Anwar shows no sign of giving up despite defeat

Political observers say the opposition leader is obsessed with becoming the prime minister

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 2:39am

Malaysia's charismatic opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim lost an election many saw as his best shot at becoming prime minister, but he is not going down without a fight.

Political observers believe Anwar, 65, will not leave politics despite earlier statements he would step down if his three-party coalition failed to unseat the ruling National Front, which has been in power for 56 years.

"It has been a lifelong obsession of Anwar's to become the country's prime minister. He will not give up now. He will hang on until the next election," said one observer.

Anwar served as the country's deputy prime minister for five years before, in 1998, falling out of favour with long-serving prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Anwar was arrested and jailed for graft and sodomy, charges that were widely seen as politically motivated.

Since the sodomy charge was overturned in 2004, Anwar has led the opposition to unprecedented success before falling short in Sunday's election. Along the way, he also beat a new sodomy charge last year after a lengthy legal battle.

Before the election, Anwar told Reuters that he had given his best. "And if the people are not ready for change, it's better that you have a post-Anwar situation," he said.

Anwar's opposition People's Alliance coalition is a motley collection of different ideologies united in ousting the National Front. Anwar's own People's Justice Party is multiracial while the Democratic Action Party is dominated by Chinese. The third partner, the Parti Islam se-Malaysia, inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, is the oldest.

Anwar's party election strategist, Rafizi Ramli, said their immediate concern was to fight what the opposition sees as electoral fraud and verify the results.

"The federal government is not legitimate. Its legitimacy is in question," Rafizi said.

"We want to rectify the results of this election. This is what we are focusing on first, beyond the future of Anwar Ibrahim."

Anwar retained his seat in the Permatang Pauh constituency on Penang with a majority of 11,721 votes over National Front candidate Mazlan Ismail.

It has been a lifelong obsession of Anwar's to become the country's prime minister. He will not give up now. He will hang on until the next election

Anwar later said his coalition had won the popular vote by a large margin, taking 50.3 per cent compared with 46.8 per cent for the National Front.

Many independent observers agreed that the opposition won the popular vote, only to be undone by Malaysia's first-past-the-post electoral system, which rewards parties eking out victory in closely contested constituencies rather than building up big majorities in their strongholds.

"The fact that [the opposition] won the popular vote by a large margin confirms the mandate given to us and highlights that electoral fraud won the 13th general election for Najib Razak," Anwar said. "I will work towards a national consensus to question the legitimacy of the government achieved through such electoral fraud," he said.

Anwar accused the government of bringing in thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers as phantom voters to secure victory.

"The opposition parties all have a copy of the electoral roll. How can the government slip in 40,000 Bangladeshi names and voters into the roll without being noticed," said the political observer.

Anwar has urged protests for tomorrow.