03/19/2004, 00.00
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Sunday's general elections called to elect new Parliament


Kuala Lumpur (Asia News/Agencies) – This Sunday, March 21, twenty-five million Malaysian citizens will be called to cast their votes to elect new members of Parliament.

The stage is set for a battle between two parties: the reformist and moderately Islamist UMNO (United Malays National Organization) which currently holds power in government and the PAS (Parti Islam SeMalaysia) Islamic fundamentalist party headed by Nik Aziz. Both are formed by coalitions of various ethnic minority parties.   

This is the first time general elections have been called since 1999, the year in which PAS barely claimed victory by less than one thousand votes in Terengganu, a state rich in oil fields.    

Malaysia's constitutional monarchy is composed of 13 states. The last elections confirmed the country's preference for Islamic fundamentalism in the state of Kelantan as well, where the PAS party came to power in the 1990 elections.    

Last Oct. the 78 year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who headed the government for a good 22 years, stepped down from office in November. Taking his place was Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, age 65.

In his first 5 months of power Abdullah has lent special attention to rural and farming communities and has advocated new government investments for health care in small towns and rural areas and has blocked funds for major building and industrial projects planned for the Kuala Lumpur region. 

In addition to his avowed opposition to corruption and favoritism, which characterized the last years of Mahathir's government, the new prime minister has committed himself to stopping all forms of racial intolerance, extremism and terrorism. He says he is also committed to freedom of worship and prayer for all religions.  

Malaysia's economy is undergoing a boom period at the moment, as analysts are predicting 5.5%-6% increase this year.

According to Abdul Razak Baginda, of the Malaysian Strategic Research Center, this economic leap forward should assure votes for the centrist candidate, Abdullah, from the powerful Chinese ethic sector. Ethnic Chinese Malaysians, while representing a mere 26% of the population, own over 40% of shares on the stock market. This same Chinese community is also mostly Catholic.   

Regarding the always hot topic of religion the chairman of the national Elections Commission, Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, warned all candidates at the beginning of March not to promise favors from God during their campaign speeches and threatened them with losing their seat in Parliament if they did.    

On March 8, however, Nik Aziz (a 72 year-old well respected religious leader by Malay fundamentalist Muslims) said whoever casts his own vote for UMNO would go to hell, since places in heaven were reserved only for those who supported the PAS party.

"What does this mean? That scoundrels and sexual predators will go to heaven for voting PAS?", ex-prime minister Mahathir asked.     

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