28 April, 2007

Anwar Loses State Assembly Seat to Ruling Party

The Malaysian opposition party of Anwar Ibrahim lost a state assembly by-election to the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in the first test of Anwar's standing since his release from prison in 2004.

Parthiban Karuppiah from Barisan Nasional received 5,884 votes for the seat in Ijok, a rural district 70 kilometers (44 miles) northwest of Kuala Lumpur. Khalid Ibrahim of Anwar's Keadilan party got 4,034 votes. Election officer Haris Kasim announced the results after today's balloting.

The election, which captured national attention, was regarded as a test of whether Anwar's call for changes to the economic policies of the ruling party -- which he was once slated to lead -- has resonance ahead of general elections likely to be held within 12 months. It was the first campaign Anwar had actively participated in since being freed.

``I am sad for Malaysia,'' Anwar said in a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur after the results. ``I've been talking about the fraudulent process all this while, but I didn't think it was going to be this bad.''

Anwar, 60, said the outcome in Ijok, in Selangor state, was influenced by police intimidation, bribery and phantom voters.

He had said in an interview April 24 that Khalid could only lose if Prime Minister Abdullah's Barisan cheated by doctoring the voter registration roll or bussing in voters from outside the constituency.

Khalid is the former chief of Malaysia's biggest state asset manager, Permodalan Nasional Bhd.

`Victory for Harmony'

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters in Ijok after the result that the outcome ``is a victory for harmony. It's our desire to fulfill the aspirations of the people of this place. God willing, we will fulfill all our election promises.''

Anwar was former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's chosen successor before he was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed for sodomy and corruption.

Anwar said the charges were made up, and tens of thousands took to the streets to protest his arrest and subsequent convictions. In 2004, the sodomy conviction was overturned by the country's highest court, though the corruption verdict prevents him from running for office until April 2008.

Malaysia's top politicians made a beeline for the dirt-poor constituency during the campaign period, with the government speeding up infrastructure development in a bid to swing voter sentiment.

Barisan Nasional has held the Ijok seat since 1964.

-By En-Lai Yeoh, Bloomberg

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