Thursday, 11 March, 2004

Malaysia fears election violence

By Jonathan Kent
BBC in Kuala Lumpur

The head of Malaysia's election commission says he is concerned that violence could mar the country's general election campaign that starts on Sunday.
Abdul Rashid says the fear prompted the decision to limit campaigning to just seven days - the shortest election period in Malaysia's history.
Abdul Rashid says the fear prompted the decision to limit campaigning to just seven days - the shortest election period in Malaysia's history.
Both government and opposition are focusing on the role of Islam in Malaysia.
Religion has been at the centre of this campaign since leaders of the conservative Islamic party, Pas, made this election a choice between heaven and hell.
A vote for their opposition party was the mark of a person bound for paradise, they said - a vote for the government that of someone heading to damnation.
Malaysia's Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, has now contrasted that vision with his own - Islam as a religion of development where hard work, hunger for knowledge, science and technology are all encouraged.
Fears that the two sides could clash have led the country's election commission not just to keep the campaign short but also to warn politicians they face arrest if they launch character attacks on opponents.
But an independent watchdog, Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections, has asked that the polls be delayed.
It is concerned that the elections could be tainted and says the rushed campaign means there is no chance to check the voting register for fraudulent entries.
It says in a random sample of 3,000 registered voters, almost half could not be traced and one in 10 of the addresses listed appeared not to exist.


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