Anwar turns the tables on Umno

(The Straits Times) KUALA TERENGGANU, Jan 16 – Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim yesterday turned the tables on Barisan Nasional (BN) and demanded that Umno explain why it is creating fear over hudud laws.

"Why is Umno silent? Why is Umno causing fear over hudud?" he asked at an event yesterday attended by a large Malay crowd in Kuala Terengganu.

He said it was for Umno to explain its stand on hudud – the Islamic penal code that prescribes punishments like amputation of limbs for robbery – and why it was making this into an issue of fear.

This change of tack came after 10 days of campaigning in the Kuala Terengganu by-election, during which the BN played up the hudud issue, leaving the opposition on the defensive.

Hudud is the weak link in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition as Parti Islam SeMalaysia (Pas) has pledged to implement it if it came to power, while the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP) opposes it. DAP chairman Karpal Singh said the party would pull out of the coalition if Pas insisted on hudud.

Anwar has taken a strictly neutral stand, saying hudud would apply only to Muslims and, even then, it would first be discussed by all Pakatan partners.

"It has never been the intention of Pas to introduce legislation that will affect non-Muslims," Anwar said.

He and other top Pakatan leaders are in town for the last lap of the campaign for tomorrow's by-election, which was called after the Umno MP Razali Ismail died last November. Umno"s Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh is facing PAS" Abdul Wahid Endut and an independent.

BN tailors its messages to the respective races. To the Chinese, who make up 11 per cent of the 80,229 voters, it warns that Pas would eventually dominate the opposition to the detriment of non-Muslims.

To the Malays, who make up 88 per cent, Umno says DAP is blocking the implementation of
hudud and has forced Pas to tone down its principles.

Hudud does not seem to be a major issue among the Chinese. A survey by independent pollster Merdeka Centre showed that half the Chinese said the issue was important, but 37 per cent said the matter had been exploited by the media to deter them from voting for PAS.

But 41 per cent of the Malays said hudud was an important issue, suggesting that Umno"s campaign on Islamic issues may have hit home.

The survey also suggests the Malay vote is split, while the opposition has managed to woo the Chinese, who supported BN in the polls last March.

Some analysts believe Umno may have made inroads on the Malay ground, going by the turnouts at its rallies and friendlier reception. If so, it could reflect the larger trend where the minorities support the opposition, while the Malays are split.

The opposition is revving up its campaign with only a day to go before polling. Much effort is being made to woo the Malay fence-sitters.

Mr Anwar made a strong appeal to the rural Malay community yesterday when he supported a campaign to abolish the use of English to teach maths and science in schools.

A surprise "campaigner" in the form of former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim – sacked from Umno recently for attending a Parti Keadilan Rakyat congress – turned up on Wednesday night to give a boost to the Pas candidate. – Straits Times