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 7 Apr 2009

Malaysia By-Elections:
Mahathir’s return a boost for new PM

Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad hit the campaign trail Monday, drumming up support for new leader Najib Razak who faces three by-elections just days after coming to power, reported AFP.

Mahathir, who rejoined the ruling party UMNO on the weekend after quitting in protest a year ago, went on the offensive against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at a rally of 3,000 supporters in northern Perak state.

Anwar was Mahathir's protege and served as his deputy until 1998, when he was sacked and jailed on corruption and sex changes widely seen as politically motivated.

Mahathir stood down in 2003 in favour of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who bowed out last week, in the fallout from elections a year ago that saw Anwar's opposition alliance gain unprecedented ground including a third of seats in parliament.

In a boost for Najib who is battling a failing economy and low popularity ratings, 84-year-old Mahathir mounted a stinging assault on Anwar ahead of Tuesday's by-elections which will be seen as a referendum on the new leader.

"I'm confident we will not pawn our future to someone who is not responsible," Mahathir said of Anwar, who spent six years in jail before the sodomy conviction was overturned.

"He is a person (whose career) I helped elevate but he could not wait, he tried to topple me," Mahathir said, without naming his political nemesis.

"You know who I am talking about," he added to cheers from the crowd.

Najib, who was sworn into power last week, has announced an ambitious agenda to reform the ruling party which represents majority Muslim Malays, and repair ties with the nation's ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

His pledges will be put to the test in the three votes, which will provide a snapshot of the public mood, and show whether UMNO has been able to claw back support with its plans to tackle corruption and infighting.

The headline vote will be held in Bukit Gantang in northern Perak state, near the former tin mining town of Taiping, where a seat in national parliament is up for grabs.

The other votes are for seats in state parliaments -- one in the northern state of Kedah and another in Sarawak on Borneo island which until now has been a stronghold of the UMNO-led coalition.




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