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Malaysia's Anwar hails 'new dawn' after comeback

Opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim hailed "a new dawn for Malaysia" on Sunday after stunning election results that cemented his political comeback after being sacked and jailed a decade ago.

world Updated: Mar 10, 2008 08:30 IST

Opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim hailed "a new dawn for Malaysia" on Sunday after stunning election results that cemented his political comeback after being sacked and jailed a decade ago.

The performance has even revived talk of the charismatic 60-year-old as a future prime minister, after the lost decade that followed his 1998 fall from grace when he was convicted on sex and corruption charges.

Anwar delivered a crushing blow to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition by rallying the opposition parties to their best performance in Malaysian history, seizing four states and more than a third of parliamentary seats.

He weathered blistering personal attacks during the campaign from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's ruling party, which was clearly rattled as he criss-crossed the nation delivering barn-storming speeches.

A jubilant Anwar said the opposition now had to prove it was a credible alternative to the coalition which has completely dominated Malaysian politics for half a century.

"It is a new dawn for Malaysia," he told AFP. "People want to see justice."

Anwar's Keadilan party won 31 seats for the biggest opposition presence in the new 222-seat parliament, from just one in the outgoing parliament.

The Chinese-based Democratic Action Party won 28 and the Islamic party PAS won 23.

Anwar said the results exploded Malaysia's race-based political structure, under which parties have traditionally represented individual ethnic groups.

"The opposition that has been voted in is a truly multi-racial party. It is a fantastic setup," he said.

"I will help the Malays, but it will be done justly, and in the same breath I will help the Indians and the Chinese."

Political observers said Anwar could rule the country if he managed to consolidate the successes of the disparate opposition parties.

"He played a major role in the opposition's success. Anwar remains very influential. He delivered a powerful blow to the ruling party," Mohamad Agus Yusoff from the National University of Malaysia told AFP.

"Anwar has denied the Barisan its two-third majority. He could one day become the prime minister. If the Barisan remains weak, we could see it being toppled in the next polls," he added.

In further victories for Anwar's family, his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail extended her majority in her constituency in the island state of Penang, while his daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar won her first election fight.

Mohamad Agus said the coalition's rhetoric that Anwar was no longer relevant had sowed the seeds for its defeat.

"They adopted a denial syndrome. They failed to realise that Anwar represented the symbol of justice and had the capacity to woo voters across any age-group," he said.

Anwar spent six years in jail on sex and corruption charges which he said were politically motivated. The sex charge was quashed but the corruption count still stands, barred him from holding office until April.

He has raised the prospect of re-entering parliament through a by-election, but Anwar told AFP he would focus first on consolidating the election results.

"I am in no hurry to get into the parliament. I have 31 seats to consider which Keadilan won," he said.

Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a political analyst and UMNO watcher, said the opposition would have to forge an alliance and create a two-party system in order to build a future for itself.

"Only then will Anwar have a chance to become a prime minister and maybe he could be a prime minister in the next 10 years," he told AFP.

Anwar said he felt "truly vindicated" by the massive vote of support.

"Going forward, Malays, Indians and Chinese all have to work together and make us a formidable force," he said.