Wednesday, 20 July 2011

AP Exclusive: Anwar confident of Malaysia poll win

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his three-party alliance could win general elections widely expected next year because its support has risen after a government crackdown on a rally for electoral reforms.

Anwar said in an interview that the recent opposition-backed demonstration had stirred public anger and greater political awareness over allegations of electoral fraud and the government's refusal to allow large-scale street protests.

Police fired tear gas and detained more than 1,600 people on July 9 when at least 20,000 Malaysians defied government warnings by marching in Kuala Lumpur to demand more transparency in election laws.

"We have gained new momentum," Anwar told AP. "If we can sustain and increase this level of support ... there are huge possibilities we can make it, we will win" the next elections.

Anwar's alliance captured slightly more than one-third of Parliament seats in 2008 polls, the worst electoral result for the long-ruling National Front since independence from Britain in 1957.

Anwar said he expects Prime Minister Najib Razak to hold early elections before the government's mandate expires in mid-2013. Most analysts predict Najib will seek a fresh mandate early next year amid signs of a strengthening economy.

Najib has invested heavily in what the government calls an "economic transformation plan" since he took office in April 2009. But Anwar said that "other than slogans, there have been no changes."

"People are clearly clamoring for justice and democratic rule. The ruling clique is in the last stages of resisting at all cost but I don't think they can withstand the onslaught of the people and also the historical reality. Even the most authoritarian rule in the Middle East is changing," Anwar said.

He said his alliance is in much better shape compared to 2008 and has demonstrated strong leadership in four states that it wrested from the National Front in 2008.

But he added that the opposition faces a struggle for support among the ethnic Malay Muslim majority in rural parts of Malaysia.

Many among the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities have become strong opposition supporters in recent years, mainly because of complaints that the National Front discriminates against them in affirmative action policies that benefit Malays in business, housing, education and other sectors.

"We need to focus on the rural heartland, we need to go down to the ground and talk to" Malays, Anwar said.

The opposition leader stressed that he won't let his ongoing sodomy trial distract him too much.

Anwar, 63, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of sodomizing a 25-year-old former male aide in 2008. He claims the charge is politically motivated but the government denies it.

"I don't like the idea of being sent to jail again but some of my friends said it may help the cause," he said, laughing. "I have decided to stay and fight, to endure the consequences."

It is Anwar's second time being embroiled in a sex trial. He lost his post as deputy premier in 1998 after being charged with sodomizing his family's ex-driver and abusing his power to cover up his actions — both of which he denied. He was freed in 2004 after six years of imprisonment when a court overturned the sodomy conviction.