August 17, 2003

Malaysian Islamic party changes strategy for elections

Malaysia's main opposition party will dilute its conservative Islamic platform to appeal to moderates at next year's general elections, party officials said today.

Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) described the move as a sacrifice to placate non-Muslim allies in the opposition ahead of elections scheduled in 2004. Insiders in the conservative Islamic party said they also want to entice a wider section of the largely Muslim but multi-racial population of 24 million that has backed the National Front government in every general elections since independence in 1957.

"It has as much to do with appealing to the people's mindset as wanting to accommodate our allies in the opposition," a PAS election strategist said. The opposition is eyeing bigger gains in the next polls, to be held after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad steps down following 22 years in office and hands over to Abdullah Badawi his deputy.

PAS became the biggest rival to Mahathir in the 1999 general elections when it capitalised on public outrage sparked by his sacking and humiliation of his popular ex-deputy Anwar Ibrahim. The Muslim party extended its rule to two of Malaysia's 13 states from one previously. However, Mahathir's alliance won two-thirds of the seats in the federal Parliament.

PAS's platform of turning secular Malaysia into a conservative Islamic nation has led to a row with the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party, another key opposition party. In the two states it rules, PAS has tried to impose strict Islamic law with punishments such as stoning, whipping and amputation of limbs, but has been blocked by federal law. - Reuters