Fadzil Noor, the leader of Malaysia's opposition
Islamic fundamentalist party, died on Sunday 23 June 2002 after failing to regain
consciousness following heart bypass surgery two weeks earlier. He was 65.
Fadzil, the president of the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian
Islamic Party, underwent five hours of surgery at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur on
10 June 2002.
In May 2002, Fadzil was hospitalized for five days
after what officials of his party said was a bout of hypoglycemia (abnormally
low blood sugar levels).
His death throws Malaysian politics into deeper
uncertainty a day after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced that he was
resigning, then reversed himself after supporters begged him to stay and lead
his party into elections against the fundamentalists.
Fadzil's death is a setback for the fundamentalists,
who have been under pressure since the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist
attacks in the US, when their pro-Taliban statements alienated many Malaysians
and strengthened the standing of Mahathir's United Malays National Organization.
The ruling party is increasingly expected to call
elections a year early in 2003 in a bid to reverse gains that the fundamentalists
made in 1999 when they gained more seats in Parliament and took control of a second
of Malaysia's 13 states.
The opposition gains were attributed to a backlash
against the firing and jailing of Mahathir's popular deputy Anwar Ibrahim, who
is serving 15 years in prison for corruption and sodomy convictions. Anwar claims
that he was framed to prevent him from challenging Mahathir for power.
In 2001, Fadzil predicted that the fundamentalists
would seize power in three more states at the next elections, which are not required
until late 2004.
Mahathir, who has ruled for 21 years, has accused
the fundamentalists of promoting extremism among Malay Muslims, the country's
largest ethnic group. Alcohol and gambling have been banned and other strict Islamic
laws imposed in the states they lead.
Fadzil, who led the party since 1989, was viewed
as a moderate compared to hard-line clerics in the party who want to declare the
country an Islamic state. Fadzil said imposing harsh Islamic laws across the board
would bring unrest in a multiracial country with large non-Muslim ethnic Chinese
and Indian minorities.
His deputy, the more hard-line Abdul Hadi Awang,
took over his duties temporarily when he failed to regain consciousness after
the surgery. Hadi is appointed acting party president a few days after Fadzil's
death, to serve until the party elects a new president next year
Fadzil successfully cobbled together a coalition
of opposition parties in 1999 to challenge Mahathir's ruling coalition, bringing
in allies that included a party headed by Anwar's wife, but it collapsed last
Fadzil epitomized a traditional Malay trait of
politeness in politics, preferring veiled references over direct attacks. Not
long before his death, he recalled that Mahathir was his family doctor in the
rural Kedah state before the two men entered politics. Mahathir was good doctor
then, he said, and should return to practice.