05 August, 2008

Make or Break Election for Anwar

Undaunted by serious new charges of sodomy, which he says is a frame-up, opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim is making a bid to return to parliament in a by-election that he calls the final battle for a "New Malaysia" sans racial discrimination.

"This is not an ordinary by-election but a battle between the old corrupt order and the new Malaysia without race, without discrimination and with equality and justice for all citizens," he told supporters at a rally last week, referring to the upcoming battle in Permatang Pauh, a family stronghold in northern Penang state.

(Anwar)Ibrahim will face the government juggernaut in a constituency created when incumbent representative Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail, Anwar’s wife and president of his People’s Justice Party, vacated the seat on Aug. 1 to pave the way for the contest.

The result will make or break his career, political analysts told IPS. The Election Commission is meeting this week to fix nomination and polling dates, likely to be in late August or early September. "The contest is arguably a major turning point in the progress of our society towards equality, justice and democracy," said Wong Chin Huat, political scientist with the Monash University division in Kuala Lumpur.

"Mr. Anwar is expected to win handsomely but everyone will be watching how big his winning majority would be because that would indicate how well his agenda for change is accepted by the voters," Wong told IPS.

The UMNO is playing on fears that (Anwar)Ibrahim will betray Malay interests by overturning the New Economic Policy that gives preferential treatment to Malays in business and education.

"Anwar is an ambitious person who is willing to give up everything holy to Malays just to become prime minister," said Ezam Mohamad Noor, a former Ibrahim aide who has since defected to the UMNO.

Meanwhile, Anwar said in an interview with Reuters on Monday that he would liberalise the economy and cut corruption to win back the confidence of foreign investors if he became prime minister.

The political uncertainty in the months ahead has roiled financial markets and unnerved investors.

But Anwar said foreign investors should not fret about the power shift and he would adopt market-friendly policies to lure back investors, although he would reintroduce petrol subsidies which have been cut back by the current government.

To pay for petrol subsidies he would raise 5 billion ringgit ($1.53 billion) in part by reducing the amount of spare capacity generators need to maintain, a cost born by state electricity company Tenaga Nasional

"We will have a more transparent economic programme, procurement policies, contracts ... which will be more attractive to foreign investors," he said.

That would include ending political influence over the central bank's rate setting process and introducing a full float for the ringgit currency, the exchange rate of which is effectively managed at present.

He said Malaysia's decades-old affirmative action policy favouring the majority ethnic Malays in jobs, business and education would be reviewed.

"The new economic agenda should be transparent. The affirmative action programme must be based on need not on race," he added. "It should not be abused to help a few rich Malays."

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