Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sex, murder and corruption: Malaysia's ruling coalition dodges scandals in election campaign

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A close associate of the deputy prime minister allegedly orders the murder of a beautiful foreigner. The health minister is filmed having extramarital sex. A politically connected lawyer is accused of brokering top judicial appointments.

A string of scandals features heavily in the opposition's campaign for Malaysia's parliamentary election on March 8.

"It's not that we want to capitalize unnecessarily on these issues, but it's our moral duty to bring them out in our campaign to show that the government is rotten," said Hatta Ramli, an official in the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.

The ruling National Front coalition is widely expected to win, but with a smaller majority than its landslide victory in 2004. The scandals are not the main factor, but they may be adding to voter discontent with the status quo.

"I think everything that has been made public is only the tip of the iceberg," said Voon Chin Joo, a 28-year-old information technology consultant. "My vote will be for the opposition because I want to see all the other scandals exposed."

But, analysts say, most voters are more focused on issues that affect their lives, such as inflation, crime and rising racial and religious tensions.

"Malaysians have a short memory," said Tricia Yeoh, a senior researcher at the Center for Public Policy Studies, a Malaysian think tank. "These scandals may contribute to some people's perception that Malaysia is in a mess, but they wouldn't drastically change voting patterns."

The government's first headache emerged with the slaying of Altantuya Shaariibuu in late 2006. Abdul Razak Baginda, a close associate of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, was charged with abetting the murder of the Mongolian interpreter, with whom he had had an affair.

Opposition parties worked feverishly to link Najib to the killing, in which two policemen allegedly used explosives to destroy Shaariibuu's remains in a jungle clearing in October 2006. But the opposition failed to come up with evidence to substantiate its claim that Najib had a hand in the killing.

The government has moved quickly to deal with the unusual spate of pre-election scandals.

READ AP’s article via Yahoo! News here and Malaysia-Today here

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