Malaysia is going to elect a new parliament on Saturday. The ruling coalition of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is seen certain to win once again. But gains for the opposition are also likely amid growing anger among Chinese and Indian minorities over race and religion.
Campaigning in Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia's traditionally harmonious society is currently going through a severe crisis. The non-Muslim communities, in particular Malaysians of Indian origin, feel increasingly discriminated by the Muslim majority. Though the constitution guarantees equal rights for all religions Jivi Kathaia of the Hindu newspaper 'Malaysia Indru' feels a change in the official policy:
"We see that happening in the demolition of temples, in the destruction of Tamil schools, in the denial of job-opportunities in the government services, and in the denial of (providing) facilities to open up their own businesses. We are also discriminated against in the field of education, but when it comes to paying taxes or serving in the army we are treated as equal citizens, but when we ask about our rights these things happen."
The destruction of illegal temples has further increased the resentments against the government in particular. S Nagarajan, from the Hindu Foundation for Welfare and Development in Malaysia, complains:
"If a new township is been constructed then by law a mosque has to be built and a plot is allotted for this. But no plots are made available for temples or churches. Even the right to build a temple on a private property -- which for example had been purchased by a Hindu community -- isn't permitted. It is practically impossible to get a building license even though the laws -- in theory -- allow it."
Strong Muslim majority
Islam is the official state religion of Malaysia. About sixty percent of its twenty-six million inhabitants are Muslims. The mostly Chinese and Indian immigrants are Buddhists, Confucians, Christians, Hindus or Sikhs. But positive discrimination of Muslims is guaranteed in the constitution. And the rights of non-Muslims -- agreed upon fifty years ago when Malaysia became independent -- are increasingly undermined, says women’s rights activist Oysim Chin:
"At independence there was a social contract, dating back to that time, Malaysia has always been seen as a secular country and this has been upheld by various court decisions. However, what we're seeing now more and more that there seems to be this trend towards pushing for an Islamic state in the sense that Islamic principles and Islamic values are gaining much more ground in the legal system and in public governance as well."
Observers say, the ruling Islamic party UMNO doesn't depend on the votes of the non-Muslim communities. And as radical Islamic parties like the PAS are on the rise the UMNO tries to woo Muslim voters by emphasising Islamic issues. Saturday's elections will show if the precarious balance between religious and ethnic groups in Malaysia will be maintained.