03 March, 2008

Malaysia govt's silent poll fear is voter apathy !

Malaysia's ruling coalition is braced for a possible protest vote at elections next weekend, but the word on the street is that apathy may be the real threat.

Campaigning for the March 8 polls has so far focused on clear signs of discontent in the minority ethnic Indian and Chinese communities with the coalition's policies on race and religion.

"I'm concerned that even those who have registered to vote seem doubtful whether they would go out to vote," former deputy premier Musa Hitam said in an interview in the New Sunday Times.

"Some are not happy with the government, yet don't feel they should come out and vote against the government. Some say they are simply fed up with politics...and some are saying 'Well, whether we vote or not, they are going to win for sure'."

Even though Abdullah's re-election seems assured -- thanks to a weak and divided opposition -- a large protest vote, compounded by a failure to rally his own core supporters, could threaten his continued leadership, political experts say.

"Basically the enthusiasm has gone," said pollster Ibrahim Suffian, of local market-research firm the Merdeka Center.

He said apathy was a particular risk among Malay voters, who form the bedrock of support for the Barisan Nasional coalition.

"It (apathy) would depress the incumbent's vote and inflate the opposition's vote," Ibrahim said.

His challenge this time will be voters like Hafizaidi Mahmud, a 37-year-old Malay lorry driver, who plans not to vote, unhappy with the coalition but not angry enough to vote against it.

"I support Pak Lah and the party," he said at a roadside cafe in Kuala Lumpur, using the premier's affectionate nickname. "But I know a lot of his party officials will come to my area with a lot of promises and once they win the elections, I don't hear from them," he added.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's prime minister rejected critics' claims Monday that he deserved to lose in this week's general election for being a poor leader who sleeps on the job.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi insisted that his time in office since October 2003 has "not been a time of failure, but of success," citing steady economic growth and bolstered job opportunities under his government.

Cash-strapped opposition leaders meanwhile said they have been seeking donations through the Internet for the first time for their election campaign, but that they cannot match the National Front's massive spending power.

The Democratic Action Party's candidates have pleaded on Web sites and online journals for supporters to contribute funds through credit cards and bank transfers to help them print campaign posters and hold public forums, party official Tony Pua said Monday.

One of the party's candidates, Jeff Ooi, has secured about 113,000 ringgit (US$35,000; €23,000) from readers of his Web journal.

Hatta Ramli, treasurer of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, said online donations were nevertheless still insufficient, adding that government candidates have been "very much advanced in the number of campaign posters and banners that they can afford to put up."
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