Anwar calls on masses to topple ruling coalition
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has urged voters to oust the long-ruling government as tens of thousands of supporters gathered in a show of force ahead of a general election.
At least 50,000 people crowded yesterday into an iconic stadium in the capital Kuala Lumpur where independence was declared in 1957.
Tens of thousands more thronged surrounding areas as the opposition effectively kicked off its campaign.
"We plead for you to give us a chance so that the people's voices will become the voices of the leaders of this nation," Anwar told the crowds as he denounced what he called the government's misrule and corruption.
"The time has come to bury the unfairness of this government," he declared.
The National Front coalition has controlled Malaysia since independence from Britain. It was never seriously threatened until Anwar's opposition alliance handed the ruling bloc its worst election showing ever in 2008.
Prime Minister Najib Razak must face a general election no later than June. The contest is shaping up as the nation's most intriguing yet, with the opposition looking to harness the winds of change that powered the Arab spring in the Middle East.
There was no hint yesterday of the violence that marred the last major anti-government rally, last April.
That rally, seeking reform of an electoral system that critics say is skewed in the government's favour, drew tens of thousands to the streets but degenerated into clashes between police and demonstrators. The authorities' response was widely seen as heavy-handed.
Critics say the electoral system is rife with voter-roll fraud and other pro-government bias.
They say the government has not followed through on a pledge to tackle alleged unfairness in time for the polls. The government denies the system is biased.
"If you cheat in this election, the people will rise to overthrow you," Anwar warned in comments directed at the Election Commission, which is seen as pro-government.
Anwar was deputy prime minister until his sensational ouster in 1998 amid a row with strongman ruler Mahathir Mohamad. He now heads a tripartite alliance of his own multi-ethnic party, an influential Islamic party, and a third party dominated by Chinese Malaysians.