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August 17, 2008

Malaysia’s Anwar starts election campaign
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, dogged by a sodomy charge, officially kicked off his campaign to topple the government and make himself the next prime minister by filing his nomination papers on Saturday to run for Parliament, reported Kyodo news agency.

Accompanied by thousands of supporters who chanted "reformasi" and bearing banners proclaiming "To Putrajaya with Anwar Ibrahim," the dissident leader entered his name to contest a by-election in his home state of Penanag, an election analysts believe he could win easily. If he does, it will mark his return to Parliament after a 10-year absence.

"The National Front are clearly overwhelmed. It's no longer just a by-election. It's more than that," Anwar, 61, told reporters as he made his way to the nomination center in this once sleepy hollow of Permatang Pauh.

Some 3,000 police including riot police have been deployed to secure the area for what local media have termed the "mother of all by-elections."

"It's do-or-die" for Anwar, as pointed out by International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is from the ruling United Malays National Organization.

Anwar's main challenger is the candidate fielded by UMNO, the party that sacked him in 1998 when he was then deputy prime minister and party deputy president

Anwar, who is engineering to topple the government through the defection of ruling lawmakers, has publicly proclaimed himself the "prime minister-in-waiting." His campaign is themed "The road to Putrajaya," the federal administrative capital where the prime minister's office is located. He has even set Sept. 16 as the day the ruling National Front coalition will fall.

The by-election was called following the resignation of his wife, who quit to make way for him to run. Anwar had to sit out the March general election due to his previous convictions for sodomy and corruption. The ban only expired in April.

While Permatang Pauh is considered his stronghold since Anwar had represented the seat from 1982 until his conviction in 1999, Anwar is entering the battle with a second sodomy charge hanging over him.

His accuser, former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 23, publicly swore on the Quran on Friday that Anwar had sexually assaulted him. Sodomy, even if consensual, is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in jail and a whipping.

The issue could divide the conservative ethnic Malay-Muslims who make up nearly 70 percent of the voters in Permatang Pauh.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is leading the National Front election campaign, tried to keep a brave face in this daunting task of upsetting Anwar on his own turf.

"It is going to be an uphill task but nothing is impossible in politics," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, former premier and Anwar’s mentor Dr Mahathir Mohamad has dared Anwar to swear on the Quran to prove he is innocent of the sodomy charge he faces, reported The Star, a local newspaper.

He said Anwar should do so just like his accuser who had sworn upon the Quran that Anwar had sodomised him.

Mahathir said that as a figure on the Malaysian political scene, Anwar should act in accordance with public sentiment that he said, required that he give a sworn statement pertaining to the sodomy allegation.

However, the action would be considered to be just a good political gesture because Anwar himself had to provide legitimate evidence to prove that he was not guilty in the matter.

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