(AFP) – Jul 31, 2008
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Thursday he would contest a by-election for a parliamentary seat vacated by his wife in a bid to expedite his return to political office.
But party officials said his plans could come to a crashing halt next week, if police arrest him on sodomy charges that the former deputy prime minister says are politically motivated and aimed at derailing his comeback.
"I thank Wan Azizah (Wan Ismail) for stepping down as the member of parliament for Permatang Pauh. The decision was not easy," Anwar told reporters at his Keadilan party's headquarters.
Wan Azizah said she handed her letter of resignation to the parliamentary speaker on Thursday. Party officials said the by-election must be held within 60 days.
Anwar said he decided to contest his hometown seat in northern Penang state to speed up his return to parliament after a 10-year absence, adding that leaders of the other two parties in the opposition alliance supported him.
"I will defend anyone who has been victimised, including Anwar," the president of the Islamic PAS party, Abdul Hadi Awang, told reporters.
The alliance made huge gains in March general elections, seizing control of five states and a third of parliamentary seats.
Anwar has said he will form a new government with the help of defecting lawmakers from the powerful ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
His by-election announcement came after his party said he could face imminent arrest on charges that he sodomised a 23-year-old male aide, charges similar to those that saw him jailed 10 years ago before they were overturned.
"They may arrest him in the next 48 hours. It is aimed to prevent him from contesting a by-election," Tian Chua, the party's information chief, told AFP.
The government responded by saying it did not fear Anwar's possible return to office.
"We are not worried ... we will face it .. he is not a threat. It is a democratic process, good luck to him," Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar told reporters.
Syed Hamid, who is in charge of internal security, also said police had completed their investigation into the charges against Anwar and forwarded the case file to government lawyers to decide whether to charge him.
But a defiant Anwar said the investigations should be dropped.
"Why should I be charged? For what? They have gone for one month on a fishing expedition and they have not caught anything," he said.
A survey conducted by the independent Merdeka Centre research firm revealed that two-thirds of the 1,030 respondents polled viewed the charges against Anwar as politically motivated, while only 11 percent believed the accusations.
Anwar has rejected the claims by Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, calling him an "outright liar" who was working with others in power to frame him and block his plans to topple the government.
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