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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Malaysia's leader offers economic carrot to rural voters

KUALA LUMPUR, AOL News, 29/10/2007): Malaysia's government launched a plan Monday to pour US$32 billion (euro23 billion) worth of investments into the eastern coastal region - a key political battleground in upcoming national elections.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi inaugurated the East Coast Economic Corridor project during a highly publicized visit to the states of Kelantan and Terengganu.

Political observers have noted that the timing of the project's launch could bolster the government's popularity in the predominantly rural region before elections that Abdullah is widely expected to call before mid-2008.

Kelantan has been ruled by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party since 1990, and Terengganu has been controlled sporadically by the opposition over the past decade, but is currently governed by Abdullah's National Front coalition.

Under the plan, some 200 new projects will be set up in oil and gas industry, infrastructure, tourism, education, manufacturing and agriculture. The aim is to draw 112 billion ringgit (US$34 billion; euro24 billion) worth of investments over the next 12 years to improve the lives of nearly 4 million Malaysians in the eastern states.

The government is expected to fund more than half the investment for the east coast project, while the remainder is to come mainly from the private sector.

Public funds will soon be poured in to jump-start the project, "signaling the government's commitment to realize the efforts of delivering development" to the states, Abdullah said.

The project - involving some of Malaysia's poorest districts - is intended to create 560,000 new jobs.

Abdullah - whose ruling coalition controls all of Malaysia's 13 states except Kelantan - has launched two other big-budget programs since last year, targeting the south and northwest.

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has generally been approving of the east coast project, saying in a statement on its Web site that "we hope ... the people's economic situation in (Kelantan) will improve according to what has been planned." (AP)


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