Malaysia votes

Malaysians have voted in state and national elections, with Prime Minister Abd Allah Ahmad Badawi seeking a big win to repulse an Islamist challenge in northern states and a mandate for his anti-graft campaign.

    Support for Islamist parties is strong in the north

    The ruling multi-racial Barisan National coalition is sure of victory - it has formed every government since independence in 1957 - but the elections on Sunday are a crucial test for the successor of Mahathir Muhammad, who retired in October after 22 years in power.

    Abd Allah's own United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which leads the Barisan, is looking to recover from a weak showing in 1999, when under Mahathir it won less than half the popular Malay vote.
     
    "I'm happy. I'm confident," Abd Allah told reporters as he arrived at a polling station, to cast his vote in Kepala Batas, the seat he holds in his home state of Penang.

    "I would expect a bigger majority. Yes, Insha-Allah (God willing)," he added.

    The 64-year-old prime minister launched an anti-graft campaign and vowed to raise ethical standards in government immediately after taking office, surprising many people who thought he was a tame time-server in Mahathir's cabinets.
     
    Expectations


    Even opposition figures say the quiet man of Malaysian politics, who is a less than rousing speaker, has generated a pre-election euphoria with his pledge to provide a moral compass after the Mahathir years.

    Malaysian PM Abd Allah Badawi
    says he is 'confident' of a win

    The Barisan is expected to surpass the two-thirds parliamentary majority supplied by Chinese and Indian support at the last election.
     
    But concurrent provincial assembly elections for Malaysia's 13 states will provide a clearer litmus test to gauge Abd Allah's success in wooing back the Malays.

    The two states where the battle is hardest are Kedah, where the Islamic Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) is trying to wrest control, and Terengganu where Barisan is hoping to oust PAS.

    Dominant theme
     
    The role of Islam in the multi-faith nation was the dominant theme in a campaign focused on Malay voters, although 40% of the country is non-Muslim.

    "I have a report we are going to win. We have seen some improvement"

    Abd al-Hadi Awang,
    president, PAS

    Abd Allah knows the pressure is on him to produce a convincing win to deter challengers in UMNO and halt the momentum the Islamists gained after their success four and a half years ago.

    "If you are not going to give us a strong mandate, I don't know what is going to happen," Abd Allah said in a telling remark on the eve of the election.

    Results
     
    He may only know the size of his victory after midnight (16:00 GMT), although the main flurry of results is expected between 9pm and 11pm (13:00 and 15:00 GMT). Polling closes at 5pm.

    PAS President and Chief Minister of Terengganu Abd Al-Hadi Awang was among the first to vote on Sunday.

    "I have a report we are going to win. We have seen some improvement," he told reporters as he left the polling station.

    Barisan lost Terengganu in 1999, in a protest vote against the humiliation of Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy premier who was sacked and jailed after challenging Mahathir.

    Anwar is serving a 15-year sentence for sodomy and abuse of power, charges he denies.

    The Keadilan party, led by his wife, champions his cause and is allied with PAS. The issue has faded, although there is still sympathy for him.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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