Malaysians vote in crucial test for Anwar

Assuming Anwar wins, his next challenge will be garnering the support of 30 government legislators in a parliamentary vote of confidence that he has said he will call in September.

Malaysians vote in crucial test for Anwar

Voters cast their ballots in a Malaysian by-election on Tuesday that could return opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim to parliament, the first step in his bid to take power.

Security was tight around polling stations in the usually sleepy enclave of Permatang Pauh in the northern state of Penang, with more than 4,000 policemen deployed amid reports of skirmishes between rival parties during the campaigning.

The vote pits Anwar and his three-party coalition against the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant party in a coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957.

Overshadowing Anwar's quest to rule the country are charges that he sodomised a male aide.

Anwar, who will appear in court on Sept. 10, denies the charges. He says they are the product of a conspiracy to discredit him and scuttle his ambition to dismantle Malaysia's ethnically based economic system, root out corruption and reform the economy to boost economic growth.

"I voted for Anwar because I think he can look after the interests of Malays and other races," said factory worker Mat Zaki Din, 52, after casting his vote.

"I am not bothered about the sodomy case," he said.

Anwar, 61, a former deputy prime minister, was imprisoned on sodomy and corruption charges in the late 1990s. He was freed in 2004 when a court quashed the sodomy charges.

The question now is whether the new charges have had an effect on Malay Muslims, who account for 70 percent of Permatang Pauh's 58,459 eligible voters.

A survey taken over the weekend by the independent Merdeka Center for Opinion Research in the constituency showed that many ethnic Malays viewed the charges as political, with 57 percent saying that they did not believe them while 31 percent did.

Inflation, Malay rights

Economic concerns, at a time when inflation in this Asian country of 27 million people has surged to 27-year highs, top the agenda for most people and some are also worried about the erosion of Malay rights if Anwar wins.

"I didn't vote for Anwar because I doubt he can defend Malay rights as before," said housewife Zaiton Daud, 37.

Political commentators say Anwar has to match the 13,000-plus majority his wife achieved to emerge as a credible leader of the three-party opposition coalition, comprising Islamists, ethnic Chinese as well as reformers.

His wife vacated the seat for her husband to run.

"The (Merdeka) survey results would suggest that Anwar will not lose but he may not do exceptionally well either," commentator Joceline Tan wrote in Tuesday's Star newspaper.

Assuming Anwar wins, his next challenge will be garnering the support of 30 government legislators in a parliamentary vote of confidence that he has said he will call in September. Anwar needs the support of the additional 30 lawmakers to take control of the 222-seat parliament.

The Barisan Nasional coalition, in which UMNO is the leading party, has said its MPs will not desert the government, which was rocked in general elections in March when it lost its two-thirds majority.

Anwar's push for power has unsettled investors, some of whom fear the process could bring a period of prolonged economic uncertainty and some are concerned the ruling coalition will resort to populist economic policies.

Malaysia's benchmark share index has lost more than 25 percent so far this year and the ringgit currency has also been hit and was at a nine-month low against the dollar on Tuesday.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Ağustos 2008, 15:07