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Date: 02 Dec 1999
Opposition chief plans to quit party, warning of "Islamisation" agenda
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 (AFP) - Malaysia's veteran opposition leader Thursday announced his resignation as party chief after a "catastrophic defeat" in the election.
Lim Kit Siang, whose Democratic Action Party (DAP) was sidelined as an opposition force by the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) in Monday's election, said the ruling party and PAS might now compete on an Islamisation agenda to woo ethnic Malay voters.
Lim, in a letter to DAP chairman Chen Man Hin, said: "I am tendering my resignation as secretary general as I cannot continue in this office as a result of Monday's election result."
Lim, who lost his seat after three decades in parliament, also loses his post as parliamentary opposition leader which he has held since 1975.
The Chinese-dominated party won 10 seats, one more than in 1995, but its chairman Chen and deputy chairman Karpal Singh also went down in defeat.
Chen also stepped down Wednesday. DAP executives were meeting later Thursday and it was unclear if the resignations would be accepted.
Lim, in his letter released to the media, warned of "a spiral of competitive Islamisation policies" between the United Malays National Organisation and PAS.
UMNO is the lynchpin of the ruling National Front coalition.
PAS emerged as the dominant opposition in parliament after it won 27 seats. It also retained the northeastern state of Kelantan which it ruled since 1990 and captured neighbouring Terengganu.
"The next five years will principally become the battleground between UMNO and PAS for the hearts and minds of the Malays in the Malay heartland, resulting in a spiral of Islamisation policies -- threatening a democratic secular Malaysia and sidelining all other great issues," Lim said.
The Chinese-dominated Gerakan party, part of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's National Front, voiced fears that PAS would push for "extreme fanatical laws" but said the coalition would not respond in kind.
Party chief Lim Keng Yaik, who is also primary commodities minister, said Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had given him an assurance early Thursday that UMNO would not embrace Islamic radicalism.
"He has reassured us that the policy of moderation and liberalisation, of development and progress will be carried on. We will perhaps give more emphasis to build up the standard of living for the rural people."
With PAS president Fadzil Noor likely to take over as opposition leader, Lim Keng Yaik said the coalition faced a challenge in countering "PAS's brand of religious politics."
"They will try to introduce all sorts of hudud (Islamic) laws in parliament," he said. "They will try to institute Islamic principles by bringing in fanatic and extreme religious laws."
He said the PAS victory was due to "DAP's wrong decision and strategy" to enter the Alternative Front alliance, which includes PAS and the National Justice Party headed by the wife of ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.
PAS had "fully exploited" the treatment of Anwar, who was sacked last year and jailed for six years in April for abusing his powers, to gain sympathy votes and instigate hatred against the government, he said.
Lim Keng Yaik said PAS might have "hit the nail on the head for the time being" but such issues would "wear off."
"We are confident that UMNO will be able to win back the support and consolidate their strength in rural areas."
The National Front won 148 out of 193 parliamentary seats but its percentage of the vote fell to 56.5 percent from 65 percent previously.
UMNO won only 72 seats compared to 88 in 1995 polls, while its seats in 11 state assemblies shrank to 175 from 231.
The pro-government Berita Harian said in an editorial the result was a wake-up call for UMNO.
"UMNO must change the attitudes of certain leaders and members," it said, adding that it must must be prepared to accept criticism from any parties.
"If UMNO only receive praise as if it is without flaws, then the leadership will continue to be laid-back and indifferent as if its position is unshakeable."
The party, the paper said, "must start to understand the people's needs and not make assumptions and calculations from afar."