Malaysia’s prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim on Saturday kicked off his campaign for a by-election in coming weeks but faces a multi-cornered fight in his bid to return to active politics.
The by-election followed the resignation of a lawmaker to make way for Anwar’s comeback. Escorted by scores of supporters including some cabinet ministers, Anwar submitted his nomination papers at the town hall in the southern coastal town of Port Dickson.
He faces six other candidates including a former aide who had accused Anwar of sodomizing him a decade ago, leading to Anwar’s conviction in 2015. Anwar, who has said his conviction was politically motivated, was freed and pardoned by the king shortly after his alliance won a stunning electoral victory in May that led to the first change of power since independence.
“This is a sure win for Anwar. Port Dickson voters will want a heavyweight to represent them,” said James Chin, head of Asia Institute in Australia’s University of Tasmania.
Anwar, 71, who earlier shook hands with Saiful in the hall, told local media he wasn’t bothered with Saiful contending and that he would focus on convincing the 75,770 voters in Port Dickson to win the Oct. 13 poll.
Saiful, 33, reportedly said he would not raise the sodomy case in his campaigning as he wants to move forward and see more young leaders in the political arena. Other candidates include a former chief minister and a military veteran.
Anwar is the designated successor to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, currently the world’s oldest leader at 93.
Anwar was once a high-flyer in the former ruling coalition but was convicted of homosexual sodomy and corruption after a power struggle in 1998 with Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003. Anwar was freed in 2004 and convicted again in 2015 of sodomy, which he said was concocted to destroy his political career.
Anwar worked from his prison cell to forge a new opposition alliance by ending his two-decade feud with Mahathir, a gamble that paid off when their alliance won national elections in May.
Mahathir has said he expects to be in office for at least two years and will keep his promise to hand over power to Anwar.
Anwar, who has reiterated his support for Mahathir, has said he was not in a rush to take over the top job and will focus on parliamentary reforms when he returns as a lawmaker.unb