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Feb 25, 2008


Malaysian govt targets inflation anger in manifesto
Agence France-Presse - 2/25/2008 11:54 AM

Malaysia's ruling coalition touted its economic credentials in a policy manifesto launched Monday ahead of March 8 polls, in a bid to ease public anger over rising prices of food and fuel.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose leads the Barisan Nasional multi-ethnic coalition, acknowledged unhappiness over the government's plans to dismantle fuel subsidies that are draining state coffers.

"When oil prices go up, we must have an action plan to reduce the burden of the people," he told hundreds of cheering party faithful. "We want to ensure that the people do not suffer."

The manifesto, entitled "Security, peace and prosperity," also dealt with issues including rising crime rates and ethnic tensions, which are expected to reduce the government's thumping majority at the general elections.

Barisan Nasional claimed 90 percent of parliamentary seats in 2004 polls but the opposition is hoping the gripes will take the coalition's majority below two-thirds for the first time in the nation's history.
Abdullah derided a loose pact between the opposition parties, who will field just one candidate against the government in each seat, as an "alliance of convenience".

"They cannot convince the people, they have a sharp divergence in their ideologies. People do not believe they can bring development," he said.

Against charges that Abdullah has failed to eradicate corruption as he promised at the last polls, the manifesto said the government would "continue to enforce anti-corruption measures without fear or favour."

It also touched on complaints from Malaysia's ethnic Indians that the government dominated by Muslim Malays has displayed gross insensitivity by demolishing hundreds of Hindu temples.

The manifesto said the coalition would "ensure provision of reserved land for places of worship" in development areas where many of the shrines and temples have been torn down.

The coalition, which has a formidable election machinery developed over the half-century it has been in power, also Monday launched an advertising campaign to address voter gripes over rising costs.

Full-page newspapers said the government was spending 43.4 billion ringgit (13.5 billion dollars) annually to keep the cost of living low.

Against complaints over the rising cost of food, it said that subsidised staples like flour, sugar, cooking oil and petrol cost less in Malaysia than in other Southeast Asian countries.

Rising costs have triggered rare public protests in recent months, and the government is preparing the ground for an extremely unpopular overhaul of the fuel subsidies, which are costing more as the price of oil spirals.

Petrol prices are particularly sensitive in Malaysia, which has poor public transport and where most people are dependent on their cars to get to work and school.


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