[ Contents | Post ]
Date: 21 Nov 1999
Malaysia's Islamic party vows tough electoral battle with Mahathir
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 (AFP) - The leader of Malaysia's Islamic opposition party is shaping up for a bruising battle with the ruling coalition for the hearts and minds of voters in the ethnic Malay northern heartland.
Both sides in the November 29 election for parliamentary and state assembly seats are making the region a priority.
The country's ruling National Front has made no secret of its determination to seize control of Kelantan, governed since 1990 by the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and the only opposition-controlled state.
"Kelantan is a PAS stronghold and we hope to destroy it so that they will not have a role in politics," Kelantan National Front vice-chairman Mustapa Mohamed said this month.
PAS, in turn, says it is confident not just of holding on to Kelantan but taking one or two other states in the north.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said last week his coalition would focus its campaign on four northern states -- Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.
"This is because lies and slander are being spread among villagers in these states which are largely populated by the Malays," he said, blaming so-called "ulamas" (religious teachers) who used their position to confuse people.
PAS national president Fadzil Noor said the party would put up a fierce fight for both parliamentary and state assembly seats.
"Our strategy is to capture some new states. Based on the mood of the people, we are sure of that victory and if elections are conducted without any 'dirty tricks' we can secure majority votes," he said.
Nationally Fadzil said the ultimate goal of the opposition Alternative Front alliance was to unseat the National Front. "If we can't, then we want to deny Mahathir his two-thirds (parliamentary) majority."
The alliance comprises the National Justice Party led by the wife of jailed ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, PAS, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Malaysian People's Party.
Mahathir has slammed the alliance as a marriage of convenience. "Each of them has its own stand. DAP with its Malaysian Malaysia, PAS with its Islamic country..." he said Monday.
The ruling alliance is highlighting PAS's ultimate goal of making Malaysia an Islamic state -- a concept which sparks unease among the minority Chinese and Indian communities.
Fadzil said PAS as a party would continue its quest for an Islamic state but would stick to the Alternative Front's common manifesto if it comes to power. This makes no mention of an Islamic state.
"In the context of this election, we will abide by the common manifesto," the 62-year-old leader told AFP in a telephone interview from Kedah.
"There is no contradiction. Each party in the alliance respects one another's struggle."
Fadzil, the PAS party chief since 1989, said the main issues in this election were corruption, nepotism and croynism, adding the Anwar saga would give the opposition ammunition.
While the National Front coalition is virtually guaranteed victory in the general election, Mahathir is expected to face his toughest test of recent years after Anwar's case split the ethnic Malay constituency.
Anwar, who says he is a victim of a top-level political conspiracy, was jailed for six years in April for corruption and is now on trial for sodomy.
A senior member of Mahathir's coalition acknowledged discontent among Malays. "Compared to previous elections the Malays now are split," he told AFP. But he predicted the coalition would still win up to 70 percent of the parliamentary seats.
Malays account for about 56 percent of the electorate and officials said they represent majority voters in about 70 percent of parliamentary seats. The National Front has 166 of the 192 seats contested in 1995 and PAS has eight.
Fadzil said his party's election machinery was ready almost a year ago but admitted the short eight-day campaign period would hamper it.
"We hope the ruling party will not abuse government machinery and resources in the electoral battle," said the state assemblyman for Bukit Raya constituency near Alor Setar.