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Anwar faces crucial test in Malaysian by-election

Voters cast their ballots in a Malaysian by-election on Tuesday that could return opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim to parliament after a decade-long absence.

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Voting opened Tuesday in a by-election that is expected to return Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to parliament after a decade-long absence.

Anwar, a former deputy premier who was sacked in 1998 and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges, held the seat of Permatang Pauh in his home state of Penang from 1982-1999.

Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail held the seat during his political exile, and stepped aside to trigger the by-election.

An AFP reporter at the Penanti polling station where Anwar was due to cast his ballot said that voting got under way peacefully, with good weather expected to increase turnout in a boost for the opposition leader.

Security was tight with 200 police on duty at the Penanti station alone, among a force of some 4,500 police who have been deployed amid allegations of  misdeeds and attacks on supporters by both sides.

The 61-year-old has accused the government of mounting a dirty-tricks campaign to undermine him, including vote-buying and stoking racial tensions, but has said he is nevertheless confident of victory.

Anwar faces new sodomy allegations levelled by a 23-year-old male aide, which he says have been concocted by the government to thwart his ambitions of seizing power with the help of defecting government lawmakers.

Polling booths opened at 8:00 am (0000 GMT) and are due to close at at 5:00pm. Results are expected to be released by 10:00 pm.

There are a total of 58,459 eligible voters in Permatang Pauh.

Pollsters have said they expect Anwar to win, but that the government's negative campaign may impact on his winning margin, which will be seen as an indicator of his ability to shrug off the sodomy allegations.

However, Anwar has drawn huge crowds during the intense 10-day campaign, including a rally that drew tens of thousands on Monday night.

Roslie Ismail, a 37-year-old factory worker who attended the rally and then came to Penanti to cast his vote, rejected the ruling coalition led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

"I will vote for Anwar, he represents the voice of the people. God willing, he will win," he told AFP.

"I have no more faith in UMNO because there's corruption and abuse of power."

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