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APRIL 14, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 14 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


Asiaweek Pictures
UMNO's man took the day. He better have -- a lot more than Sanggang's state assembly seat was at risk

Newsmakers

The Suffrage of Sanggang
Some constituencies choose notoriety. Others have it thrust upon them -- which could explain why Sanggang became the focus of so much recent political activity. Sanggang's one seat in the Pahang state assembly was up for grabs after Abdullah Kia, the incumbent, died in February. For Malaysia's dominant Barisan Nasional coalition which holds a three--quarters majority in the state assembly, the April 1 by--election was its first test since November's national general elections. Then the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (Pas) gave BN's main member, the United Malays National Organization, a bloody nose -- though far from a real drubbing. Still, PM Mahathir Mohamad was livid that UMNO, for all its years in power, should be dealt such a setback by Malays who opted for Pas's Muslim--themed political line. Meanwhile UMNO, originally built on Malay solidarity, found itself relying on ethnic--Chinese voters. So, while some 35% of the voters in Sanggang are of Chinese origin, UMNO took no chances and flooded the constituency for weeks with a steady stream of government visitors. Both sides tacitly agreed that Sanggang would be a test to see if Pas, now reaching out to non--Muslim Chinese voters with Chinese--language pamphlets and campaign workers, could reach beyond its ethnic base. The winner: UMNO's Redzwan Harun, a Muslim cleric, who apparently outdid Pas in appealing to Sanggang's Muslim majority.

On the Road Again
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee--hwa started his 10--day trek across North America on April 1. By the time he reached Toronto on April 4 for a three--day stay he was fending off questions about the territory's air pollution, defending its commitment to democracy and denying that he is a spokesman for Beijing on the ticklish question of independence for Taiwan. And all that was before he headed south to the U.S., where growing pro--Taiwan sentiment casts anything or anyone pro--China in an increasingly suspicious light.

Respect Your Elders
After 90 minutes, Indonesian investigators abandoned their first round of questioning with former president Suharto over allegations of corruption. The 78--year--old Suharto had suffered a minor stroke in July, and while the latest interrogators are eager to press their case they're not so eager to push their luck, or that of the former president. The five prosecutors finally managed to meet with the ousted president at his home after he failed for a third time to appear at the attorney general's office the day before. Prosecutors managed to ask seven questions -- "in short sentences" according to a Suharto lawyer. But if Suharto is taking the whole situation passively, his half--brother, Probosutejo, is not. He is threatening to sue the ministry of forestry for libel after it accused his company of misappropriating $19.4 million intended for a reforestation project. Neither he nor his illustrious brother seem out of the woods yet.

Passage
Died: James Puthucheary, 77, former Malaysian anti--colonial fighter, politician, lawyer, trade unionist and economist, of a stroke, in Kuala Lumpur, on April 3. Born in India, Puthucheary came to what was then Malaya in the late 1920s. He was first detained for his activities as a student leader in 1951. While serving a later stint in jail, he wrote the authoritative socialist analysis Ownership and Control in the Malayan Economy and worked on a London law degree. In 1954 he helped Lee Kuan Yew form the People's Action Party, but broke away with the leftist Barisan Sosialis seven years later. After being detained three times by the British and the post--colonial transitional governments, Puthucheary settled down to practice law in Kuala Lumpur in the early 1960s, where he became a partner in the prominent law firm of Skrine and Co.

Bailed, Jailed: Rabri Devi, chief minister of Bihar State, was offered bail by a special court of India's Central Bureau of Investigation, after it accused her of involvement in a scheme to embezzle 4 million rupees between 1990 and 1996; on April 5, in Patna. Her husband, Laloo Prasad Yadav, was sent to a maximum--security prison to await trial. Yadav had installed Devi, an illiterate mother of nine, as chief minister in 1997 after he stepped down from the post over a $700--million financial scandal which has yet to be resolved.

Escaped And Talking:
Ismail Khan, the veteran Afghan guerrilla commander who was detained in 1997 by the Taliban and held in a Kandahar prison, gave an interview in late March to the BBC somewhere in opposition--controlled Afghanistan. The governor of Herat province until 1995, Khan says he still wants to seek a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

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