08 March, 2008

Malaysians vote in elections expected to clip govt's wings, ethnic Indians may dent outcome.

Malaysians have been choosing a new parliament in an election expected to see Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's huge majority reduced.

Inflation, rising crime and ethnic tensions have made inroads into support for his National Front coalition, analysts say.

Mr Badawi called for ethnic minorities to support him.

The National Front dominates Malaysian politics and currently controls all but one of Malaysia's 13 states and three federal territories - the northern state of Kelantan, which is held by PAS.

However, analysts say ethnic tensions and widespread concerns about price rises are likely to lead to gains for the opposition parties, including one led by the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Rights monitors and opposition leaders have warned that the coalition, which has ruled for half a century, may manipulate the vote in tightly fought seats, but Abdullah rejected those allegations Saturday.

"Enough of that. They are just looking for excuses in the event they do not win," he said in his Kepala Batas constituency in the island state of Penang, where he arrived dressed in the blue of the Barisan Nasional.

Concerns over electoral fraud triggered a clash between supporters of the Islamic party PAS and police in northern Terengganu state, with authorities using tear gas to disperse some 300 people. Twenty-two people were arrested.

Police chief Musa Hassan said the incident occurred after PAS supporters stopped several buses and cars which they suspected were ferrying in "phantom voters" for the coalition.

When police intervened, the crowd pelted police vehicles with rocks.

"The PAS supporters threw stones at police vehicles, forcing the police to release tear gas to control the situation," he said.

Abdullah, who cast his vote this morning at his Kepala Betas parliamentary constituency in Penang state, earlier said that the government wanted to hear directly the issues raised by the minority ethnic Indians and Chinese leaders in the cabinet and state executive councils and take 'corrective steps'.

"If they are there, we can discuss issues together and take the necessary corrective steps in the interest of all races," Abdullah told a television station in an apparent last minute bid to win back the minority vote bank.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Malaysian prime minister, told voters the night before the elections that they could cause instability and chaos if they abandoned BN, implying that racial tensions could flare up.

In 1969, after Barisan suffered a major electoral setback, race riots broke out in which hundreds of people were killed and a two-year state of emergency followed.

Badawi said: "You have to vote for our future. You have to vote for our children... What will happen if there is chaos and there is instability?"

Polling today in the country's 12th general election ended at 5pm nationwide except in three Sarawak localities where it stalled owing to the capsize of a boat carrying Election Commission (EC) workers.

The 221 voters in the Uma Sekapan Piit longhouse (one locality) and Uma Balo Kasing Long Amo longhouses (two localities) will cast their ballots tomorrow after EC workers are flown there by helicopter, EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said.

EC workers had conducted the polling at Uma Sekapan Piit, where there are 101 voters, and were travelling to the other longhouses when their boat capsized in the swollen Rajang River, causing the cast ballot papers they were transporting to be damaged.

Altogether, 10.9 million voters nationwide were eligible to go to the polls today to elect representatives in 214 of the 222 parliamentary constituencies and 501 of the 505 state constituencies.

The Election Commission said that the first result is expected to be known as early as 7pm while the attaining of a simple majority is expected to be announced around 10.30pm.....more from Malaysiakini

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