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Election puts Mahathir firmly in political command but ethnic divide widens.

Date: 30 Nov 1999
Time: 02:39:54


Election puts Mahathir firmly in political command but ethnic divide widens

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 (AFP) - Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad celebrated an emphatic election victory Tuesday, securing a more than two-thirds majority, but analysts warned the results showed widening ethnic and religious divisions in the country.

Mahathir's National Front won 148 of the 193 parliamentary seats contested, and retained power in nine states. But it failed to wrest control in Kelantan and lost Terengganu to Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

"The Malay world is in turmoil, and nothing has made that more evident than this general election," the Sun newspaper said.

The Sun said the election result put aside any doubt about the 73-year-old Mahathir's command of the political landscape with a crushing win in his fifth and probably last election.

But as Asia's longest serving elected leader cut a cake early Tuesday to cheers and shouts of "Mahathir boleh" (Mahathir can), the newspaper warned the victory was at heavy price with the religious and ethnic divide in the country more evident then ever.

"PAS's comprehensive victory in Kelantan and Terengganu, and the significant inroads it has made in Kedah and elsewhere are signs of a dissatisfied, protesting Malay multitude," the pro-Mahathir newspaper said.

Some analysts said the sacking of former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim last year had hurt the Malay community who decided to pull back their traditional support for Mahathir's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). The premier is UMNO president.

The Sun said UMNO now has the task to find ways to unite the Malays.

"A divided Malay community is a confused community, and a confused community cannot be a confident community. Therein lies the threat to our national unity," it said.

Razak Baginda, head of the Malaysian Strategic Research Centre told AFP that Mahathir's victory signalled the popular support he has despite criticims from abroad.

"Malaysians are behind his economic policies," he said, while adding it was clear that UMNO, which champions Malay rights has been weakened by PAS.

"PAS has emerged as the beneficiary and used the religion issue to its fullest. This shows that Malays are susceptible to religious arguments and this resulted in votes swinging to PAS.

"Four UMNO cabinet ministers lost and this is telling," he said.

"Mahathir's UMNO has weakened but has survived because of his partnership in the coalition."

PAS President Fadzil Noor told AFP early Tuesday that the party would bring development to the people and ensure its two state governments were clean and free of corruption.

Fadzil said the victory by PAS in Kelantan and Terengganu as well as the party's significant gains in Kedah, Mahathir's home state, "proves that the smear campaign by the National Front did not succeed".

"It failed to dismantle the support for PAS from the people," he said.

Razak said he expected PAS to utilise the oil funds from Terengganu to fund development projects in rural Kelantan it has ruled since 1990.

Despite predictions Mahathir would pay an electoral price for the treatment of his jailed former deputy Anwar, the National Justice Party (Keadilan) lead by Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail managed only five seats.

"Keadilan has been defeated resoundingly and perhaps fatally," the Sun said.

Last changed: November 30, 1999