KUALA LUMPUR â€” Less than two weeks toÂ the snap general elections, the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) is playing the religion card to woo voters in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
“UMNO is playing religious politics,” political analyst Ooi Kee Beng told Reuters on Monday, February
He said UMNO, the largest political party and a founding member of Premier Abdullah Badawi’s ruling coalition, appeared to be deepening its own Islamic agenda.
“It is pushing the religious thing a bit too far.”
Badawi kicked off his election campaign on Sunday, February 24, vowing to seize a two-thirds majority in the new parliament.
The March election will pit Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) and two other opposition parties against the ruling National Front coalition, which holds 200 of the 219 seats in the outgoing national legislature.
Candidates are vying for 222 parliamentary seats, after the addition of three new constituencies.
The polls would also see the election of twelve state assemblies with a total 505 seats.
The National Front coalition has governed Malaysia in various forms since independence in 1957.
Ooi Kee, the political analyst, said the governing coalition and the opposition are locked in a cut-throat battle to win voters.
“UMNO and PAS are engaged in a battle: ‘I’m more Islamic than you are’.”
Awang Adek Hussin, a deputy minister heading the UMNO campaign in Kelantan, has promised voters more mosques.
“When we win, we will usher in a new era in Kelantan by building a grand mosque,” he told a campaign rally.
Awang Adek, a former central banker, pledged they would repair some 500 old mosques in Kelantan state, ruled by PAS for the past 18 years.
“Terengganu has built 67 new mosques in the last four years,” he said referring to an oil-rich state PAS ruled between 1999 and 2004 before being captured by the UMNO.
“In Kelantan, the (state) government in the last 18 years has not built a single mosque.”
Awang Adek seemed to defend the party’s new approach against criticism.
“If we want to build mosques, is there something wrong with it.”
PAS, which has a single seat majority in the state government, is expected to go all out to defend Kelantan.
The political rivalry has spilled over into village life.
Some mosques in Kelantan and neighboring Terengganu are linked to PAS loyalists while others are loyal to UMNO supporters.
The divide is evident in the Terengganu village of Rusila, the political base of PAS leader Hadi Awang.
The village’s sprawling mosque complex also houses the PAS leader’s home, a madrasah and a party office.
The two-storey mosque, draped in flags, is packed with his supporters during Friday prayers.
Non-PAS supporters attend a nearby mosque built by the UMNO government, residents say.
PAS accuses the UMNO government in Terengganu of demolishing a mosque built by PAS when it ruled the oil-rich state between 1999 and 2004.
UMNO denies the claim, saying the structure was illegally built.
Muslim Malays comprise about 60 percent of the country’s 26 million population.
Ethnic Chinese and Indians – most of them Buddhists, Hindus and Christians – make up about 35 percent. The rest are indigenous people and Eurasians