Sex, power and party politics

Financial TImes, UK

By Assif Shameen

Published: July 31 2008 17:51 | Last updated: July 31 2008 17:51

Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian opposition leader, said on Thursday he would run for a parliamentary seat, which his wife would vacate, even though he faced imminent arrest on charges of allegedly sodomising a former aide.

Mr Anwar told the Financial Times that he was gathering support for a “no confidence” motion to be filed in the next six weeks, which could oust the National Front government that has ruled the country since independence from Britain 50 years ago. He also dismissed suggestions the opposition coalition might be cracking.

Mr Anwar was barred from contesting general elections in March after being found guilty of alleged abuse of power relating to an earlier sodomy conviction, which was later overturned. However, the opposition’s unprecedented success in that vote has left it fewer than 30 votes short of a parliamentary majority in the 222-seat legislature, and the restriction on his campaigning has expired.

Even if charged, Mr Anwar could still compete in a by-election and, if successful, fill the seat currently held by his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Under these circumstances, he could be removed only if he were convicted and exhausted all appeals.

An official told Reuters on Thursday Mr Anwar faced formal charges “any time now”. Under Malaysian law, sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, Mr Anwar told the FT that the latest allegations were “a political ploy”.

“Instead of addressing pressing economic problems like soaring inflation, the government is trying to divert public attention with this filthy sodomy charade,” he said. “Our ministers waste their time in political intrigue instead of trying to help make the country more competitive.” [more]

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