Thursday, March 6, 2008

Former Malaysian deputy PM predicts big gains for opposition

Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim predicted Wednesday the opposition is poised to deny the ruling coalition an outright two-thirds majority in the March 8 elections.

Anwar, now an opposition leader, said reports from various sources, including independent polling agencies and even the "intelligence" community, show the opposition could win more than one third of the parliamentary seats up for grabs.

Opposition parties are hoping to capitalise on a growing dissatisfaction with the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to deny the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition a two-thirds majority for the first time in history.

"From my sources both within the ruling (party) and also the intelligence apparatus, clearly the opposition... is making inroads," Anwar told the Foreign Correspondents Association in Singapore.

"We are moving very fast ahead and this has caused a lot of concern, consternation and anxiety on the part of the UMNO and the Barisan Nasional government to resort to what I consider as a politics of race, use of fear and intimidation."

UMNO is the United Malays National Organisation, the biggest political party in the ruling coalition.

Anwar said a recent "groundswell of support" has prompted the government to launch a "vicious personal attack" against him.

Anwar was deputy prime minister until being sacked and jailed in 1998. The erstwhile heir apparent to then-premier Mahathir Mohamad spent six years in jail on sex and corruption charges.

The sex charge was overturned but the corruption count bars him from taking public office until April. He has since become a vocal anti-government critic.

Anwar said he expects his wife, Wan Azizah, to successfully defend her seat in northern Penang state and his daughter, Nurul Izzah, to score an "upset" of her ruling coalition opponent.

Anwar also said the opposition has uncovered what he claimed was evidence of padding the voters' list.

For example, there are 10,820 registered voters aged 100 and above, prompting him to quip: "We have the largest number of old folks in the world."

Anwar said that in one place, 223 voters registered using one address and in another area, 200 voters used a single residential address.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that Malaysians will be denied a fair vote in Saturday's general election, accusing the government of muzzling the opposition and manipulating the electoral process. -- AFP

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