Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim Thursday accused the government of vote-buying and coercion as campaigning for a critical weekend by-election intensified.
The vote in northeastern Terengganu state, which pundits say is too close to call, is seen as a referendum on the coalition government’s performance since a disastrous showing in general elections last year.
A Merdeka Centre poll released this week found Muslim Malay voters were split, while minority ethnic Chinese — who may swing the result — were leaning slightly towards Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition alliance.
Anwar accused the ruling party UMNO of buying votes for 300-400 ringgit (85-110 dollars) from Muslim Malays, whose support the government can no longer take for granted after the shock general election results.
“I am concerned how the Malay voters will vote. The Malays here are poor, money is being thrown by UMNO to fish for votes,” he told AFP.
“They are threatening civil servants. They are saying — we know who you will vote for.”
“UMNO is really desperate, you can see by the tone of their campaign. It is shocking,” he said after going on a walkabout in the state capital Kuala Terengganu, where the vacant electoral seat is located.
“I am confident that we will win, but I’m concerned about the onslaught by (the government) which is very strong.”
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi dismissed the allegations, saying the coalition which has been in power for half-a-century would never resort to “money politics” and threats to win an election.
“We have our strength and we know the difficulties in facing a by-election. All we have to do now is to ensure our machinery works,” he told reporters.
UMNO candidate Wan Ahmad Farid said the opposition was making excuses to soften the blow of a defeat.
“The opposition is trying to hype it up. They say there is going to be phantom voters, they will say UMNO is using money to buy votes, they will make all kinds of allegations as to why they can’t win this seat,” he told AFP.
Security was tight ahead of Saturday’s vote in the seaside state capital, with groups of police stationed at major junctions and riot squad officers patrolling the streets in jeeps.
The city was awash with posters, banners and photos of political leaders and candidates.
“With two days to go we are gearing up our campaign, and preparing for a showdown,” said Mustapha Ali, state chief of the Islamic party PAS which is fielding the opposition’s candidate for the vote, Mohamad Abdul Wahid Endut.
“The mood is good. We can feel the wind of change is blowing. But it is a neck-and-neck battle.”
Outrage over vote-buying and coercion at Kuala Terengganu by-election