Malaysian opposition leader Anwar appeals for poll victory

KLANG, Malaysia (AP) — Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim appealed to voters Wednesday for another surprise victory when Malaysia goes to the polls later this month, as he faces challenges from a resurgence of ethnic Malay support for rival parties.

Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan), or Alliance of Hope, won a stunning victory in 2018 and aims to repeat its success on Nov. 19. The victory was short lived after defections caused the government to collapse in early 2020 and brought back to power the Barisan Nasional coalition led by the United Malays National Organization.

Speaking at the launch of his alliance’s election manifesto, Anwar said PH is more united now after being purged of members who were not committed to its reform agenda.

“To save this country from endless political turmoil and corruption, I appeal to the people to give their support so that PH can emerge with a clear majority in the upcoming election,” he said.

Anwar didn’t participate in the 2018 vote because he was in prison on a sodomy conviction he said was politically motivated. The PH campaign was led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who became the world’s oldest leader at 92 after its victory. Anwar was pardoned shortly afterward and was to take over the baton from Mahathir. But distrust and infighting led to the collapse of the government sparking political turmoil that has continued under the new governments that took power.

Malaysia has had three prime ministers since the 2018 polls. Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved Parliament on Oct. 10, nine months ahead of schedule, buckling to pressure from UMNO for early polls despite the risk of floods during the yearend monsoon season.

Anwar’s alliance faces challenges not just from UMNO’s National Front, but also from a number of Malay parties including a new one set up by Mahathir. The addition of about 6 million new voters, including many young people, also adds to the uncertainty.

Anwar is often accused by his Malay rivals of not championing the rights of ethnic Malays. Recent by-election victories by UMNO appeared to indicate that rural Malays who abandoned the party in 2018 have returned to its fold. Malays comprise about two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, with large Chinese and Indian minorities.

Anwar said he isn’t apologetic for running on a multiracial platform. He said race and religion have long been used by UMNO and other Malay leaders to garner support, but that such an approach is outdated. He said poverty, for example, affects other minority groups in addition to Malays, and that preferences given to Malays in contracts are often abused by those in power to enrich themselves.

With the slogan “We Can,” Anwar said PH’s manifesto will prioritize 10 key issues including sustainable growth, combating corruption and boosting the country’s competitiveness. If it wins, he said a key task will be to resuscitate the economy and address the rising cost of living, a concern of voters amid a weakening currency and an expected economic slowdown next year.

“I appeal to the people to give a chance for PH to emerge as a clear winner … so that we are not given ultimatums, and free from threats to save this country from endemic corruption and abuse of power,” he said.

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