12/06/2005, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Malaysia's Islamic fundamentalist party faces ballot box test

By-election in Penglakan could be the beginning of the end of Islamic party 15-year hold on power.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Today's by-election in the Pengkalan Pasir constituency could bring the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) closer to losing control of Malaysia's Kelantan state. Thousands are expected to vote.

PAS has governed the state since 1990 and implemented policies of rigid social control such as banning unisex hair salons, gambling, and shows with female singers, and enforced an Islamic dress code for Muslim women.

For the party's leaders, this by-election will test support for the Islamic party's future, which includes a desire to see Malaysia ruled by an Islamic theocracy where thieves' hands would be amputated.

"It is an important by-election which will decide our destiny," state Chief Minister Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the Islamic party's spiritual leader.

Excluding the vacant seat, the Islamic party controls 23 of the 45 seats in the state legislature, while the National Front has 21.

The National Front coalition, although dominated by a Malay Muslim party, also includes Chinese and Indian parties and follows secular policies.

It has pledged to build a university and help poor villagers if it comes to power in Kelantan, one of Malaysia's least-developed states.

The Islamic party made inroads in the late 1990s, but has since faltered amid growing support for the central government's moderate Islamic policies.

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