Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Malaysia struggles for democracy despite apparent sham criminal charges

Anwar wins Malaysian parliament seat

PERMATANG PAUH, Malaysia (AP) -- Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won a landslide victory in a special election for a parliament seat Tuesday, strengthening his campaign to topple the government and become the next prime minister despite sodomy charges against him.

Anwar Ibrahim, center, and his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, right, are seen after Ibrahim won the by-election.

Anwar Ibrahim, center, and his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, right, are seen after Ibrahim won the by-election.

The official count showed Anwar defeated the governing coalition's candidate for a seat from a semi-rural district in the northern industrial state of Penang.

"This is the people's victory," Anwar, 61, said in a victory speech to thousands of supporters.

"Permatang Pauh has given a clear signal to the leadership of this country. We demand change. We want freedom. We don't want to live with corruption and oppression," he said.

Anwar's re-entry into parliament would formally complete the political rehabilitation of a man who was fired as deputy prime minister in 1998 and jailed for six years after he was convicted of corruption and sodomizing his family driver.

Anwar is now facing trial on new charges that he sodomized a male aide in June. He calls the latest sodomy charge "most sickening" and a politically motivated attack.

Sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in jail in Malaysia and no date has been set for the trial.

Anwar's previous sodomy conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2004. He has always maintained that he was framed by his boss, then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, because of a power struggle.

He says the latest charge is also a conspiracy by Mahathir's successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to prevent him from becoming prime minister. Abdullah denies it.

"This vote means Malaysians want the truth," Anwar, 61, said after voting. "It is Anwar versus the entire government. God willing, I am confident of winning."

Thousands of Anwar supporters had gathered outside the counting center awaiting the results, watched by large contingents of riot police.

The Election Commission said final results gave Anwar 31,195 votes while his rival, Arif Shah Omar Shah, got 15,524 of the 47,258 votes cast. A third candidate got 92 votes. Turnout was impressive at 81 percent.

The single seat that Anwar won will not change the balance of power. But he has vowed to persuade enough lawmakers from the governing National Front to defect so he can bring down the government by September 16.

Domestic Trade Minister Shahrir Samad, a member of the ruling party's policy-making council, denied Anwar's victory was a major blow to the government.

"It was his home ground, so that was always an advantage because he has a lot of support there," Shahrir told The Associated Press. "We expected him to win. This just proves there is nothing wrong with our electoral system. But I still doubt he will be able to pull off his September 16 threat."

A telephone poll conducted of 544 voters by the independent Merdeka Center think-tank from Friday to Sunday found 59 percent of the Permatang Pauh voters believed the sodomy allegation was politically motivated.

"It is a lie to smear him. The government is doing everything they can to shame him," said Mustakim Ramlee, a 66-year-old businessman who voted for Anwar. "Anwar's victory will bring good reforms to our country and will unite all the races in Malaysia."

Anwar was expected to win most votes of the minority Chinese and Indians. The Malay voters, who form 69 percent of the constituency's electorate, were split between Anwar and the government candidate.

The election was also a gauge of public anger against Abdullah's administration, which the opposition has painted as corrupt, inefficient and uncaring toward minorities.

The opposition promises to scrap Malaysia's decades-old system of preferences for ethnic Malays. The government says that would jeopardize the country's unity.

In March 8 general elections, Anwar's three-party opposition alliance won an unprecedented 82 of parliament's 222 seats -- 30 short of a majority -- as well as control of five states. But Anwar could not run because of a ban on holding political office stemming from his previous corruptionconviction. The ban expired in April.

Anwar is married with six children. His wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, won the Permatang Pauh district in March, but resigned the seat to allow Anwar to contest it.

Original article posted here.

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