21 February, 2008

Islamic opposition drops theocracy from platform

«The country has good resources (and) big profits from our own petroleum industry. The main thing is how do you spend the money? Currently we have heard of a lot of mismanagement, abuse,»

Malaysia's Islamic opposition has dropped from its election platform a pledge to create a theocratic state, and is instead promising to slash the cost of living and ensure racial equality.

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, will campaign in the March 8 general elections with the slogan "a nation of care and opportunity,"

He said the party is promising lower fuel prices, a minimum wage, free university education and more affordable health care.

PAS, which is known to want strict Islamic rule in the country, is unlikely to win the elections given the ruling coalition's dominance.

By focusing on social issues rather than Islam, it appears to be softening its hard-line image, which has alienated not only non-Muslims but also some within the Islamic community.

"We offer equal justice to all, justice in economy opportunities and freedom of religion," Abdul Hadi said. "We promise a government that is trustworthy, just and clean which will be able to give the people a better life."

In 2004 polls, PAS called for the creation of an Islamic state with harsh laws such as amputating the limbs of thieves and stoning adulterers to death.

Asked why its Islamic agenda was not mentioned in the current party platform, Abdul Hadi said it was already understood by supporters and non-Muslims and did not need to be mentioned again specifically.

Abdul Hadi said PAS stands a "good chance" of capturing three states in state elections that will be held along with the parliamentary polls. He predicted the party will retain Kelantan, the only one of Malaysia's 13 states under opposition control, and also win neighboring Terengganu and northern Kedah.

In its election platform, PAS said national oil company Petronas should be made accountable to Parliament, rather than reporting directly to the prime minister, and that its profits should be used to benefit the people.

PAS is the biggest rival of the United Malays National Organization, the leading party in the National Front coalition, for the support of ethnic Malay Muslims, who account for about 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people. UMNO espouses a generally moderate form of Islam.

The National Front, which won 199 parliamentary seats in 2004, is expected to easily return to power but with a reduced majority given public frustrations over inflation, rising crime and ethnic tensions.

The opposition People's Justice Party, an ally of PAS, is expected to contest about half of the parliamentary seats in a bid to bounce back from its stinging defeat in the last polls, when it won only one seat.

The party's secretary general, Khalid Ibrahim, said it expects to win at least 30 seats with the help of campaigning by charismatic opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim.

Yes, 'Nothing' Anwar seems to be quite a something'

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