03/07/2008, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Malaysia prepares for the "dirtiest" elections in its history

This is the outcry from the political opposition and human rights groups on the eve of tomorrow's voting for parliament and for the local legislatures. The victory of the governing coalition, the BN, is practically assured. About 9,000 "phantom voters" over the age of 100.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - It's the last day for the electoral campaign in Malaysia, which goes to the polls tomorrow for the general elections.  Surveys give the advantage to the coalition of prime minister Abdullah Badawi  - the Umno party, at the head of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that has been ruling the country for 50 years.  But this is believed to have lost ground against the opposition.  One decisive factor will be the votes of the Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities, as well as of religious minorities, which complain of political discrimination in favour of the Muslim Malay majority.

There are 222 parliamentary seats at stake; voting will also be conducted for legislators in 12 of the federation's 13 states.  Human rights groups and the domestic political opposition decry that these will be "the dirtiest elections" in the history of the country.  Human Rights Watch accuses the government of manipulating the electoral process.  The electoral commission has cancelled the use of indelible ink to mark the voters who have already gone to the polls.  The opposition has condemned the initiative and criticises "the agreement between the electoral commission and the central government".

The "Coalition for transparent and just elections" - an alliance of groups of civil society, better known as Bersih - speaks of "numerous phantom citizens" present on the voter lists, who it is believed would alter the results in favour of the majority.  A study by the group revealed the existence of 9,000 registered voters over the age of 100.

Abdullah has steadfastly rejected all of the accusations.  But the fact is that popular dissatisfaction with him is widespread in the country.  This is fostered by growing inflation, rampant criminality, violence, the negative impact of low cost foreign manual labour on the jobs market, and the accusations of discrimination from the strong ethnic and religious minorities.  Well-known analyst Shamsul Amri Baharuddin delineates the hypothesis of a strong polarisation of the electorate: "On the one side, the predominant population of rural ethnic Malays in favour of the current government, and on the other the growing non-Muslim city population in support of the opposition".  But according to the expert, this is an unlikely scenario: the anti-establishment sentiment will be overcome by pragmatism, and there will once again be a vote for stability.

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