Saturday, July 19, 2008

Malaysia's Anwar revives bid for power despite arrest

Malaysia's Anwar revives bid for power despite arrest
2 hours ago

MALACCA, Malaysia (AFP) — Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim toured Malaysia over the weekend in a bid to revive his ambitions of seizing power despite his arrest on sodomy allegations -- the same charge that saw him jailed a decade ago.

Dressed in his trademark blue batik shirt, Anwar travelled to the government-held states of Malacca, Pahang and Johor to build support and momentum after last week's explosive events, when he spent a night in police custody over the accusations levelled by a 23-year-old male aide.

"The government knows that if not for these sodomy allegations, I would be on my way into parliament by now," he told a crowd of more than 5,000 conservative Muslim supporters in Jasin, a village near the tourist town of Malacca.

"I tell you now that I will be contesting in a by-election," he told the crowd, to yells of "Allahu akbar" or "God is greater."

A return to parliament would be the next step in the political rehabilitation of Anwar, who was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges.

The sex conviction was overturned, but the corruption count barred him from public office until April.

The Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance, fired up by Anwar's charismatic presence, made unprecedented gains in March general elections, leaving it just 30 seats short of ousting the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which has ruled since independence from Britain a half-century ago.

Anwar's latest crisis, which he says has been fabricated by the government, has been a distraction from his plan to form a new administration with the help of defecting coalition lawmakers.

But he told the crowds on his post-arrest roadshow that he was making progress nevertheless.

"I will shortly be ready to announce four BN MPs who will join the Pakatan Rakyat. It will happen very soon," he said.

Anwar had agreed to be questioned Wednesday over the new sodomy allegations brought by Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who said he was assaulted at a luxury condo.

But just an hour before he was due to appear, a team of balaclava-clad police commandos picked him up and took him to Kuala Lumpur police headquarters.

He was released on police bail until August 18, but could still be charged with sodomy -- which in predominantly Muslim Malaysia is a serious offence with a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.

Analysts said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government could be forced onto the defensive by the allegations, which one survey found are widely disbelieved by Malaysians who have lost faith in the justice system.

"Anwar is trying to capitalise on a tactical weakness of the police and government," said Tricia Yeoh, head of the Centre for Public Policy Studies.

"If they charge him in court on the sodomy allegations, he will get more sympathy and support from the public. And if they let him go, he will be vindicated and it will be a victory for the opposition," she said.

Anwar is also seizing on a largely unpopular 41 percent fuel price hike introduced last month, saying he would lower pump prices immediately if he comes to power.

"Don't let these baseless accusations about me distract you from what is most important, how to bring down the high prices of oil and food which have devastated the people," he told an enthusiastic crowd in the small Malaccan village of Cheng on Friday night.

More than a thousand ethnic Chinese supporters, including old men with walking sticks and young girls in cheongsams, turned up to hear him speak in a sign of the multi-ethnic appeal that he enjoys in Malaysia, which is home to large ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities.

"Keadilan (Anwar's party) did not win very big here in the last elections," said 44-year-old villager Choong Hai Sung as blue-and-red Keadilan flags fluttered from wooden houses.

"But the recent hikes and indifference of the local authorities to our problems mean that we have to now shift our support," he said.

"I know that subsidies are bad but we are going through bad times and Anwar's plans seem like the best option now."

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