MALAYSIA’S opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim took another step towards his goal of bringing down the government and implementing ambitious reforms when he rejoined parliament yesterday after a decade’s absence.
Anwar, once the protege of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, was forced from office in 1998 on corruption and sodomy charges that he denounced as part of a conspiracy to ruin his political ambitions.
Ten years on, he is being backed by the biggest number of opposition MPs in Malaysia’s history in his quest to oust the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled the country for the past 50 years.To do this he must win the backing of 30 legislators from the ruling coalition to get a majority in the 222-member parliament. At the same time, he must hold together his sometimes fractious coalition of 82 MPs comprising reformers, Islamists and an ethnic Chinese party.
Anwar must also fight another charge of sodomy in a court case due to start on September 10. All homosexual sex is illegal in this mainly Muslim nation of 27 million people.
He denies the new charge and said he was confident he could achieve his aim of taking power by September 16.
“I feel vindicated. I feel great that I am back,” Anwar told reporters after he was sworn in a day before the government unveils the 2009 budget widely expected to contain populist spending measures.
Cracks started to appear in the ruling coalition on Wednesday when there were calls for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to quit.
Resurgent after the lifting of a ban on holding office expired in April, Anwar won a resounding victory in a by-election on Tuesday in a seat vacated by his wife and his success to date has rattled the ruling coalition and undermined Badawi’s leadership.
The government has been reeling since losing its two-thirds majority in an election in March.
In parliament yesterday, Anwar was applauded from almost full opposition benches as he entered the chamber wearing Malay dress and a songkok black hat.He was formally appointed as leader of the opposition coalition after taking the oath.
The silent government benches were less than half full and state television’s live parliamentary coverage did not show Anwar’s swearing in, starting only when a government minister rose to speak. —— Reuters.