Thursday, September 20, 2007

Malaysia: Elections without representation - Asia Times Online

By Baradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR - Political tension is rising in the run-up to Malaysia's next general election as demands for free and fair polls made by a coalition of opposition political parties and civil-society groups are increasingly being met with violence by the ruling 13-party Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) coalition.

This month, police fired tear gas and shot at protesters, injuring two opposition supporters in the chest, while breaking up a massive opposition rally in Terengganu state, one of the few areas of Malaysia where the opposition and government are matched roughly equally in electoral strength.

The rally, organized on September 8 by BERSIH, an acronym for a coalition of five opposition political parties and 26 civil-society groups that means "clean" in the Malay language, was the biggest gathering held so far to demand reforms to the electoral system. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Malaysia's largest political party and the leader of the BN coalition, has won all 11 general elections held since the country achieved independence in 1957.

BERSIH has been touring the country mobilizing public support for its reform cause ahead of next polls, which are widely expected to be called in November. Police responded with what demonstrators contend is excessive use of force, adding a new and violent dimension to Malaysia's electoral politics.

"The use of such hard force and firing weapons, injuring opposition supporters, is unprecedented in recent history," said parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang.

Police said the assembly did not have a proper permit and was therefore illegal, but opposition leaders have insisted on their right to peaceful assembly.

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