An­war re­turns to front­line pol­i­tics in big elec­tion win

Gulf Times - - ASIA/AUSTRALASIA -

An­war Ibrahim won an over­whelm­ing mandate in a par­lia­men­tary by­elec­tion yes­ter­day, of­fi­cials said, set­ting the stage for his re­turn to front­line Malaysian pol­i­tics and seal­ing the once-jailed op­po­si­tion fig­ure’s re­mark­able res­ur­rec­tion.

Fig­ures re­leased by the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion showed he got more than 71% of the to­tal votes cast in a seven-way con­test which in­cluded a for­mer aide who lodged the abuse charges that landed An­war in pri­son for a sec­ond time in 2014.

“I am happy with the re­sults,” An­war said af­ter the vic­tory, which marks the charis­matic politi­cian’s stun­ning po­lit­i­cal come­back from pri­son to par­lia­ment.

Win­ning the seat was a key re­quire­ment for An­war to suc­ceed 93-year-old Prime Min­is­ter Ma­hathir Mo­hamed, who jailed his for­mer pro­tege and heir ap­par­ent abuse and cor­rup­tion charges in 1998 when their re­la­tion­ship soured.

Ma­hathir re­turned to the pre­mier­ship this year af­ter a shock elec­tion win, say­ing he would stay in power for only two years be­fore hand­ing the reins to An­war.

An­war was in pri­son when he forged an un­likely al­liance with Ma­hathir in a bid to un­seat then-prime min­is­ter Na­jib Razak, who had called elec­tions for May amid mas­sive cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions.

Un­der­scor­ing the drama of yes­ter­day’s vote, one of An­war’s six chal­lengers is the ex-aide who had ac­cused him of abuse.

Polls opened un­der cloudy skies at 8am (0000 GMT) and closed nine and a half hours later in the sleepy south­ern coastal town of Port Dick­son, home to a size­able eth­nic Chi­nese com­mu­nity that has tra­di­tion­ally been one of An­war’s pil­lars of sup­port.

“We are vot­ing for the next premier. We need an in­flu­en­tial leader to bring long-over­due progress to Port Dick­son,” said 60-year-old voter Lee Tian Hock.

“This morn­ing, I prayed for a big win for An­war,” re­tired truck driver Mat Taib, a mem­ber of the coun­try’s eth­nic Malay ma­jor­ity, said.

“I want him to be our eighth prime min­is­ter.”

About 100 sup­port­ers greeted An­war with shouts of “Re­for­masi” - his bat­tle cry while in op­po­si­tion - as he ar­rived at a polling sta­tion.

There had been lit­tle doubt the re­formist politi­cian would win the seat, which was va­cated af­ter a mem­ber of the rul­ing coali­tion stepped down to pave the way for An­war’s re­turn.

But he cam­paigned hard to se­cure the multi-racial con­stituency, promis­ing vot­ers de­vel­op­ment, clean gov­ern­ment and a boost to lo­cal tourism.

An­war did not dis­cuss the sodomy ac­cu­sa­tions on the cam­paign trail. He has al­ways main­tained the charges were trumped up to de­rail his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

But he has cam­paigned doggedly on the multi-bil­lion-dol­lar graft scan­dal at state fund 1MDB, which led to dozens of cor­rup­tion charges against for­mer leader Na­jib and his wife Ros­mah Man­sor.

Both face the prospect of spend­ing the rest of their lives in jail in a scan­dal that saw Na­jib’s coali­tion lose of­fice for the first time since the coun­try de­clared in­de­pen­dence from Britain in 1957.

Po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights in­clud­ing Ma­hathir have cam­paigned for An­war dur­ing a come­back that was un­think­able even six months ago.

The duo went on­stage to­gether at one cam­paign event, prompt­ing wild cheers from sup­port­ers.

Af­ter he was dumped as fi­nance min­is­ter and jailed in the 1990s, An­war led a re­formist op­po­si­tion move­ment while fighting to over­turn his con­vic­tions.

Ma­hathir, his men­tor turned tor­men­tor and now ally, came back from re­tire­ment to lead the Al­liance of Hope coali­tion that won power in May.

Peo­ple’s Jus­tice Party pres­i­dent and leader of the Pakatan Hara­pan coali­tion An­war Ibrahim, cen­tre, cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning in a by-elec­tion in Port Dick­son yes­ter­day.

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