Saturday, April 21, 2007


Riot police called in after clash between supporters of Barisan and opposition

By Reme Ahmad
The Straits Times

RIOT police were called in after a clash between supporters of rival parties as tensions rose in the by-election battle for Ijok in Selangor.

Leaders of Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition accused one another of provoking the violence after their supporters started throwing objects yesterday.

The by-election will be a straight contest between Barisan and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), after three independent candidates who were speculated to be taking part failed to submit their nomination papers.

The seat was left vacant following the death of a state assemblyman.

Riot police carrying batons moved in quickly to keep the two groups of supporters apart after dozens of plastic water bottles, flagpoles and stones were hurled.

Barisan had about 5,000 supporters while PKR and other opposition supporters numbered some 2,000.

Both sides claimed the other started the throwing incident after exchanging taunts.

'They like it if there is unrest. If there is unrest and there is action by the authorities, they can charge that the government used force and abused power,' Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak told reporters.

Selangor Menteri Besar Khir Toyo said he was at the front of the Barisan line and claimed he saw who started the bottle-throwing incident.

'The first bottle came from Keadilan. I am very sure,' he said.

PKR leaders denied this, saying that the first projectile came from the Barisan supporters.

'Umno Youth was the one who threw the first bottle. To say we started it is not true,' said PKR president Wan Azizah Ismail.

Both sides said several of their supporters were injured.

Selangor police chief Ismail Omar said no arrests were made and blamed the incident on 'boisterous supporters'.

The morning started with the two groups shouting taunts and waving flags as they gathered at the nomination centre.

PKR supporters shouted 'Barisan corrupt!' and paraded a big inflatable crocodile buoy with the sign 'Beware of the Barisan Crocodile'. Crocodiles are portrayed as sly creatures in Malay folklore.

They also shouted 'Altantuya! Altantuya!' and 'Submarine! Submarine!' They were referring to the case of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu's murder involving a prominent political analyst with close links to Datuk Seri Najib and to allegations that have been circulating over past defence deals.

Some Barisan supporters shouted back 'Sodomy! Sodomy!', which referred to a previous court case in which PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim was accused of sodomy.

In the by-election, Barisan is putting up former education officer K.Parthiban, 38. He is from the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), one of the 14 component parties of the BN.

His opponent is 61-year-old Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, a former corporate chieftain.

Ijok is located about an hour's drive north-west of Kuala Lumpur.

The single-seat election for the Selangor state assembly is seen as crucial to both sides due to the Anwar factor.

Datuk Seri Anwar will campaign directly in his party's first electoral fight since the 2004 general election.

If PKR fails to win, or even loses by a small margin, observers say, it could dent Datuk Seri Anwar's political credibility and weaken the opposition.

In the 2004 Ijok by-election, Barisan's candidate won 57 per cent of votes cast, while PKR clinched 39 per cent.

Polling is on April 28 after a nine-day campaigning period. The bitter start to the by-election harks back to the last time an MIC candidate stood against the PKR. In that 2000 by-election in Lunas, Kedah, a fracas broke out between supporters of the opposing parties.

Selangor's police chief, Datuk Ismail, said he is confident that things will be under control as he has a 1,000-strong police force in the constituency.

He urged all supporters: 'Display your maturity as Malaysian citizens. The process of elections is for us to choose our candidates peacefully.'