- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Voters gave their secular prime minister a huge election victory yesterday, smashing a fundamentalist Muslim party that had wanted to impose an Islamic state in this Southeast Asian country.

The results were seen as a personal endorsement for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose low-key style has proved a sharp contrast to his combative predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad.

Many voters — especially the Chinese and Indian minorities — had feared Islamic fundamentalism was on the rise in Malaysia, a country that has detained scores of suspected terrorists in the past two years, some linked to al Qaeda.

Mr. Abdullah’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO) scored huge gains in two states in the rural north, the stronghold of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.

Final results from the Election Commission showed that Mr. Abdullah’s party claimed Terengganu state with 28 seats to three for the Islamist party, with one being recounted.

The parties were neck and neck in Kelantan — held by the Islamist party since 1990 — with final results not expected until later today. UMNO went from two seats in Kelantan to at least 16.

Nationally, the National Front coalition won at least 167 seats in the 219-member federal Parliament, surpassing the 146 needed for a two-thirds majority. Final results were not expected until later today.

Mr. Abdullah declared victory at his party’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

“The people have accepted that the National Front is strong and capable enough to fulfill a mandate to develop our country and make it safe and peaceful for everyone,” he said.

Stunned supporters of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party gathered at the home of its leader, Abdul Hadi Awang, who was visibly shaken and on the verge of tears.

Party officials were at a loss to explain the results.

“It was all up to God,” said Zaihan Mohamed Daud, a senior official. “But it doesn’t matter. Our reward is in heaven.”

In another surprising result, imprisoned former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s party lost all five of its seats — disappearing as fast as it burst onto Malaysia’s political scene five years ago, when Anwar was dumped as Mr. Mahathir’s anointed successor.

Even Azizah Ismail, Anwar’s wife, lost her parliamentary seat.

The result reflected how much support for Anwar has faded since he was convicted on sodomy and corruption charges and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He says the charges were fabricated to prevent him from challenging Mr. Mahathir, who denies it.

The only winner among opposition parties was the Democratic Action Party, a nonreligious, multiethnic group that was largely sidelined during a campaign dominated by debate about the role of Islam. It won at least seven parliamentary seats.

Officials reported high turnout rates among the country’s 10.3 million registered voters, who chose federal Parliament candidates and 505 assembly members in 12 of Malaysia’s 13 states.

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