Malaysian opposition leader Anwar hopes for election victory

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PETALING JAYA, Malaysia – Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Thursday he was optimistic that his alliance could secure a simple majority in general elections due to be held next month, despite the odds against them.

Riding a wave of anger over government corruption, Anwar’s three-party Hope Alliance won a landslide victory in the 2018 polls with the help of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. In his second term as prime minister, Mahathir became the world’s oldest at 92, but their government collapsed less than two years later due to infighting.

The United Malay National Organization, which ruled Malaysia from independence from Britain in 1957 until its defeat in 2018, has since returned to power as part of a Malay-dominated coalition.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, an UMNO man, dissolved parliament on Monday for a snap election despite major flooding expected next month due to the year-end monsoon season. UMNO is feuding with its allies in government and believes it can win big on its own after victories in several recent by-elections.

Anwar said UMNO’s victory in the by-elections was mainly due to a low turnout among opposition voters, disappointed by political wrangling and the collapse of his alliance.

“I remain very optimistic,” he told a news conference, as public awareness of government corruption and its failure to support the economy and improve livelihoods is high. “We are confident. We have to work to get a simple majority.”

Anwar, who was once a senior UMNO official, was in jail during the 2018 election on sodomy charges which he says were politically motivated. Anwar, 75, was pardoned after his alliance won the election and was due to succeed Mahathir before their government collapsed.

Anwar admitted that the former government under Mahathir “failed on some major fundamental issues”. He said earlier that Mahathir, who has since formed his own Malaysian party, was not fully committed to reforms.

“I’m not here to represent the former administration. We’re looking to the future. From what I observe in my visits to the four, five states over the past few weeks, there is clearly a shift marked (of support) and that momentum (for change) has started,” Anwar said.

His camp is ready to work with other opposition parties – including Mahathir’s – if they are committed to reforms, he added.

Anwar’s alliance, which holds 90 of the 222 seats in the newly dissolved parliament, is the main contender. But analysts said he will have to forge cooperation with other smaller opposition parties to ensure votes are not split.

The electoral commission will meet on October 20 to set a date for the vote, which must take place within 60 days of the dissolution of parliament.

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