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August 28, 2008

Malaysia’s Anwar returns to parliament
PM Abdullah ignores calls to step down

Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in to parliament and declared leader of the opposition Thursday, a decade after he was sacked as deputy premier and jailed on
sodomy and corruption charges, reported AFP.

Anwar arrived at parliament with his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who held his seat in northern Penang state during his political exile, and his daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar
who is also a parliamentarian.

"I hope the member for Permatang Pauh will contribute to the proceedings of this house. I am satisfied he has been unanimously appointed leader of the opposition,"
said speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia.

The charismatic 61-year-old won Tuesday's by-election in his home state of Penang despite an intense campaign mounted by the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has
ruled Malaysia for half a century since independence from Britain.

He returns to parliament just in time to join Friday's 2009 budget announcement and debate.

Before his fall from grace in the late 1990s, Anwar was deputy prime minister in the government that has ruled Malaysia for 50 years and which he now hopes to topple in
a confidence vote in September.

Anwar's three-party coalition of reformers, Islamists and an ethnic Chinese party has 82 MPs in parliament and hopes to win over 30 government legislators so as to have a
majority in the 222-member chamber.

Despite his triumphant return to parliament, Anwar faces court on September 10 as he fights to clear his name of new sodomy allegations levelled by a 23-year-old former
aide, which he says have been concocted by the government.

Anwar says the latest sodomy case is politically motivated and designed to harm his quest to lead the country and reform the economy.

Sodomy is a serious crime in Malaysia, a conservative and predominantly Muslim country, and carries a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment.

Anwar spent six years in jail on the original sodomy charge, but was freed in 2004 when the conviction was overturned.

Meanwhile, dissidents in Malaysia's ruling party clamored for the prime minister to resign Wednesday, reported the Associated Press.

Veteran government lawmaker Razaleigh Hamzah, who wants to challenge Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for the leadership of the long-ruling United Malays
National Organization, said the results meant that "what scraps of credibility (Abdullah) had left" are gone.

Abdullah, however, played down the significance of Anwar's triumph. "I believe we can still continue the government," the prime minister was quoted as
saying by the Bernama national news agency. "What happened ... was not something so big as to change the situation that exists after the last general election."

Abdullah's party has been the main party in a coalition that has governed Malaysia uninterrupted since independence from Britain in 1957, but which was seriously
weakened for the first time in the March elections.

Anwar has said he aims to bring the government down by mid-September via defections to his opposition group by unhappy lawmakers in coalition parties.
In the March elections, Anwar's three-party alliance won an unprecedented 82 of parliament's 222 seats - 30 short of a majority - and wrested control of five states.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has slammed his successor's policies, said he believed many government supporters voted for Anwar "so that Abdullah will
realise that his leadership is no longer wanted."

"Abdullah must take responsibility and resign now," Mahathir said.

Mukhriz Mahathir, Mahathir's lawmaker son, said that "with Anwar Ibrahim in Parliament, we cannot afford to have a weak leadership because it could lead to our downfall."

"The walls are crumbling but the top guy seems oblivious to his surroundings," he said.

Government supporters also vented their fury on Internet forums. Mykmu Net, a Web site for ruling party members, published comments by readers who said they "hope
(Abdullah) will be quickly ousted" and that Abdullah's "resignation will be the only way out."

Abdullah resisted calls to resign after the March elections, though he has pledged to hand power to his deputy, Najib Razak, by mid-2010 in a protracted transition plan
publicly endorsed by most top government officials.

Anwar's re-entry into Parliament will complete his political rehabilitation.

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