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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Malaysia' s Umno holds congress as nation prepares for polls

Straits Times Singapore (4/11/2007): Malaysia's ruling party holds its annual meeting this week, and with snap elections anticipated soon it is aiming to avoid the racial tensions stirred up during last year's congress.

Angry speeches attacking the country's ethnic Chinese and Indian communities overshadowed the last United Malays National Organisation (Umno) assembly, triggering public outrage and embarrassing its leaders.

Deputy Premier Najib Razak told the New Straits Times on Sunday that speakers would be 'guided' this year to avoid causing offence.

'They must be aware that when they speak at the assembly, their speeches are also followed and assessed by those outside the hall, including non-Malays,' he told the daily. 'What we say should not hurt the feelings of others.' Umno leads the ruling National Front coalition which is also made up of component parties representing the other races in Malaysia, which is dominated by Muslim Malays but also home to large ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will stress national unity in his keynote address to the assembly on Monday, Umno vice-president Muhyiddin Yassin told the state Bernama news agency.

Against a backdrop of rising ethnic tensions in Malaysia, Mr Muhyiddin said the premier would focus on ways to enhance cooperation between the races in economic, social and educational issues.

'Certain quarters had raised issues deemed sensitive, so we want to propose that collaborative efforts be stepped up,' he said.

Mr Abdullah has until March 2009 to go to the ballot box but is expected to call snap polls early next year.

Opposition parties say he is keen to head off growing disenchantment with his administration, and to sideline former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, who is barred from standing from office until April 2008.

Mr Anwar was a celebrated finance minister and heir-apparent to former premier Mahathir Mohamad until 1998, when he was sacked after sodomy and corruption charges that saw him jailed for six years.

The sodomy conviction has been overturned but the corruption conviction still stands, barring him from standing for public office until April 2008.

The government has already begun gearing up for the polls, launching three big-spending development projects in the Malay heartlands which are expected to be key electoral battlegrounds.

Barisan Nasional has ruled Malaysia for almost half a century. In the March 2004 general elections, Abdullah led the coalition to a landslide victory, winning 198 out of 219 parliamentary seats and all but one of the states. - AFP


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