Wednesday, 21 January 2009

On The Loss And...

Wall Street Journal interprets the situation down at Kuala Terengganu, and by extension, the rest of Malaysia.

Winning in Malaysia

Malaysia's opposition coalition won another parliamentary seat in a by-election Saturday. It's yet another warning to the ruling United Malays National Organization that voters want a change.

Saturday's poll in Kuala Terengganu was held in Terengganu, a Malay-majority region and traditional stronghold of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS). That party lost the seat in 2004, but regained it in Saturday's by-election. The candidate, Mohammed Abdul Wahid Endut, campaigned on a platform promoting Shariah law and fighting corruption. The ruling UMNO campaigned on a more secular platform and promised old-style UMNO populist spending to create jobs. PAS won Saturday's election by 51.9% to 47.7%.

The victory can be seen as a referendum less on Islamic law than on the ruling party, which has lost popular support over its perceived corruption and handling of the economy. It is a blow, too, to the aspirations of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who campaigned heavily for the UMNO candidate.

The win also exposes the tensions inherent in Anwar Ibrahim's coalition, which includes his People's Justice Party, the mostly Chinese Democratic Action Party, and PAS. Although all parties pitched in to help PAS win on Saturday, Mr. Anwar has said repeatedly that the opposition supports moderate Islam. That rubs uneasily with PAS's pro-Shariah platform.

The opposition coalition is still 52 seats short of a majority in Parliament, though Saturday's win brought it one seat closer. In Parliament and in future polls, Mr. Anwar would do well to focus his efforts on the broad-based issues that mattered in Kuala Terengganu -- corruption and economic liberalization -- rather than PAS's Islamic bent. That's a winning formula for all of Malaysia.

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