Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Landslide victory for Anwar in by-poll


Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Anwar Ibrahim won a landslide by-election victory Tuesday that was bigger than expected and which will see him return to Parliament. The 15,671 vote majority in his Penang home state cemented a stunning comeback for Anwar, who was sacked as Deputy Premier a decade ago and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges he claims were politically motivated. "The message is clear, we in Permatang Pauh and in Malaysia, we demand change for freedom and justice," Anwar told a jubilant crowd of thousands of people gathered in a football stadium who were chanting "reformasi" (reform) and "merdeka" (freedom). "We want an independent judiciary, we want the economy to benefit the vast majority not the corrupt few," said Anwar. "We declare victory, the margin is very huge," said Tian Chua, Information Chief of Anwar's Keadilan party, which leads a three-member opposition alliance. The final tally showed Anwar won 31,195 votes, compared with 15,524 for his opponent from the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has dominated Malaysian politics for half a century. The BN candidate for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition had conceded earlier, although he said he had expected to win. "I thought that people would vote to get their problems solved but they seemed more attracted to propaganda, promises and innuendo from the opposition," said Arif Shah. "Yes of course we have lost... we were the underdogs going into this race," said Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, Umno information chief, the party that leads the coalition. "This is a clear indication that people of all races have rejected communal politics. It is a clear endorsement of our reform agenda. We are on track," Anwar said. Anwar had been widely expected to win back his old seat of Permatang Pauh, which his wife held during his political exile. She stood aside last month to allow him to contest, after a ban on him holding public office expired. However, he defied expectations that the coalition's no-holds-barred campaign would suppress his winning margin, which is being seen as an indicator of his ability to shrug off the sodomy charges. "I thank the voters, the wisdom of the people has prevailed. The win shows the people reject the sodomy allegations thrown at my husband," said Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Analysts said that even after he returns to Parliament, the 61-year-old opposition leader faces further daunting hurdles including a looming trial on the new sexual misconduct charges. The opposition leader has said the accusations, levelled by a 23-year-old male aide, have been concocted by the Government to thwart his ambitions of seizing power with the help of defecting lawmakers. He will appear in court on Sept. 10 and denies the new sodomy charges. His original sodomy conviction was overturned by the nation's highest court in 2004, allowing him to go free after spending six years in jail. He then spent several years behind the scenes, before storming back onto the political stage at the helm of a reinvigorated opposition. In March general elections, the opposition alliance seized control of five states and a third of parliamentary seats-an unprecedented result that shook the coalition and put Anwar within striking distance of taking power. He needs to secure the support of at least 30 defectors in order to oust the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who has faced calls to quit after the general elections debacle. The ballot in Permatang Pauh was held under tight security, after both sides traded allegations of abuse and attacks on their supporters. Some 4,500 police were deployed to keep the peace. Despite the focus on the sodomy allegations, Anwar's star power was undimmed, and he drew big crowds to nightly rallies during the intense 10-day campaign. Political analysts had said the man who was once a rising star in the government and is now seeking to oust it from power had needed to win by at least the 13,388 majority his wife won when she contested the seat in March's general election. That Anwar won by much more gives him a real shot at tempting the 30 government legislators to join his three-party coalition and that will enable him to win power in a confidence vote that he has said he will call for September.

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