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Mar 5, 2008


Rights group slams Malaysian elections

The Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — An international human rights group said Wednesday it fears Malaysians will not get a fair vote in this week's general elections because of an uneven playing field favoring the ruling National Front coalition.

New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Malaysia to eradicate bias from the electoral process. Opposition and activist groups say the process is rife with irregularities including government control of the media, restraint on opposition rallies and names of dead people on voting registration lists.

"Once again, elections in Malaysia are grossly unfair to the opposition," Elaine Pearson, the group's deputy Asia director, said in a statement. "Malaysia's ruling coalition is too comfortable with the status quo to allow reforms that would level the playing field."

Malaysian Law Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz denied the allegations, accusing Human Rights Watch of trying to discredit the elections because "they know the National Front will win."

"To me, Human Rights Watch is biased. They are not important at all. It's only their opinion," Nazri told The Associated Press.

He said the opposition parties' active participation — they are contesting almost all the 222 parliamentary and 505 state legislature seats — shows the elections "are free and fair."

The polls Saturday will be a crucial test of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's popularity amid mounting complaints over corruption and racial and religious discrimination. These grievances led to rare protests by tens of thousands of people in Kuala Lumpur in November.

Abdullah's National Front won 91 percent of parliamentary seats in 2004 polls, but it has acknowledged it may win fewer seats this time.

The opposition hopes to deny the National Front a two-thirds majority, which allows it to amend the constitution.

Election Commission chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman says cheating has never been proven.

Human Rights Watch called on poll monitors to probe claims of fraud and irregularities and post vote tallies outside polling stations for greater transparency.

The rights group also called on the government to ensure equal state media access for all parties, saying television and radio gave no time to opposition candidates and newspapers report on the opposition "at their own risk."

In Malaysia, almost all media outlets are linked to parties in the ruling coalition, and publications need government printing licenses that must be renewed annually.


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