| ULU TIRAM, Malaysia
ULU TIRAM, Malaysia Malaysia's hardline
Islamist party PAS is known for advocating a theocratic Islamic
state, but that isn't stopping a non-Muslim woman from running
as a PAS candidate in next month's elections.
Kumutha Rahman, a 29-year-old Hindu, is standing in a
mainly Malay Muslim constituency in southern Malaysia, becoming
the first ever non-Muslim candidate running on a Parti Islam
se-Malaysia's (PAS) ticket.
"My fellow Indians were very shocked because I'm not a
Muslim and they asked me what I wanted to do," Kumutha told
Reuters in an interview at her campaign office in Ulu Tiram, a
town near Johor's capital Johor Baru, near Singapore.
"But they now appreciate what I'm doing. People here are
open-minded," said Kumutha, who heads the women's division of
the PAS' supporters' club in Johor.
Analysts said PAS' move to field a non-Muslim candidate is
aimed at making the party more inclusive to attract wider
support in the March 8 elections.
At the last election in 2004, PAS suffered heavy losses to
the multi-racial Barisan Nasional ruling coalition led by Prime
Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, a moderate Muslim.
Indians form about 8 percent of Malaysia's mainly Muslim
population of 26 million.
Kumutha, a former bank clerk, said she had studied PAS'
constitution and found there was nothing in it against her
As she spoke, bearded party activists wearing Islamic skull
caps were preparing campaign leaflets showing top officials in
Abdullah's government kissing or hugging the opposite sex, with
a warning: "This is their culture: dirty, filthy, disgusting.
Do you support this culture?"
UNLIKELY TO MAKE A DENT
PAS's goal is to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, but
it is shying away from this long-standing objective in its
campaign and is instead saying Malaysia should become a
Mohammad Agus Yusoff, a political scientist from Malaysia's
Universiti Kebangsaan, said PAS' attempts to become more
inclusive would not make a dent in support for the ruling
"Johor has always been a Barisan stronghold," he said.
Kumutha faces Barisan's Maulizan Bujang for the Tiram state
constituency. Maulizan won the seat in the 2004 election with
an overwhelming majority of nearly 16,000 votes.
Kumutha, who studied law in the United Kingdom, said she
was not worried about PAS' Islamic agenda, which includes
corporal punishment for crimes such as adultery and theft,
arguing that those punishments were only for Muslims.
She herself was dressed in a blouse and pants and was not
wearing the Islamic headscarf that PAS generally requires women
to wear. She also is not obliged to know any Arabic or be
familiar with the Koran.
"ln Kelantan, there has been no demolition of Hindu or
Chinese temples, but in Selangor (state) there are issues like
the demolition of temples," she said. Kelantan is the only
state ruled by PAS.
Kumutha, whose father drives a taxi, said she wanted to
motivate young Indian women to be active in society.
"Most ethnic Indian women enjoy education nowadays but they
are very afraid to get involved in any matter."
(Editing by Bill Tarrant)