Malaysia opposition cries foul in Anwar by-election

25 Aug 2008
PERMATANG PAUH (Reuters) – Malaysia’s opposition alliance, which backs Anwar Ibrahim in his bid to return to parliament, charged on Monday that its supporters had been culled from voter lists ahead of a crucial by-election.
As tensions mounted in the usually sleepy northern Malaysian enclave of Permatang Pauh, ahead what is being labelled as the “most tense” by-election ever in the country on Tuesday, police sent in reinforcements to prevent clashes between rival groups.
Tuesday’s vote pits Anwar, a former deputy prime minister who is now de facto leader of the opposition against the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the main government party which nurtured him until he was convicted of corruption and sodomy in the 1990s.
Tensions have mounted with the nightly airing on television of testimony by a 23-year old former male aide who says he was sodomised by Anwar, who is due to appear in court over the issue on September 10.
“The voter list is questionable. There are a lot unaccounted for,” Fuziah Salleh, a leader of Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, told reporters on Monday.
She was earlier quoted in the Star newspaper as saying that 949 names were missing from the voters list from the one that was used in the March 8 general elections.
Turnout will be key in establishing Anwar’s credentials to lead a three-party opposition coalition in parliament and for him to be able to deliver a promise to beat the government in a confidence vote he has said he will call on September 16.
Political analysts say Anwar has to at least match the 13,388 majority his wife won when she contested the seats in March’s general election.
To be a credible leader, he needs a majority of at least 15,000-20,000.
Malaysia’s election commission hotly denied the charges that it had rigged the voter list.
“This is impossible. This is a lie. We don’t have powers to remove (the names), under the constitution we don’t have such powers. It is impossible to have phantom voters,” said Election Commission secretary Kamarulzaman Mohamad Noor.
While most analysts agree that Anwar is likely to come out victorious, they say he could struggle to woo enough defectors to unseat the ruling coalition that has ruled Malaysia since 1957.
Government leaders played down the prospects, saying that there were no immediate signs that any of their 140 lawmakers would jump ship to Anwar’s Pakatan Rakyat alliance.
He needs a sizeable 30 defectors to unseat the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, a level many say a near impossible despite cracks within the 14-party coalition following a March general elections.
Anwar has insisted that his goal of forming a new government by September 16 was still on track and has promised to bring widespread reforms to the judiciary and governance, and to take urgent measures to boost the economy and shield people from rising prices.
Anwar’s push for power has unsettled many investors, some of whom fear the process could bring a period of prolonged economic uncertainty and some are concerned that the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition will resort to populist economic policies.
(Writing by Faisal Aziz and David Chance; Editing by Valerie Lee)