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Date: 08 Dec 1999
Malaysian's opposition front plays down row on non-Muslim tax plan
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 (AFP) - Leaders of Malaysia's Alternative Front held an election post-mortem Wednesday, saying the opposition alliance was still strong and playing down disputes over the dominant party's Islamic agenda.
The alliance has been strained by the Parti Islam SeMalaysia's (PAS) plan to impose a religious-based "kharaj" tax on non-Muslim businesses in the northeastern state of Terengganu, which it won in the November 29 polls.
PAS, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), the National Justice Party (Keadilan) and the Malaysian People's Party make up the alliance which had hoped for a breakthrough in the parliamentary and state elections.
But the Islamic party rather than its secular allies cashed in on disenchantment with the ruling coalition. It more than tripled its parliamentary seats to 27, retained Kelantan state assembly and captured Terengganu.
The DAP won just 10 seats in what its current chairman Lim Kit Siang called a "catastrophic" result, Keadilan took five and the Malaysian People's Party failed to win any.
The DAP blamed its setback on a "fear and scare" campaign by the ruling coalition -- which told the ethnic Chinese minority a vote for the DAP was a vote for PAS's ultimate goal of an Islamic state.
PAS president Fadzil Noor, who will make his debut in parliament as the opposition leader after Lim, said he told fellow party leaders the Terengganu government would study the kharaj issue before implementing it.
"It is not a drastic move. It is not really an issue since no official decision has been made," he told AFP. "We will continue our cooperation to strengthen the alliance."
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of jailed ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim and head of Keadilan, said Fadzil told the meeting the issue of kharaj "had been blown out of proportion."
She said the meeting was told it was "just a proposal and not been debated or discussed fully."
Lim said that at the Alternative Front council meeting his party urged the Terengganu government to seek the views of the people on the tax.
"DAP also proposed that the alliance form a committee to consider proposals by the Kelantan and Terengganu governments which could infringe the sensitivities and rights of the diverse races and religions," he said.
On future cooperation, Lim told AFP: "We made clear our position. They know where we stand, we'll take it from there."
DAP has warned PAS it risks losing the support of non-Muslims.
But in a statement Wednesday, Lim said the DAP should stay in the alliance "unless PAS makes such an opposition cooperation untenable because of disrespect and insensitivities of the PAS state governments."
Malaysian People's Party chief Syed Husin Ali said the meeting agreed there should be a mechanism for consultation on controversial issues but no decision was reached on what form this should take.
He said his party's stand on kharaj -- calling for caution and wide consultations before implementing it -- was generally adopted.
Syed Husin acknowledged "certain difficulties" but added: "I think the Alternative Front is still as strong as ever."
Syed Husin also confirmed a newspaper report his party and Keadilan were holding talks on closer cooperation which could eventually lead to a merger.
Fadzil said party leaders reviewed the election performance during the two-hour meeting.
"We viewed it as a success. Even though we did not win many seats, we have secured strong support from the voters," he said.
Asked if Anwar was still the alliance's candidate for premier, Fadzil said: "That is our commitment. We will continue to fight for Anwar."
Fadzil takes over as parliamentary opposition leader from Lim, who lost his seat after 30 years in parliament.