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Feb 23, 2008

Malaysian Islamists Warn Of Tension Ahead Of Polls


Malaysia's hardline Islamic opposition party has warned its supporters could "run amok" if the election authorities block its candidates from standing in next month's general election.

Saying that Malaysia should avoid post-election violence that gripped Kenya, leaders of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) told a rally late on Friday that the March 8 election could turn into one of the country's dirtiest.

"We anticipate this election will not be free and fair," party leader Syed Azman Syed Ahmad told the 5,000-strong rally in Kuala Terengganu, the northeastern city that saw a violent anti-government protest last September.

On Sept. 8, police opened fire to disperse rioters at a rally demanding electoral reforms, wounding two PAS members. Twenty-three people were arrested.

With the exception of 1969, when a divisive poll led to the country's worst race riots, Malaysian elections have largely been peaceful. But recent months have seen the biggest street protests in years, targeting Malaysia's electoral system.

The Barisan Nasional coalition, effectively in office since independence from Britain in 1957, is widely expected to hold on to power in the March 8 poll, though with a reduced majority.

The Election Commission denies the electoral system favours Barisan Nasional, but the opposition says electoral boundaries are drawn unfairly and electoral rolls stuffed with "phantom voters".

The opposition also says it has no access to pro-government media.

In the latest complaint against the panel, the opposition said it was unhappy over an 11th-hour ruling stipulating that would-be candidates must pay a stamp duty for a statutory declaration for their nomination papers.

Nominations for the March 8 polls will be accepted on Sunday. The election authorities said they were enforcing the ruling for the first time since it was introduced in 1981.

"The sudden ruling could be pretext to disqualify our candidates," PAS Vice-President Mohammad Sabu told reporters.

His party, which is trying to retain power in neighbouring Kelantan state, has said it would also contest 65 of the total 222 Parliament seats.

"If the Election Commission rejects the nomination papers, we will run amok," he said. "But we don't want this election to end up as in Kenya."

A disputed Dec. 27 presidential election triggered political and tribal violence in Kenya in which more than 1,000 people were killed and 300,000 were displaced.

PAS said it would hold large and sustained street protests if dozens of its candidates were disqualified by the Election Commission, despite a police ban on illegal protests.

"We will get half a million people in Kuala Lumpur to gather for several days," Sabu said. (Reuters India)

***** Mohammad Sabu's amok threat is mere bunkum and does little for PAS' image or credibility. It might find resonance among a small number of amok-prone Malays but will add to the many reservations Malaysians generally have about PAS. When will they learn to avoid foot-in-mouth speeches?


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