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Date: 22 Nov 1999
Malaysia's opposition Muslim state woos voters with Islamic values
KOTA BARU, Malaysia, Nov 22 (AFP) - The leader of Malaysia's only Islamic-ruled state -- a key battleground in November 29 polls -- makes no secret of his support for the introduction of strict Islamic law in his rural northeastern fiefdom.
Nik Aziz Nik Mat, chief minister of Kelantan which is ruled by the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), told AFP his party's goal was Islamic "hudud" law.
NiK Aziz, 68, said PAS would pursue both spiritual and economic development if voted back to power in the state assembly for a third term.
"I don't understand up to now," he said in an interview. "The Malaysian government hangs a person for drug offences. Under hudud it is just the cutting of the hand. The person does not die," he said.
"Why do people get agitated over hudud when hundreds have died from hanging?"
PAS authorities in Kelantan, the only state not controlled by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's ruling National Front coalition, have clashed with the federal government in the past on the issue. In 1994 the government vetoed PAS plans to implement hudud laws.
Under the code, adultery, theft, renunciation of Islam and drinking alcohol are offences. Some can in theory by punishable by stoning, whipping and amputation of a hand or foot.
The PAS has entered a new national opposition Alternative Front alliance with the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party, the National Justice Party and the small Malaysian People's Party.
The alliance's common manifesto makes no mention of Islamic laws or the PAS's declared goal of making Malaysia an Islamic state. But the ruling coalition depicts PAS as an extremist party in a marriage of electoral convenience.
Other PAS leaders appeared to play down the comments by Nik Aziz, who has a reputation for controversial remarks.
National vice-president Mustafa Ali, asked whether hudud including amputations was official policy, replied: "Islam is a complete way of life for Muslims. Hudud is only a part of Islam. For PAS, Islam is struggle.
"Hudud is mainly to prevent crime and to maintain a moral society."
Mahfuz Omar, PAS youth chief, told AFP: "In this election PAS holds a common manifesto.
"In Kelantan politics, Islamic religion is one of the fundamental issues. In this election we focus on common issues."
He declined to comment on hudud, saying it was not part of the manifesto.
Nik Aziz said non-Muslims would remain under secular laws. Slightly more than 50 percent of the country's 22 million people are Muslims.
PAS has banned gambling in the state even though some say illegal operators exist. Liquor and beer sales have been sharply curbed for non-Muslims and women are under pressure to wear headscarves in public.
Nik Aziz said the PAS would also focus on settling land ownership complaints and promote farming. He said he would not only lead PAS to victory in the state but help the opposition alliance deny the National Front a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
Mahathir's treatment of sacked and jailed deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim would be a campaign issue, he said. "We may not be able to find a leader like Anwar for the next 30 years.
"I care for Anwar. He has leadership qualities. Just to cut him off like that is not right," he said.
The fate of Anwar, an Islamic youth leader in the 1970s now serving a six-year jail sentence for abuse of power, has split Malay voters nationwide.
Mahathir sees the northern ethnic Malay heartland which includes Kelantan as a major campaign battleground.
Nik Aziz brushed aside problems of the short campaign period and the ruling coalition's control of the media.
"I'm not worried because UMNO (the United Malays National Organisation, the main National Front party) lies. We will fight UMNO peacefully and not with weapons," he said.
Mahathir has predicted the opposition will riot if it does badly.
Fourteen parliamentary and 43 state seats are being contested in Kelantan.
Nik Aziz described UMNO's Kelantan chief Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah as a spent force. "He has lost the trust of the voters. He has become a traitor to the people. He cannot become a people's representative."
Razaleigh broke from UMNO in the 1980s and teamed up with PAS in 1990 and 1995. In 1996 he rejoined the ruling party.