KUALA TERENGGANU, Jan 7 - Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim drew parallels tonight between the conflict in Gaza and what he called the sufferings of Malaysians as he hit the campaign trail at a mammoth rally attended by thousands here.
Attempting to touch a sensitive chord among the mainly Muslim constituency here, he accused Umno, the main party in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, of acting like Israel.
“The leadership is busy collecting wealth. While Israel is punishing the Palestinian people for choosing Hamas, it is no different from Umno punishing Malaysians for choosing the Pakatan Rakyat,” he told a ceramah here on the first day of campaigning for the Kuala Terengganu by-election.
Thousands of local residents had gathered to listen to a star-studded Pakatan Rakyat (PR) rally here where besides Anwar, the DAP’s Lim Kit Siang and Pas president Hadi Awang were also among the top draws.
The flag-waving crowd cheered loudly during Anwar’s speech, punctuated with shouts of “Allahu Akbar”, which translates as “God is Great,” the standard clarion cry of the Pas faithful.
With a majority of Malaysia’s Muslims backing the Palestinian cause, Israel’s ongoing invasion of Gaza is having a major impact on domestic politics.
Political leaders from either side of the divide have been busy burnishing their Islamic credentials, and Anwar’s attack against Umno tonight will likely put BN on the defensive in the days to come.
The Kuala Terengganu by-election sees a three-way fight between BN’s Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh, Abdul Wahid Endut of Pas and independent Azharuddin Mamat.
Setting the tone for the campaign, Anwar told the huge flag waving crowd gathered at a beach behind the Astaka shopping centre here that the problem with Umno was that it was corrupt and ignored the suffering of ordinary Malaysians.
Sticking to his Gaza theme, he said: “Umno, like Israel, does not recognise the chosen Hamas leadership.”
The Opposition Leader also spoke on the Hudud issue, and blamed “Umno and its controlled media” for fanning religious and racial hatred.
Pas vice-president Husam Musa’s recent remarks that his party would want to introduce Hudud, the strict Islamic code which prescribes amputation, stonning and whipping as punishment for criminal offences, had touched off criticisms from non-Muslim groups, including PR partners DAP.
While the Hudud issue has caused uneasiness in other parts of the country, it has little traction in the east coast states, where a huge majority of the population, are conservative Muslims.
Still, with a tight race anticipated, both the BN and PR campaigns are mindful of the need to secure the Chinese vote, which represents around 11 per cent of voters here.