS stronghold.

"UMNO and PAS are engaged in a battle: 'I'm more Islamic than you are'," said political analyst Ooi Kee Beng.

He said UMNO, which has in the past branded PAS as being too extreme, appeared to be deepening its own Islamic agenda.

"UMNO is playing religious politics. It is pushing the religious thing a bit too far," he said.

The poll is considered certain to return Abdullah's ruling coalition -- which has ruled the nation since independence in 1957 -- to power, although with a reduced majority.

SEPARATE PRAYERS

The deep-rooted political rivalry between UMNO and PAS is spilling over into village life.

Some mosques in Kelantan and Terengganu are linked to PAS loyalists while others are loyal to UMNO supporters. If there is only one mosque in a village, the two sides have in the past held separate prayers.

The divide over mosques is evident in the Terengganu village of Rusila, the political base of PAS leader Hadi Awang.

The village's sprawling mosque complex also houses his home, a madrassa and a party office.The two-storey mosque, draped in flags, is packed with his supporters during Friday prayers.

Non-PAS supporters attend a nearby mosque built by the UMNO government, residents say.

PAS is also using next month's polls to accuse the UMNO government in Terengganu of demolishing a mosque built by PAS when it ruled the oil-rich state between 1999 and 2004.

UMNO denies the claim, saying the structure was illegally built. "Terengganu has built 67 new mosques in the last four years," said Kelantan's Awang Adek. "In Kelantan, the (state) government in the last 18 years has not built a single mosque."


Malaysia's General Election 'records'

HOTLY CONTESTED SEAT
The most hotly contested state seats are the Tanjong Kapor (N02)and Sukau (N48) both in Sabah, with Bersekutu (1), BN (1) PKR (1), and five independents contesting for Tanjong Kapor while BN (1), Pas (1), Bersekutu (1) and five other independents contested for Sukau in 2008.

OLDEST CANDIDATE
The oldest candidate to run is 89-year old independent candidate Maimun Yusof, who is contesting for Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat against incumbent Barisan Nasional Datuk Razali Ismail and PAS Vice-President Mohamad Sabu.

LONGEST SERVING CANDIDATE
Former finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is the country's longest-serving elected representative, both at the state and parliamentary levels, if he wins in the March 8 polls since his debut in 1962 in Umno.

YOUNGEST CANDIDATE
MCA's Carol Chew Chee Lin, 27, is the youngest female candidate to contest in the 2008 General Election. She is standing in Seputeh against DAP's Teresa Kok. [The youngest candidate ever to contest in an election was Lee Lam Thye (now Tan Sri) who was 22 years 5 months old when he contested in the 1969 elections. Another young candidate candidate was Najib Tun Razak ( now Datuk Seri and Deputy Prime Minister) who was 22 years and eight months old when he won the Pekan parliamentary seat uncontested in 1976 following the death of his father Tun Abdul Razak, the country's second Prime Minister.]

(From Sun2Surf)

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