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Date: 24 Nov 1999
Malaysia's opposition leader sees both challenge and opportunity
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 (AFP) - Lim Kit Siang, a 30-year veteran of Malaysian politics twice jailed under security laws, sees this month's general election as his opposition party's greatest opportunity -- and its greatest challenge.
The Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary general is pinning high hopes on the November 29 polls as a chance to change Malaysia's political landscape.
"For the first time in history, there is a possibility of change to end the ruling coalition's two-thirds parliamentary majority and usher in far-reaching political and economic reforms," he said in an interview with AFP.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's National Front holds 166 of the 192 seats in the current parliament. It aims at least to retain its two-thirds majority which allows it to amend the constitution.
While the ruling party plays the stability card to woo voters, Lim is playing humble.
He insists the opposition has no illusions about forming a government but wants to end the "arrogance and political hegemony" of the ruling party by denting its domination.
The DAP has entered an opposition alliance with the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the National Justice Party (Keadilan) headed by the wife of jailed ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim and the Malaysian People's Party.
But the stakes are high for the mainly Chinese party.
It risks a backlash from Chinese voters, its core supporters, as the government has highlighted differences among the parties -- especially the PAS' call for an Islamic state, a demand which the DAP rejects.
Lim admitted his party was taking "very great political risks" by entering the alliance and could suffer its worst ever electoral results. He said the alliance gave the National Front "four trump cards to confuse, scare and mislead the voters on the real issues at stake."
He cited the Islamic state issue, memories of anti-Chinese riots in 1969, economic recovery and Mahathir's future.
"We may be as good as being wiped out. These issues are haunting the Chinese community," he said, describing the polls as a "do-or-die battle for the DAP as well as for democracy and justice in Malaysia."
Lim said the party could secure 25 parliamentary seats if it ran on its own but, on the other hand, could never dent the National Front's two-thirds majority.
In an alliance, he predicted the PAS, DAP and Keadilan could win up to 25 seats each.
"We have decided to subordinate party interests to the higher national interest of a political breakthrough to restore justice, freedom, democracy and good governance to establish a new Malaysia," Lim said.
The DAP hit its peak in the 1986 polls when it won 26 parliamentary seats but its performance has suffered since. It managed 20 seats in 1990 but holds only seven in the current parliament.
The party last week filed a lawsuit to try to halt the polls in protest at the exclusion of some 680,000 new voters, whom Lim said could have "decisively influenced the outcome of 70 to 80 parliamentary seats."
The Election Commission said it would not be able to include the new names on the roll until January.
Lim has also lodged complaints with police over what he called the "fear and scare" tactics used in the ruling party's advertising blitz which depicts the opposition as rioters and is aimed, according to analysts, at scaring Chinese into voting for the status quo.
Lim admitted the adverts were damaging.
The outspoken Lim, 58, was jailed twice under security laws in 1969 and 1987 and was convicted of five charges under the Official Secrets Act in 1979.
A lawyer by training, he worked as a journalist for more than four years in Singapore before entering politics in 1966. He was elected as a member of parliament and DAP secretary general three years later.
He has been parliamentary opposition leader since 1975, a task he undertakes with great passion, highlighted by his fiery speeches in parliament and daily press releases.
He is married with four children, one of whom has also been jailed for sedition.