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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Malaysia's election fever continues during Ramadan


Dr Dzulkefly is not alone in his busy schedule. Every Muslim politician in Malaysia will be criss- crossing the country to cement ties with their constituents during the holy month, which began two weeks ago.
Carolyn Hong, The Straits Times (Singapore)
Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad will not spend a single night at home this entire fasting month of Ramadan. As a leader in the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia, his political duties pick up tremendously during this time.
Every night, he breaks fast with different groups in his constituency in Selangor or elsewhere. After the meal, he heads to another location to lead the special prayers called terawih in the mosque.
These are major events in the fasting month, and no politician can afford to skip them.
"Every night, I'll attend two events in two different places, but it's very fulfilling for me as a politician and as a Muslim," he said.
Dr Dzulkefly is not alone in his busy schedule. Every Muslim politician in Malaysia will be criss- crossing the country to cement ties with their constituents during the holy month, which began two weeks ago.
Ramadan, while traditionally a time for Muslims to be more reflective about their faith, also provides opportunities for politicians to meet the people in a warmer atmosphere.
Most politicians take advantage of this time to host the breaking of fast especially for the less fortunate.
Their outreach is even more crucial this year, with the possibility that a general election will be called soon after the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration next month.
The election fever, which died down when Ramadan began, resumed after Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin alluded to a possible election during the Hari Raya month. Hari Raya falls on August 19 in Singapore.
"I don't think the wait will go into next year. However, it depends on the Prime Minister," he told reporters recently. "I have told him that this year would be the best time."
But while politicians ramp up their political activity, they tone down on overtly political events like rallies.
This month's programmes would tend to be religious or charitable affairs, with only their physical presence to mark it as a political event.
Political speeches are kept to a minimum, and attacks on rivals are frowned upon.
"It's a time for restraint," said Dr Dzulkefly, adding that he never gives a political speech in the mosque.
Barisan Nasional Youth executive secretary Ibdillah Ishak also said they refrain from speeches in mosques, and keep it short at the breaking of fast events.
The BN Youth, he said, is hosting several groups such as orphans to the breaking of fast, and has given away boxes of dates in several neighbourhoods.
It also started the Food for Life project to give away food boxes to those who need it, regardless of religion, before it was time to break fast. Food is also given out for sahur, the pre-dawn meal before fasting begins.
Its main event will be a Quran recital to be held at a mosque next month. Several Islamic scholars will be invited to lead the recital, to be joined by Umno Youth leaders including its chief Khairy Jamaluddin.
"It won't be political," said Ibdillah. "We are aiming to give back to society, that's the idea of Ramadan."
But this does not mean, of course, that the parties are taking it easy as an election window will open after the Hari Raya festival.
The group calling for electoral reforms, Bersih, is not scaling back its public awareness campaign despite Ramadan, said Maria Chin Abdullah, a committee member.
On the contrary, she said that it will hold a convention for 1,000 people in Johor Baru next month. Bersih leaders will present the findings of their research into the integrity of Malaysia's 12.6 million-electoral roll, and brief them about electoral reforms.
It will also continue its training for volunteers to be polling and counting agents.
"I don't think we can afford to slow down during this month, but things will pick up much faster in September," Maria said.
Pundits are increasingly predicting the election will be at the end of this year or early next year.
Dr Dzulkefly said the Haj pilgrims will start leaving for Mecca two weeks after Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and the season will end only on October 26.
"But elections are also about the element of surprise," he said. "We are definitely not letting up. It's ready when you are."

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