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Malaysia's Ruling Party Wins Key Muslim States in General Election - 2004-03-21

Malaysia's ruling multi-ethnic coalition has won a major victory in two key Muslim states during Sunday's general election, moving it closer to a sweeping win nationally.

Malaysian media report that the ruling alliance of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi took control of the northern states of Terrenganu and Kelantan which had been held by Malaysia's fundamentalist Islamic opposition.

Voters turned out early and in large numbers. Although the snap election was announced less than three weeks ago and the campaign period lasted only one week, voters were positive about the process.

In the working-class district of Lembah Pantai south of the capital, a retired school teacher, Mrs. S. Narasimha, said it was a good campaign. "The way the campaign went about, I feel that every person in the country has been very motivated to come in early and vote," she said.

For many, the election represented a vote of confidence for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who took over four months ago when Mahathir Mohamad retired after 22 years in power.

A maintenance technician in his late forties, Kong Mee Chuan, says Mr. Abdullah inspired him to vote for the first time ever. "This Abdullah Badawi, he is very clean," he said. "He is very efficient. And I think he is a very capable man."

Another school teacher, Mrs. Seethe, likes the new prime minister's pledge to fight corruption. "I think they are on the right line," she commented. "Now we are cleaning up the house. So I think we are in the right direction."

Haji Noh Bin Nordin, a civil servant in his late 50s, believes the top priority is to improve public administration. He said he hopes that better governance will bring greater prosperity to Malaysia.

An electronic technician named Muhamad Nasri, who is voting in the middle-class district of Sentul, agrees. "Services, government services to the Malaysian people, that is what we look for," said Mr. Nasri.

Taxi driver Lim Ahta, however, openly opposes the current government. He does not like the Internal Security Act, a law dating back to the colonial era that allows virtually unlimited detention without trial. Mr. Lim said the law is bad because it allows authorities to detain people without due legal process.

Commodity exporter Ivan Ting warns, however, against extremism in a country where ethnic Malay Muslims make up the majority of the population, but where more than one-fourth of the population is non-Muslim, Chinese and Indians. "I feel that for the country to progress, extremism has to be out," said Mr. Ting. "I felt that we need to practice a very moderate kind of thinking."

"I do not care about the promises as ... [long] as the country is stable," said Syah Rul, a hotel receptionist with a young family, who is voting for the first time. "Because I got children, so I think about the future. I want my children to be successful and to be living in a harmony [harmonious] country."

Vote tabulation begins as soon as the polls close and the election commission has promised preliminary results by Monday.