Monday, March 3, 2008

Malaysia's bastion of hardline Islam an electoral battleground

KOTA BHARU, Malaysia, March 2, 2008 (AFP) - Food vendor Tan Mong See is doing brisk business openly selling roasted pork in Kelantan state -- the last bastion of Islamic fundamentalism in multicultural Malaysia.

I've been selling pork and rice here for the last 10 years," Tan says as he serves ethnic Chinese and Indian patrons lining up for plates of the fragrant meat, which is forbidden under Islam.

"The authorities know what I am doing and understand," says the Chinese trader whose grandparents migrated to Malaysia, which is dominated by Muslim Malays, in the early 1900s.

On March 8 the nation votes to decide who governs the country and its 14 states and territories, and as the only state left in the hands of the hardline Pan-Malaysia Islamic party (PAS), Kelantan is a critical battleground.

In the rest of the country, ethnic Indians are in revolt over allegations of marginalisation and the Chinese community is upset by economic discrimination, but in Kelantan racial harmony appears to prevail.

A walk down the dusty streets of the capital Kota Bharu sees mosques located next to Buddhist temples, and headscarf-clad Muslim girls chatting with their short-skirted non-Muslim friends.

"I think the present PAS government is actually okay," says 23-year-old Samantha Chong as she heads for a coffee shop.

"They allow us non-Muslims to do what we want," she says in the town where green-and-white PAS flags face off against the blue banners of the ruling coalition which is determined to re-take the state.

Malaysia's federal parliament has been ruled by the multi-ethnic Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition since independence, and PAS has struggled to convince voters that their brand of Islam is what voters need. MORE HERE

ELECTION 2008: Najib: It's a choice between 2 visions -- PASIR PUTIH: Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said voters in Kelantan will have to choose between the different visions of Islam promoted by Pas and Umno when they go to the polls on Saturday.

BN ensured support from Chinese and Siamese in Kelantan -- KOTA BAHARU, MON: The Barisan Nasional (BN) in Kelantan has been assured of some 48,000 votes from the Chinese and Siamese communities in the upcoming general election.

ELECTION 2008: Kelantan Govt unable to rule effectively because of heavy debt, says Muhyiddin -- KOTA BAHARU, MON: The Kelantanese, especially PAS supporters, must be realistic to know that the state government is now unable to rule effectively because it is heavily in debt to the tune of RM1 billion.

ELECTION 2008: BN victory is in sight in Kelantan: KJ – RANTAU PANJANG: Barisan Nasional has made tremendous progress in its bid to wrest Pas-ruled Kelantan in the final stretch of campaigning, Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin said today. “Victory is already in sight. It is now up to BN whether to continue to pick up the momentum and cement the win or make the situation difficult for itself,” he said during a brief visit to the Rantau Panjang Umno division headquarters yesterday. "The win is there for the taking, but its also there for us (BN) to lose... the choice is ours."

ELECTION 2008: BN confident of recapture but Kelantan Pas insists on 29-16 win – KOTA BARU, Mon: With balloting just five days away, Barisan Nasional and Pas are equally confident of their chances of winning the Kelantan. Both parties are pulling out the stops to woo voters in the last round of campaigning which ends on midnight Friday.

ELECTION 2008: Hiccups in machinery but BN confident of wins in frontline states -- KUANTAN, Mon: Barisan Nasional is confident it will prevail in the frontline states of Penang, Terengganu and Kelantan despite the opposition’s reported strong challenges. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said indications of a BN victory in the three states become clearer as the coalition prepares for the final push this week.

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