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Tuesday, 16 November, 1999, 14:53 GMT
Analysis: The challenge for Malaysia's reformers
By Frances Harrison in Kuala Lumpur
When Malaysians go to the polls on 29th November they will be faced with a choice between a state effectively ruled by one man or the uncertainty of political reform.
This choice has become personified by two men - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, who is now in jail.
Outraged at his treatment, tens of thousands of mainly young people took to the streets in an unprecedented wave of protest that became known as the "reformasi" movement.
Over the last year those street demonstrations have dwindled in size - partly because scores of protesters were arrested and charged with illegal assembly.
The opposition say they deliberately chose to keep politics off the streets because Malaysians fear violence. Theirs is a country with a fragile ethnic balance - between Malays, Chinese and Indians - which experienced race riots in 1969.
Nonetheless, at key moments in the past year thousands of Anwar supporters have protested at his treatment.
When he was sentenced to six years in jail in April, sporadic scuffles broke out with the police.
And when in September Mr Anwar himself alleged he was poisoned with arsenic, nearly ten thousand "reformasi" supporters once again took to the streets.
In a country which does not have opinion polls the elections will provide the first true indication of public opinion.
The Malay community - around 58% of Malaysia's population - is deeply divided over the abrupt manner of Mr Anwar's dismissal.
In private some government officials continue to express their support for their jailed former colleague.
Some Malaysians say they want a greater political voice, but are cynical about Mr Anwar's record - pointing to the fact that he was very much part of a government he now condemns as rotten to the core.
The challenge for the opposition is to transform this general sense of dissatisfaction into votes.
But they warn that this is likely to be the dirtiest election campaign in the country's 42 years of independence.
With minimal funding and denied access to state run TV and radio, opposition parties are making good use of "reformasi" web sites to reach internet savvy young Malaysians.
"Reformasi" T-Shirts, posters, key chains, CD-Roms, videos and even lighters have been produced to appeal to the more consumer minded reformists.
Not to be outdone the National Justice Party set up by Mr Anwar's wife, has released an album of "reformasi" songs with the cover title "Bebaskanlah" or "Free Him" - a musical appeal for Mr Anwar's release from jail.
But it is going to take more than pop songs to convince Malaysians to vote for a beleaguered opposition whose candidate for Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, is in jail.
Malaysians who took to the streets in protest and those who quietly supported them now have to decide how badly they want political reform.
Links to other Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.
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