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Feb 6, 2008

Islamic rule is very generous

Malaysia gears up for God vs mammon battle in polls

KOTA BAHRU, Malaysia (Reuters) - The political battle lines are clear in Malaysia's predominantly Muslim state of Kelantan: religion versus money.

The federal government has promised millions of dollars of investment in a bid to win the state back from an Islamist party that has ruled the rural backwater for 18 years.

But for many of Kelantan's voters, expected to go to the polls for federal and state elections in the next few weeks, material wealth -- or the lack of it -- may not count for as much as religious piety and a corruption-free environment.

"Islamic rule is very generous," said Mrs Tan, a tiny 50-year old ethnic Chinese, as she peered over her half-moon glasses while poring over newspapers in her modest auto spare parts store.

"They follow religious laws. There is no corruption and they are more fair and honest."

The vote is a test of whether a moderate, secular Muslim government can defeat a hardline Islamist party with promises of economic progress.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's Barisan Nasional coalition is targeting poor voters in Kelantan in a bid to shake them off from the grip of the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) that governs the northeastern state.

The sole state under opposition rule, Kelantan, is the only real contest for power in the elections which are widely expected to return Abdullah's coalition to power, although with a reduced majority.


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