Malaysia's election battle sparks complaints of sexism

The Associated Press , Kuala Lumpur | Tue, 03/04/2008
Campaigning in Malaysia’s general election took on a personal tone Tuesday as rivals slung accusations of nepotism, hypocrisy, boorish language and sexist tactics.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s ruling National Front coalition is expected to easily win in Saturday’s national vote, but politicians are waging intense battles over key parliamentary seats that will determine whether the coalition retains its overwhelming majority.
While the campaigning has focused on nationwide concerns including inflation, racial discord and crime, several prominent figures – such as Abdullah’s son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin – are facing personal attacks.
Opposition activists say Khairy was fielded as a parliamentary candidate due to nepotism, with some suggesting that Abdullah is grooming him as Malaysia’s future leader.
Khairy hit back during a campaign stop in eastern Malaysia, national news agency Bernama reported Tuesday.
“I don’t understand why they want to play up the issue that I am the prime minister’s son-in-law when there are children of opposition leaders who are involved in politics too,” he said at the rally Monday night.
Khairy noted that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter is running for parliament and other opposition parties also have several second-generation politicians.
Another government politician, Idris Jusoh, said opposition groups have shown crude conduct, especially the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, which recently accused National Front officials of being like “orangutans who do not know religion or the law.”
“They call us names like orangutan … but yet pray for victory,” Idris, the chief minister of northeastern Terengganu state, told reporters. “Allah does not answer prayers from people with foul mouths.”
The Islamic party is one of three opposition groups challenging the National Front, which has led Malaysia since 1957. The ruling coalition won 91 percent of parliamentary seats in 2004 polls, but the opposition hopes to reduce it to less than a two-thirds majority in the 222-seat parliament.
Teresa Kok, a senior official in the opposition Democratic Action Party, said she was being unfairly portrayed in banners placed by her rivals in a Kuala Lumpur constituency that featured a caricature of her wearing a tight red dress and embracing a muscular man.
Kok said the banners were “sexist or humiliating to women” and said many residents in the area were “most enraged” over the image.
National Front officials have said the banners, which show Kok leaving one man for another, were intended to criticize Kok’s decision to seek a state legislature seat in addition to the parliamentary constituency that she has held since 1999. (*)