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Monday, 29 November, 1999, 12:42 GMT
Eyewitness: Malaysia's day of decision
A Kuala Lumpur trishaw driver shows his support for the PM A trishaw driver shows his support for the PM

By Christopher Gunness in Kuala Lumpur

The streets of Kuala Lumpur and the other main towns and cities across Malaysia are strewn with political posters.

Malaysia's Snap Election
They fly in streams from nearly every lamp post, drenched by the monsoon rains that have made this one of the soggiest elections in Malaysia's 42 years of independent existence.

Many of the flyers depict Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad smiling and confident of another victory for his National Front coalition.

Others show his main rivals in the four-party Alternative Front and the man who has become the rallying point for Malaysia's opposition - the jailed former Deputy Prime Minister and Dr Mahathir's own one-time heir apparent, Anwar Ibrahim.


My children are young and I need a stable future for them
Malaysian voter
Among ordinary voters, there is a sense of apathy and alienation. In the main market in Kuala Lumpur, one man said to me he saw little point in voting, as the governing coalition would win overwhelmingly, by hook or by crook.

What did that mean, I asked him. "Vote buying", he said and sloped away.

A woman who runs a small business and has three children told me she had little choice but to vote for the National Front of Dr Mahathir.

"My children are young and I need a stable future for them," she told me. "I don't know what might happen if the opposition got in."

The Anwar factor

For the younger generation of Malaysian voters there appears to be more at stake. A twenty-something said the so-called Anwar factor - the treatment of the former deputy prime minister and his followers - would have an influence on the way he might vote.

Election banners Parties have poured huge efforts into the short campaign period
He admitted it was a battle between his conscience and his wallet - between the need for a just civil society and lasting economic development.

On election morning, Malaysia's pro-government press made it quite clear where they stood on that argument.

Readers of the English Language New Straits Times, awoke to the front page headline quoting Dr Mahathir: "A vote for the National Front is a vote for continued peace, stability."

Beneath that in even larger letters, "Development, security, top priority of voters." The paper confidently predicted the ruling coalition would retain its two-thirds majority in parliament.

All week, the paper has carried a series of advertisements extolling the virtues of Dr Mahathir's programme for the nation.

Some suggest this sits oddly with a party that claims to be in control, and smacks of desperation.

Certainly, the stakes are high, for both the government and opposition.


Christopher Gunness is a presenter on the BBC World Service programme East Asia Today
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See also:
24 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia accuses diplomats
12 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Malaysia's electoral showdown
15 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: The challenge for Malaysia's reformers
22 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Wan Azizah: Malaysia's opposition torch-bearer
11 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Party guide: Malaysia's opposition alliance

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