Jan 25, 2007

Malaysia's Anwar on the attack in return to political stage

Anwar is back with a vengeance?

(CNA) KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim is on the attack after returning to the political stage, launching a series of broadsides against the ruling party which he says is "rotten to the core".

Anwar was a celebrated deputy premier and heir-apparent to former leader Mahathir Mohamad until 1998, when he suffered a spectacular fall from grace, facing sodomy and corruption charges that landed him in jail for six years.

He was freed in September 2004, but until last April led a nomadic existence with stints lecturing in Britain, the US and Australia, and only in recent months has switched his focus back to the political scene.

"Like any established, long-serving, ruling party, they tend to rot," he said of the ruling United Malays National Organisation of which he was once a leading light, serving as a talented finance minister with strong Islamic credentials.

"They lose their ideas and massive corruption, lethargy and indolence are creeping in. They are all signs of a major disease," he said in an interview with AFP. "They are rotten to the core."

Anwar's sodomy conviction has been overturned but the corruption conviction still stands, barring him from standing for public office until April 2008.

National elections must be held by early 2009, but there is speculation that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who replaced Mahathir three years ago, will go to the people before that, effectively preventing Anwar from taking part.

In the meantime his party, "Keadilan" – or the People's Justice Party – is formally run by his wife and its only sitting parliamentary member, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Anwar has been lobbing blistering attacks on the government, mostly centred on the corruption which has calcified UMNO over its five decades in power and which Abdullah has been criticised for failing to address.

In press conferences at his sprawling home, he has called for a probe into the high-profile murder of a Mongolian model to determine whether the well-connected political analyst accused of organising the crime used government connections to do so.

He has also demanded the government investigate a 900-billion-dollar Russian fighter jet deal, which he said was "blatantly corrupt" and for which a former cabinet minister received a massive commission.

However, the hard-hitting accusations receive little airtime in Malaysia, where the tightly controlled media rarely publish any of his pronouncements – just one of the problems he faces as he tries to re-establish his political relevance.

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng says Keadilan has the potential to be an effective opposition, particularly after its coalition with the fundamentalist Islamic party PAS, but Anwar has a lot of work to do.

"If he's making a political comeback he needs to show a lot more commitment. He hasn't made many clear positions, he wasn't even here (in Malaysia) until a few months ago," he said.

"People remember his past associations; he hasn't created a new political identity. Anwar 'the opposition leader' is not established in the people's minds yet."

Anwar is keeping up a frantic schedule of public speaking engagements and rally appearances where he airs his charges of high-level corruption within the judiciary, the media and the electoral system.

"You try to talk about the murder and corruption and they pretend not to hear. (They behave) with impunity, bribing people, having lavish entertainment and having total control of the machine," he said.

But when the talk turns to his intentions and political plans, he is somewhat coy, even with regards to his role within his own party.

"I'm not going to be presumptuous, I've been asked to be more involved, but I'm not yet a candidate," he said. - AFP/so


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