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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Malaysia: Anwar Says He Would Be A Much Better PM Than Abdullah Or Mahathir


KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: Opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim said for the first time he would likely become prime minister if his coalition takes power, and vowed to clean up Malaysia's corruption and halt its colonial-era jailing of suspects without trial.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday (22 Apr), Anwar said he was in no hurry to take control of government despite his opposition alliance's spectacular gains in elections in March.

But when he was asked whether he would take the job of prime minister if his People's Alliance were to come to power, he said, "There is a likelihood."

Political commentators and aides have often talked about Anwar's prime ministerial ambitions, but this was the first time he spoke in depth about how he would handle the top job.

He said he would be a better prime minister than current leader Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his predecessor Mahathir Mohamad.

"Well, I wouldn't detain people without trial," Anwar said, referring to a colonial-era law that allows for indefinite detention without charges. The law often was used by Mahathir, and Abdullah has exercised it a few times.

"I will check corruption for sure," Anwar said. "With the little experience I have (in the government), I believe I can do much better, but it is for people to judge. But first I have to be there to consider the question relevant."

Anwar was Mahathir's finance minister and deputy prime minister, and was once considered Mahathir's likely successor. But Mahathir sacked him in 1998 during a power struggle, accusing him of corruption and homosexuality.

Anwar was sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of sodomy and abuse of power. He was freed in September 2004 after the sodomy charge was overturned. But the corruption sentence stood.

Although Anwar always maintained the charges were trumped up, he was written off as a political relic because of the allegations.

But he returned to Malaysian politics with a bang last year, stitching together an unlikely alliance made up of his multiracial People's Justice Party, the left-leaning Democratic Action Party and the religious-based Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.

The rare opposition unity presented a formidable electoral challenge to the ruling National Front coalition, which is dominated by Abdullah's United Malays National Organization party.

The National Front lost its traditional two-thirds majority for the first time in 40 years, while the opposition boosted its strength to 82 seats from 19 seats in the 222-member Parliament. The opposition is now just 30 seats short of a simple majority, something Anwar says is within reach because of expected defections from the National Front.

"We already have the numbers," he said.

But rather than taking down the government now with a wafer-thin majority over the National Front, Anwar said the opposition is waiting for "a comfortable majority."

Anwar said when the opposition comes to power it would provide a much better government than the National Front.

"It is not very difficult to be a better government, to control corruption, to be more just, to improve the quality of education, public health, to stop the squandering of billions of dollars on your family members and cronies. That is quite easy," he said

"The more challenging task is to change the course" of the country, he said, listing economic competitiveness, promoting a market economy, social justice and training of manpower as the main tasks.

"We are not here to improve. We are here to change for the better," he said.

Since the election blow, Abdullah has been facing calls from many in his party to step down immediately. Abdullah has said he will announce a succession plan only after December.

Anwar said the postelection turmoil in the National Front was benefiting the opposition.

"Either way, it is good for us," he said. If Abdullah is ousted, "it will break UMNO. If Abdullah continues, it is also good for us because he is weak." (By VIJAY JOSHI/ AP)

MySinchew 2008.04.23


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