Malaysia's Anwar set to win by-election | world | Hindustan Times
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Malaysia's Anwar set to win by-election

Malaysia's top opposition figure ran for a Parliamentary seat in a special election today& that he was expected to win despite sodomy accusations against him.

world Updated: Aug 26, 2008 09:00 IST

Malaysia's top opposition figure ran for a Parliamentary seat in a special election on Tuesday that he was expected to win despite sodomy accusations against him, as he pressed forward with his bid to topple the government.

Anwar Ibrahim was pitted against a governing coalition candidate in Permatang Pauh, an Anwar stronghold in the northern industrial state of Penang. Results were expected late on Tuesday. At stake was a single seat in Parliament that will not change the balance of power, but the widely forecast victory for Anwar would strengthen his hand as he marches ahead in his bid to become the next prime minister.

Anwar faces Arif Shah Omar Shah of the governing National Front coalition.

Anwar, who dismissed the sodomy allegation as "most sickening" and a politically motivated attack, has vowed to get enough National Front lawmakers to defect to bring down the government by Sept. 16. "This vote means Malaysians want the truth," said Anwar, 61, after voting with his wife.

"It is not Anwar versus the (ruling party) candidate. It is Anwar versus the entire government. God willing I am confident of winning," said Anwar, dressed in Malay cap.

The state had declared a public holiday, and long lines formed at polling stations. At one booth, supporters of the two sides heckled each other. Anwar's supporters outnumbered Arif Shah's. 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 amid a similar ignominy the married father of six children was convicted of corruption and sodomizing his family driver.

Anwar has always maintained that he was framed by his boss, then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, because of a power struggle. The sodomy conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2004. He says the latest sodomy charge leveled by a male aide is also a conspiracy by Mahathir's successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to prevent him from becoming prime minister. Abdullah flatly denies that.

"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." 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 believe the sodomy allegation was politically motivated.

Sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in jail in Malaysia. No date has been set for Anwar's trial on the charge. Anwar is assured of most votes of the minority Chinese and Indians. The Malay voters, who form 69 percent of the constituency's 58,459 electorate, are split between Anwar and Arif Shah. Tuesday's election also was 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 corruption conviction. The ban expired in April.

Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, won the Permatang Pauh district in March, but resigned the seat to allow Anwar to contest it.