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Malaysians vote amid tensions – 
    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysians voted Saturday in parliamentary elections that the ruling party is expected to win easily but with a reduced majority — a reflection of anger among Chinese and Indian minorities over complaints of racial discrimination.
    An elderly Muslim woman casts her ballot in Kota Bharu, capital of Kelantan, in Malaysia, Saturday.
    The fragmented opposition parties have already conceded they will lose even though they set aside their ideological differences to mount their most united challenge yet against the ruling National Front, a multiethnic coalition of 14 parties dominated by the Malay majority.
    Hoping to capitalize on a protest vote against deteriorating race relations, rising crime and inflation, the opposition says it is contesting the elections with one purpose — to deny Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi a two-thirds majority in the 222-member Parliament, a feat that the National Front has achieved in every election but one since independence in 1957.
    The National Front has already won eight seats that were uncontested.
    Simultaneous elections also were held for local assemblies in 12 Malaysian states. The 13th state of Sarawak recently held elections. The National Front controls all states except Kelantan, which is ruled by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS. Video Watch why the Indian community is angry »
    PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat said he was confident of keeping Kelantan “if there is transparency” in voting. “But if they win because of cheating, we won’t sit still. We will do something.”
    Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim agreed.
    “Although there’s (a) groundswell of support (for the opposition) … our concern is massive rigging,” Anwar said.
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    In neighboring Terengganu state, police fired tear gas at PAS members who threw stones at two buses that were allegedly carrying National Front workers, state police chief Ayob Yaacob said. PAS officials said the workers were being brought in to cast votes using bogus registration details.
    Ayob said police fired tear gas and detained 22 people. “After we did that, the rest of them all ran away,” he said.
    Prime Minister Abdullah, who voted with his wife in northern Penang state, denied opposition allegations of voter fraud.
    “It’s not true. What (are) opposition parties thinking? Do they think that I am a liar? I want this election to be a credible election, good for all and good for us too,” he said.
    A key issue in the elections is the disillusionment among ethnic Chinese and Indians, who have complained about religious discrimination and a 37-year-old affirmative action program giving the majority Muslim Malays preference in government jobs, business and education.
    Malays make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people, and form the bulk of voters for Abdullah’s United Malays National Organization. The party dominates the governing coalition, which also includes Chinese and Indian-based parties in a power-sharing arrangement that has largely ensured racial peace in this multiethnic country.
    In the last elections in 2004, the National Front won 91 percent of the seats amid optimism over a new beginning by Abdullah, who had replaced longtime leader Mahathir Mohamad the previous year. A Muslim scholar, Abdullah rode to popularity promising to root out corruption, fight crime, bring down prices and create a racially peaceful society.
    First-time voter Michael Lim said he voted for an opposition party.
    “They have not taken care of the people,” he said in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. “A lot of promises were made, but nothing (was) fulfilled.”
    Opposition parties — the Islamic PAS, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and Anwar’s People’s Justice Party — say they are fighting an unfair battle.
    Apart from the National Front’s organized and well-funded electoral machinery, the opposition is also hampered by an electoral system that favors the party in power.

  • Malaysians vote amid tensions –

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