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Voters want change, fear "chaos" in suburb earmarked for

Date: 21 Nov 1999
Time: 22:34:06


Voters want change, fear "chaos" in suburb earmarked for Anwar

LEMBAH PANTAI, Malaysia, Nov 22 (AFP) - The views of voters in this constituency originally earmarked for Anwar Ibrahim -- a mix of leafy affluent streets and poorer apartments -- highlight the problems and opportunies Malaysia's opposition faces in upcoming elections.

Calls for reform are countered by fears of "chaos", an indication of the ruling coalition's political astuteness in highlighting fears -- whether ill-founded or not -- of violence if the opposition does well.

In the constituency's ethnic Malay working class suburb of Kampung Kerinchi, trees and telephone poles already sprout political messages.

Posters of the scales of justice of the ruling National Front vie for attention with the eye symbol of the opposition National Justice Party (Keadilan).

The eye stands for the eye of justice and the black eye suffered by jailed former deputy prime minister Anwar at the hands of the former police chief. His wife leads Keadilan.

A photo of a noticeably younger Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad smiles beatifically from a wall poster.

Campaigning in Lembah Pantai began Sunday in earnest after Anwar, in a surprise move, decided in jail not to try to stand for the seat.

In his place Zainur Zakaria, the party's legal adviser, will take on the National Front incumbent, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.

The constituency covers leafy, affluent Bangsar and Bukit Damansara with their Mercedes and fancy restaurants as well as the lower-income apartments of Kampung Kerinchi.

Zainur expects to sway even the wealthier constituents into voting for change after 42 years of rule by the National Front and its predecessor.

"I think we can make it," he told AFP.

"Fielding Anwar - the risk involved would have been too great. Nomination may not have been allowed in the first place, then if allowed there is no guarantee the opposing candidate will not petition to set aside the results and there is no avenue for appeal."

Taxi driver Osman Zainal was not disappointed Anwar would not stand.

"I am not well versed with the language of politics but I do know that I am hurting from the way Anwar has been treated," the father of two said.

"Keadilan is the poor people's best bet."

Osman's friend, a 44 year-old hawker, agreed.

"I think we need more opposition in the parliament. It is not who is bad or who is good but things need to be checked."

Anwar was jailed for six years in April for abusing his official powers to cover up allegations of sexual misconduct. He is now on trial for sodomy, punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.

He says he is the victim of a top-level political conspiracy.

A 30-year-old Chinese professional, sipping a beer in a fashionable Bangsar bar, was more circumspect.

"Right or wrong is not really the issue. It is who can do better. There is no use in making a martyr of Anwar. I think Chinese interests are best protected with Barisan (the National Front)," he said.

Most people interviewed declined to be identified.

The ethnic Chinese community was certain to cast its lot with Mahathir, a 53-year-old Chinese trader said. "If there is chaos the Chinese will be the biggest victims."

A middle-aged Malay housewife said: "If the people know what is good for them they will vote for Mahathir unless they want all sorts of chaos."

Life for the Indian community had improved, said a middle-aged housewife, but more could be done. "I don't know how I should vote. I have sympathy for Anwar but I also want things to be done here," she said.

It is voters like her that Keadilan is courting. "I see support from most sections of voters there -- middle, upper-middle and also the people from the other areas of society," said Zainur.

"The government has spent nine billion ringgit (2.36 billion dollars) for the airport and four bilion ringgit for the Twin Towers but the pressing needs for the lower income housing and basic amenities need to be looked into seriously.

"We will work to bring about more benefits to the people and not unrest and instability like Mahathir alleges."

National Front candidate Shahrizat could not be reached for comment.

Last changed: November 21, 1999