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Date: 24 Nov 1999
Malaysia's Silicon Valley sees major election clash
PENANG, Malaysia, Nov 24 (AFP) - Political parties are waging an intense electoral battle in Malaysia's "Silicon Valley," where the government is banking on rapid growth fuelled by a global electronics boom to keep the opposition at bay.
Most of the world's top electronics companies are located in the mainly Chinese Penang island off peninsular Malaysia, a key focus of the November 29 general election.
The island and with an area on the mainland -- dominated by ethnic Malays and where jailed deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim wields huge influence -- together make up Penang state.
The state is spearheading industrialisation in northern Malaysia.
The opposition Alternative Front, a coalition of diverse political parties whose candidate for prime minister is Anwar, is making an unprecedented collective bid to win Chinese and Malay votes in Penang.
The Alternative Front is made up of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) led by veteran ethnic Chinese opposition politician Lim Kit Siang, the new National Justice Party led by Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Ismail, the Parti Islam SeMalaysia and the small Malaysian People's Party.
"This will be the toughest election fight for us in recent times," Teng Chang Yeow, political secretary to Penang Chief Minister Koh Tsu Koon, told AFP.
He indicated that "perceived human rights violations" by the government could cost the ruling party votes but did not elaborate.
Anwar, 52, was beaten by police while in detention after he led a demonstration against his former mentor, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, following his sacking in September last year.
Anwar was in April jailed for six years for abusing his powers to quash sexual misconduct allegations. He is now on trial for sodomy.
Analysts say the current election campaign in Penang is one of the hottest they have seen. Nine giant billboards with photographs of Chief Minister Koh were found defaced with paint on Tuesday.
In the last elections in 1995 Koh, whose pragmatic policies have attracted a deluge of foreign investment to the island, led a National Front landslide in Penang.
"If you look at what has been achieved by the government in terms of economic success, in terms of social stability, I think our chances are quite bright," said Koh's political secretary Teng.
Penang chalked up average growth of 10 percent from 1990 to 1997, when Asia's financial crisis began. The state's manufacturing-led economy contracted 4.2 percent in 1998.
Now it has recovered and could hit five percent growth this year and six percent in 2000, Koh predicted.
Growth so far this year has been on the back of a global electronics boom stemming largely from a regional recovery.
"The target is a minimum projected growth rate of six percent for the year 2000. With your strong support, Penang will achieve this target, to your benefit," Koh said in a message to voters.
He has also promised to wire the state with fibre optic cables to lay the infrastructure for information technology expansion and build a second bridge between Penang island and the mainland.
In addition Koh has promised voters a fully integrated public transport system in Penang, which is also a top tourist destination.
The state's international airport is to be expanded to accommodate twice as many passengers by 2001.
"We hope the people will give us another chance to serve them and deliver, complete and start new projects," Koh said.