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MALAYSIA/POLITICS Reform activists threaten mass rally


February 24, 2008

Reform activists threaten mass rally

Malaysian activists, who accuse electoral authorities of making last-minute changes to electoral rules ahead of nomination day Sunday, are threatening to hold a protest rally in Kuala Lumpur.

Last November, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) gathered some 30,000 people in the capital to demand reforms.

Opposition candidates, particularly in northern states where Friday and Saturday are holidays, could be disqualified by a rule announced Thursday that they must pay stamp duty on their applications to contest, the activists said.

At a rally in northeastern Terengganu state late Friday, Bersih organiser Mohammad Sabu, said opposition candidates in states like Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu would not be able to get the stamps as Friday and Saturday being holidays.

Government offices selling revenue stamps in the northern states will open at 8am on Sunday, considered a working day. However, that will leave little time for candidates who must submit nominations between 9am and 10am Sunday.

Mustaffa Ali, state election chief for the Islamic opposition party PAS said he saw the rule a gimmick to make things difficult for opposition candidates.

Malaysia has been ruled by a coalition of race-based parties under the Barisan Nasional (BN) banner, led by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's United Malays National Organisation, since winning independence half a century ago.

Opposition parties are hoping to deny the BN a two-thirds majority in parliament at this year's polls, with the government under fire over rising prices of food and fuel, and rising racial tension in the multi-ethnic country. Malaysians go to polls on March 8.

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