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Malaysians on Gore: Can't forget, can't forgive

By Brendan Pereira, Malaysia Correspondent, The Straits Times,
3 November 2000

The candidate's pat on the back for the "brave people" behind reformasi at Apec summit in 1998 is deeply etched in the minds of many Malaysians

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysians cannot forget what US Vice-President Al Gore did the last time he was in Kuala Lumpur, nor can they forgive.

Many politicians, newspaper executives and prominent Malaysians are rooting for Republican nominee George W. Bush and hope that his foreign policy will be less intrusive if he is elected in next Tuesday's polls.

Their view is aptly summed up by Mr V.K. Chin, editorial adviser to The Star newspaper, in a column yesterday.

He wrote: "It is not that a Bush administration is going to set bilateral ties on fire but it is just that he is the lesser of two evils."

Memory of what Mr Gore did in 1998, when he represented President Bill Clinton in Kuala Lumpur at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit, is still deeply etched in many Malaysian minds.

Mr Gore, in his address to a gathering attended by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and several Cabinet ministers, said the US supported the "brave people" of Malaysia who were behind the "reformasi" movement.

This drew an angry response from many Malaysians who denounced him as rude and evil.

Prominent Malaysians interviewed by The Straits Times said a victory for the Democratic candidate would see Malaysia staying in the doghouse for a while longer, with official contact between the two governments continuing to be at a minimum.

Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, an Umno Youth exco member noted: "Just like William Cohen, Sam Nunn will also give Malaysia a miss during visits to the region."

Experts expect Mr Gore to appoint former senator Nunn as Defence Secretary.

Mr Cohen and Mr Nunn were keen supporters of the Asia Pacific Dialogue, a meeting of leaders initiated by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. They have voiced concern over his jailing and treatment by the authorities.

But most Malaysians do not expect any significant shift in policy even if Mr Bush becomes President.

There is a perception though that a Republican president will bring renewed focus on Asia minus the constant lecturing on human rights and the environment.

His advisers have said that he will not pander to labour and environmental concerns while Mr Gore has said that he will seek to build labour and environment protection rights into future trade agreements.

Also, there is a feeling that some of Mr Bush's likely appointees to senior positions will show a more acceptable face of diplomacy.

Lawyer Karim Raslan said: "It will be a relief for all Asians to see the demise of Madeleine Albright's shockingly abrasive contempt of all things Asian."

Malaysia's opposition politicians also seemed to back Mr Bush but for different reasons.

The Parti Islamic SeMalaysia (PAS) noted that Mr Gore and his running mate, Mr Joseph Lieberman, enjoyed strong support from the Jewish lobby. That may make them more amenable to policies that will put Muslims in the US at a disadvantage.

Copyright 2000 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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