Anwar Ibrahim returns to Malaysian parliament with landslide win (Lead)August 26th, 2008 - 10:15 pm ICT by IANS
Permatang Pauh (Malaysia), Aug 26 (DPA) Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim Tuesday ended a 10-year wait to return to Parliament with a landslide victory in a special by-election.Anwar won a majority of the ballots cast by at least 13,000 voters against his opponent Arif Shah Omar Shah from the ruling National Front coalition, Election Commission officials said.
Tens of thousands of supporters gathered outside a teaching college to wait for the announcement, which was greeted by thunderous cheers and applause.
Tuesday’s victory paved the way for Anwar to return to Parliament as the head of a three-party opposition alliance, grouping his own People’s Justice Party, the Democratic Action Party and the hardline Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
Previously a sleepy town, the northern Permatang Pauh constituency captured the attention of the entire nation when Anwar announced his decision to contest the seat left vacant by his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, on July 31.
Anwar held the seat from 1982 to 1999 when he was forced to quit after being ousted from the government and put on trial for corruption and sodomy.
He was convicted and imprisoned on both charges, which he denied, but was freed after Malaysia’s top court overturned the sodomy conviction in 2004.
Anwar and Wan Azizah cast their votes early Tuesday and began a gruelling day of meeting voters and supporters at the 28 polling stations in the constituency.
With police helicopters hovering overhead and banners and flags lining every street in town, voters came out in full force to cast their votes.
More than 6,000 police officers, including riot police, were deployed Tuesday throughout the town.
“We are not taking any chances with security,” a police officer said.
“If anyone breaks the law, we will not hesitate to take action to ensure the voting process is conducted peacefully,” he said.
Aside from small scuffles between supporters of both sides, there was no major violence reported.
But the heavy police presence, along with the throngs of supporters from both sides, caused massive traffic jams at all major polling centres.
“I’ve never seen this kind of attention before, this kind of crowd, even when the prime minister or his deputy came,” a local shopkeeper said.
After Anwar was fired, Wan Azizah represented the constituency from 1999 to 2008 before stepping down to make way for her husband to re-enter Parliament.
A former deputy prime minister, Anwar sees his imminent entry into Parliament as the next step in his effort to topple the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by mid-September.
In Malaysia’s March election, Anwar led a three-party opposition alliance to major gains, capturing 82 out of 222 seats in Parliament and taking control of five of 13 states.
Anwar, 61, did not run in the March election because of a ban on holding political office, stemming from his previous corruption conviction. The ban lapsed in April.
His seemingly effortless rise in politics suffered a major setback when he faced yet another sodomy allegation in June, this time by a former male aide.
Anwar, who has slammed the accusations as politically motivated, was charged with sodomy, and a court fixed Sep 10 for his trial. He is currently out on bail.
The lurid sexual allegations have done little to tarnish his popularity and might have even strengthened support for Anwar.
“Nobody here believes he is guilty of sodomy,” voter and businessman Razali said. “He was framed.”
“Give Anwar a chance to rule this country,” he said after casting his vote. “We’re already in such a bad shape now.”
Permatang Pauh, located in the opposition-ruled state of Penang, has almost 59,000 registered voters, out of which more than 60 percent are ethnic Malay, followed by ethnic Chinese and Indians.
The ethnic make-up of the constituency almost mirrors the breakdown of races nationwide, prompting analysts to say Anwar’s impressive performance in the polls might give a rough idea of the support he might enjoy if he takes on the top post.
Anwar, a Muslim of ethnic Malay descent, has pledged to erase parochial politics, clamp down on rampant corruption and revive an ailing economy if voted into office.
Currently, Malaysian political parties are race-based with Abdullah’s United Malays National Organization leading a coalition that also includes ethnic Chinese and Indian parties.