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Monday, November 5, 2007

Malaysia's ruling party holds congress as nation prepares for polls

Forbes (4/11/2007): Malaysia's ruling party holds its annual meeting in the coming week, and with snap elections expected 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 said that speakers will be 'guided' this year to avoid causing offense, the New Straits Times reported Sunday.

'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 newspaper. 'What we say should not hurt the feelings of others.'

UMNO leads the ruling National Front coalition, which is also made up of 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-run Bernama news agency.

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

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

Abdullah has until March 2009 to call a general election, but is expected to call snap polls early next year.

Opposition parties said 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.

Anwar was a celebrated finance minister and heir-apparent to former premier Mahathir Mohamad until 1998, when he was sacked after he was charged with sodomy and corruption and 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.

The National Front has ruled Malaysia for almost half a century. In the March 2004 general election, 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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