Author`s name AP ©

Ethnic Chinese votes chasing by opposition in state by-election

It seems that Chinese minority will continue its strong support for the ruling coalition in the next national polls.

Ethnic Chinese voters comprise some 45 percent of the nearly 10,000 people eligible to vote April 12 for a new state legislator in the southern constituency of Machap, a longtime stronghold of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's multiethnic National Front coalition.

The National Front and the opposition Democratic Action Party both registered ethnic Chinese candidates Tuesday in the constituency of mainly farmers and traders.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak led 10,000 people who waved coalition flags and chanted slogans outside the nomination center in Machap, while the DAP's supporters numbered 3,000, the national news agency Bernama reported.

Political observers expect the National Front to easily retain the seat, which it won with a 4,562-vote majority out of 7,132 ballots cast in 2004 general elections. The seat became vacant after the incumbent died of renal failure last month.

The National Front is dominated by Abdullah's United Malays National Organization, which represents ethnic Malay Muslims who constitute nearly 60 percent of the population.

It also includes the Malaysian Chinese Association, to which the National Front candidate belongs. Malaysia also has significant ethnic Indian and indigenous minorities which are also represented in the coalition.

"Generally the (Machap) vote will provide some sort of indicator of the Chinese mood," said James Wong, chief analyst for Strategic Analysis Malaysia, the research division of news Web site

The National Front "will no doubt win the by-election, but the DAP's objective is to show a credible and respectable challenge as a warm-up to the general election," Wong said.

Ethnic Chinese, mainly Buddhists and Christians, are Malaysia's largest ethnic minority, comprising about a quarter of the nation's 26 million people. The ethnic Chinese vote has been crucial in helping the National Front retain a large parliamentary majority in past elections.

Opposition leaders widely expect Abdullah to call for general elections by early 2008, even though the government's mandate expires in 2009. Abdullah has kept his plans to himself, but politicians from both sides have been preparing for polls to avoid being caught off-guard.

National Front officials say they hope to increase their majority in the Machap vote, while the DAP is likely to try to win voters with accusations that Abdullah has failed to curb corruption and protect the religious and economic rights of ethnic minorities.