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Monday, 29 November, 1999, 16:17 GMT
Mahathir appeals to younger generation
Nightclub goer Malaysia's young and affluent don't want a change in government

By Simon Ingram in Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia's general election comes after a turbulent year in the country's politics triggered by the dismissal and jailing of former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

The crisis caused many to raise serious questions about fairness and justice in Malaysian society.

But for Malaysia's young and upwardly mobile, other more practical considerations could determine the outcome of the vote.

I'm having a good time now. If there is a change in government, we won't know what's going to happen.
Nightclub goer, Kuala Lumpur
It is often said that there is a restless younger generation here, yearning for political change. Some, it seems, have other priorities.

If there is dissatisfaction among young Malaysians, don't expect to find it in the nightclubs of Kuala Lumpur.

The economic boom over which Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has presided spawned a new breed of the affluent and spoiled.

Now, they say, is not the time to risk throwing him and his government out of office.

Woman dancing Kuala Lumpur's thriving nightlife is not the place to find disaffected youth
Malaysia is a country where middle-class aspirations have come a long way in a very short time.

A comfortable home and a car in the garage are novelties people like retired teacher and government supporter, Nasrudin Mohamed, feel cannot be taken for granted.

His children, he says, should be thankful for the lifestyle and jobs they enjoy today:

"In almost every aspect of life," he told me "we can see a big change from what we had in the '50s and '60s.

House Many of Malaysia's middle class enjoy a confortable home with a car in the garage
"These changes convince us to support the government and party."

The vast mega-projects that have transformed Kuala Lumpur are another reason Dr Mahathir says Malaysians should be grateful.

To others, owning the world's tallest building is merely proof of an arrogant leadership out of touch with the needs of ordinary people.

As Charles Santiago of the People's Manifesto Initiative, says: "I think you can see two images of the same nation: one whose dreams are to put up big buildings and acquire privatised projects, and the other a disadvantaged people, without homes or without decent education or decent healthcare."

Deprivation ever-present

Kuala Lumpur A squatter village languishes in the shadow of one of Kuala Lumpur's mega-projects
Indeed, deprivation is not hard to find in Dr Mahathir's Malaysia. Squatter villages are considered a national embarrassment.

When we arrived with our film crew, a group of government supporters tried to stop us filming.

One of them warned: "Why should you take a photograph of this area? There are other places for you to take photographs."

Whether or not a new picture of Malaysia is likely to emerge may become clearer after the elections.
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See also:
10 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Malaysia's strongman Mahathir
15 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: The challenge for Malaysia's reformers
11 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Party guide: Malaysia's opposition alliance
12 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Malaysia's electoral showdown

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