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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 19:11 GMT
Deputy PM defends Malaysia system
Malaysia's deputy PM, Najib Razak, file image
Mr Razak also defended his government's race relations record
Malaysia's deputy prime minister has hit out at critics who say the country is not truly democratic, ahead of Saturday's general election.

Najib Razak's opponents point out that the National Front coalition and its forerunner have won all general elections since British rule ended.

But he insists elections are free and fair and that democratic systems do not require regular changes of government.

Analysts expect the coalition to win easily in Saturday's polls.

Currently the National Front controls all but one of Malaysia's 13 states and three federal territories.

'Complex situation'

In an interview with the BBC's Robin Brant, Mr Razak also addressed the issue of ethnic tension in Malaysia.

A series of demonstrations by Hindu activists in recent months has highlighted the grievances felt by ethnic Indians.

They argue that ethnic Malays are given preferential treatment when it comes to jobs and access to services.

Race relations is a prominent issue in the election, and the deputy prime minister said there had been progress.

But he likened the situation to the history of Northern Ireland, which was blighted by sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants for three decades.

"In Malaysia, it's a much more complex situation.

"How long did it take to resolve the Irish problem?

"There you're just talking about the difference in being Roman Catholic or Protestant. "Here you are talking about difference in skin colour, you're talking about difference in race, you're talking about difference in religion, culture. It will take time."

Five ethnic Indians who helped organise a large protest march last November are still in jail, indefinitely, deemed a threat to national security.

But Mr Razak rejected the suggestion that their imprisonment without trial is a stain on the country's democratic credentials.

About 10m of Malaysia's 26m population are registered to vote on Saturday.

Although the level of support for the National Front is expected to fall, our correspondent says the outcome is already a certainty.

But he says the coalition may face a country increasingly divided along racial lines.

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