1 day ago
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysians will vote in general elections on March 8, authorities said Thursday as the nation braced for a campaign dominated by ethnic tensions and anger over rising prices.
"The EC has fixed the nomination date for February 24 and polling will be on March 8," Election Commission chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said, a day after Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi dissolved parliament.
Abdul Rashid defended the short campaign period, which is in line with previous elections in Malaysia, which has been ruled by the Barisan Nasional multi-ethnic coalition since independence half a century ago.
"They can campaign from nomination date -- it is more than sufficient time to campaign," he said, also denying charges that the ballot would be sullied by vote-buying and manipulation including phantom voters and postal vote fraud.
"Can anyone prove to us there is rigging? We are for fair elections. Rigging means you change the contents of the ballot box -- can this happen?," he said. "There are no phantom voters."
Malaysia's opposition parties have attacked the timing of the polls, which are being held in advance of a May 2009 deadline, as well as the decision to dissolve parliament during Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations.
Dissident former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked and jailed in 1998, said the government was attempting to sideline him by holding the ballot just a month before he is eligible to run for office.
Anwar said Abdullah was rushing to the polls after his approval ratings dropped to an all-time low.
"Malaysians are hard hit by rising prices, rampant crime, endemic corruption and heightened ethnic tensions. The longer that Barisan Nasional waits, the more seats it stands to lose in the general election," he said in a statement.
"Denying me the opportunity to contest demonstrates that the four-year track record of the Abdullah administration has been so banal, disappointing and characterised by failure that it can ill-afford to take any chances by allowing for a truly democratic electoral process."
Abdullah insisted Thursday that the timing of the election was "nothing to do" with the former deputy premier.
"We have forgotten about Anwar. I don't remember about Anwar," he told a press conference.
The coalition grabbed 90 percent of parliamentary seats in a 2004 victory that came a year after Abdullah took over from premier Mahathir Mohamad who had ruled for more than two decades.
Since then, the premier has been criticised as weak and unable to carry out key elections promises like ridding the country of corruption which plagues business and politics.
However, there is little doubt the coalition will score another victory, and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said it was confident of achieving a majority of more than two-thirds.
"In fact more than the two-thirds hopefully," he told reporters late Wednesday.
Abdullah is grappling with a number of red-hot issues including friction between Malaysia's racial groups -- the majority Muslim Malays, and ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
His government has also been rocked by unprecedented street rallies in recent months, targeting issues including electoral reform, alleged discrimination against Indians, and rising prices of fuel and food.
The premier cast doubt over the future of Samy Vellu, the head of coalition member the Malaysian Indian Congress and a divisive figure accused of mishandling the anti-discrimination protests.
"I haven't decided anything yet. When the list comes, maybe he will not be named in the list. You never know," Abdullah said.
The prime minister expressed optimism that the government could seize control of northeastern Kelantan state, the only one held by PAS.
"There is hope to win, there is definitely hope to win," he said "We see that we have strong support there."
- I think with MIC the minority can soon became "lain-lain"
- "90 percent of parliamentary" was the cause of the weak Government ...we should not have BN to get 2/3 to make them and other party to work for the people...
- If you have forgotten Anwar....why rush?
- Just because BN ruled since independence can we skip the elections? For me this only makes me believe BN is scared that the opposition will have enough time to have a good campaign.