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Malaysian poll system defended

March 5, 2008 at 6:59 AM   |   Comments

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, March 5 (UPI) -- Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak defended his government's record in multiracial Malaysia and rejected criticisms about the country's election system.

Speaking to the BBC ahead of Saturday's elections, Razak said the polls have always been free and fair, although critics contend the largely Muslim country isn't truly democratic. The report noted the National Front coalition, which is again expected to win comfortably, and its forerunner have been victorious in all polls since British rule ended.

The National Front holds power in 12 of Malaysia's 13 states and three federal territories.

Ethnic tension, brought on by recent demonstrations by Malaysia's Hindu minority, is expected to be a factor in Saturday's election. The Hindus claim the majority Malays are given preferential treatment in jobs and services.

Comparing the situation to that Northern Ireland, Razak told the BBC, "There you're just talking about the difference in being Roman Catholic or Protestant. Here you are talking about difference in skin color, you're talking about difference in race, you're talking about difference in religion, culture. It will take time."

The election will decide 222 parliamentary seats, as well as hundreds of state races with 11 million people eligible to vote.

The vote became necessary after Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi dissolved the national legislative body and called for snap elections.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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