Malaysia's Islamic opposition party unleashed an unusually scathing attack against Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday, accusing him of pretending to be a pious Muslim leader and ignoring corruption that besets the country.
The criticism by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), the country's biggest opposition group, marked a new push in its campaign to prevent Abdullah's ruling coalition from achieving another landslide victory in national elections, widely expected by early next year.
"It is shameful that even though he [Abdullah] is famed with his approach of Islam Hadhari [progressive Islam], which has been publicized all over the world, exposures of corruption are increasingly severe in his administration," PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said in a speech opening the party's annual congress.
Abdul Hadi, speaking to more than 1,000 cheering party officials, said the government has denied — but failed to disprove — the opposition's growing allegations of graft, such as claims that the Defense Ministry paid massive commissions to middlemen in the purchase of Russian aircraft and French submarines.
Abdullah "has not seen all this, or perhaps he has fallen asleep," Abdul Hadi said in the party's northeastern stronghold of Kelantan, Malaysia's sole opposition-ruled state.
"Our nation is ruled by thieves in [Muslim clothes] and robbers who show off religious credentials with the brand of Islamic Hadhari," he said.
Senior PAS leaders have generally tried to refrain from personal attacks against their political rivals, fearing such moves may appear unbecoming of devout religious officials.
The Islamic party is the chief challenger of Abdullah's United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which is at the helm of the National Front multiethnic coalition that has led Malaysia since 1957. UMNO has 3.2 million members, while PAS estimates it has about 800,000.