Mar 7, 2008 8:39 PM
Malaysia's opposition has staged one of its biggest election rallies, raising opposition hopes that it could severely dent the ruling coalition's chances in Saturday's general election.
More than 25,000 people attended the rally late on Thursday by the Chinese - dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) in the northern state of Penang, home to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi where the DAP hoped to make its biggest electoral inroad.
The organisers put the figure at about 50,000 people or more, as the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition faces a backlash by ethnic Chinese and Indians, who complain of religious and racial inequality in the mainly Muslim nation.
And in the northeastern state of Kelantan, some 20,000 Muslim supporters of the Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) turned up at a soccer stadium in pre-dawn mass prayers to seek divine help in the election.
Barisan is waging an all-out war to end PAS' 18-year-old rule of Kelantan and expand its influence in the country.
The ruling coalition is considered certain to retain power although its majority will be reduced in the national parliament, analysts say.
The opposition, which wants to deny Barisan a two-thirds majority in parliament, the level needed to change the constitution, hopes to draw a protest vote over rising food and fuel costs, street crimes and an influx of cheap foreign labour.
Tens of thousands of people at the Penang rally shouted "Down, Down Barisan".
Many of those who attended the rally wore red, the colour favoured by the DAP and overflowed onto the adjoining streets, blocking traffic, witnesses said. They sang a popular Chinese song, chanting "I will strive to go on."
"We will not submit to UMNO's political domination," DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng said, referring to Abdullah's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
"We make a pledge to move forward and make Penang dynamic again. We will not be dependent on the will of UMNO but dependent on the will of the people of Penang," he said.
Ordinary Chinese voters at the rally criticised Barisan, a 14-party coalition that has governed the country since independence from Britain in 1957.
"The Barisan Nasional politicians have been too arrogant, I think the power has gone to their head," said Wong Yoke Meng, a sales executive in his early 30s, who came to the rally with his sister and father.
Abdullah, speaking to reporters in Penang on Thursday, warned the Chinese that a vote for the opposition could limit their say in national decision-making. "I don't want to form a government that is made up of only one race," he said.