An­war’s bid in fo­cus as Malaysia by-election starts

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

>> PORT DICK­SON: Vot­ing was un­der­way yes­ter­day in a Malaysian by-election that sees charis­matic politi­cian An­war Ibrahim, seen as a pos­si­ble leader-in-wait­ing, mak­ing a bid to re-en­ter par­lia­ment af­ter spend­ing three years in jail over a sodomy con­vic­tion.

Mr An­war, 71, needs vic­tory to take the first step to­ward tak­ing over as leader from 92-year-old Prime Min­is­ter Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, who has promised to step down be­fore his cur­rent five-year term ends.

Through­out the 14-day cam­paign­ing in the sea­side re­sort town of Port Dick­son, 50 kilo­me­tres south of Kuala Lumpur, where Mr An­war is con­test­ing the seat with six other can­di­dates, vot­ers have been told a vote for Mr An­war is choos­ing the prime-min­is­ter-in-wait­ing.

The suc­ces­sion plan was part of a deal struck among the four-party Al­liance of Hope be­fore the his­toric May 9 gen­eral election that ousted the Na­tional Front coali­tion, which had ruled the coun­try since in­de­pen­dence over 60 years ago.

Mr An­war had to sit out the gen­eral election as he was still serv­ing a five-year jail term from 2015. He was freed af­ter re­ceiv­ing a full royal par­don a week af­ter the al­liance came to power.

“This by-election is im­por­tant for Mr An­war be­cause win­ning the seat will be his first step in pos­si­bly the last stretch in be­com­ing the next prime min­is­ter — a po­si­tion that he has cov­eted since the late 1990s,” As­rul Hadi Ab­du­lah Sani, the di­rec­tor of Bower Group Asia Malaysia, a risk con­sul­tancy firm said.

Mr An­war was once seen as the heir to Dr Ma­hathir dur­ing the lat­ter’s first stint as premier from 1981 to 2003.

Both were then with the Na­tional Front, but they had a spec­tac­u­lar fall-out in 1998 when Mr An­war was booted out as the deputy prime min­is­ter over what Dr Ma­hathir de­scribed as his “im­moral­ity” and sub­se­quently jailed for six years on sodomy and cor­rup­tion charges.

Mr An­war has al­ways main­tained his in­no­cence and blamed the po­lit­i­cal elites for or­ches­trat­ing those charges as well as those be­hind his lat­est con­vic­tion to pre­vent him from chal­leng­ing their power. His cause has been taken up by rights groups and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity who have deemed him a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner.

But 20 years later, Mr An­war and Dr Ma­hathir buried the hatchet ahead of the gen­eral election to take on a com­mon foe, for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Ab­dul Razak and the Na­tional Front. How­ever, ru­mours of dis­trust re­main.

The Port Dick­son par­lia­men­tary election was called af­ter Danyal Balagopal Ab­dul­lah from Mr An­war’s party, the Peo­ple’s Jus­tice Party, or PKR, gave up his seat in Septem­ber to make way for Mr An­war.

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