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Malaysia's Ibrahim voted opposition leader

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has become leader of the opposition, bringing him even closer to clinching the country's leadership.

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KUALA LUMPUR  - Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim rejoined parliament
on Thursday and was appointed leader of the opposition, taking
another step towards his goal of winning power and reforming
the economy.


Anwar, once the protege of former leader Mahathir Mohamad,
was forced from office in 1998 on corruption and sodomy charges
he says were part of a conspiracy to ruin his political career.


"I feel vindicated. I feel great that I am back," Anwar
told reporters after he was sworn in a day before the
government unveils its 2009 budget, which is widely expected to
contain populist spending measures.


Ten years since he was last in parliament, Anwar is being
backed by the biggest number of opposition MPs in Malaysia's
history in his quest to oust the Barisan Nasional coalition
that has ruled the country for the past 50 years.


At the same time Anwar must fight new sodomy charges. He
denies the charges but if proven they could land him in jail
for 20 years, effectively ending the 61-year-old's political
career.


Even though Anwar is a respected former finance minister,
his move on power after the opposition's surprisingly strong
showing in a March general election has rattled financial
markets due to fears of a period of prolonged uncertainty.


The Malaysian stock index has fallen more than 25 percent
this year and the ringgit currency is close to year lows.


NO CLEAR PATH TO THE TOP


In order to take power, Anwar must win the backing of 30
legislators from the ruling coalition to get a majority in the
222-member parliament.


He has said he will call a confidence vote on Sept. 16  --
six days after he is due to appear in court on the new sodomy
charges -- but parliament is in recess for the Muslim holy
month of Ramadan.


Asked if he was still on track, Anwar simply said: "Yes".


Under the Malaysian constitution there is no such thing as
a confidence vote. If Anwar wins over enough MPs, he will send
a letter to the king who will either appoint a new government
or call new elections, said James Chin, Professor of Political
Science at Monash University's Malaysia Campus.


"The way you do it in Malaysia is you lock all of the MPs
in a hotel and get them to sign a letter saying that they have
lost confidence in the government," he said.


Any defectors from the government would likely want top
cabinet posts and that would add to existing tensions among
Anwar's fractious coalition of 82 MPs comprising reformers,
Islamists and an ethnic Chinese party.


"Anwar is in a very, very difficult position as (Islamist
party) PAS has said it would leave the coalition if it does not
get the justice and the religious affairs ministry," Chin said.


Anwar's new sodomy trial could last for months,
overshadowing his push for power. All homosexual sex is illegal
in Malaysia, a mainly Muslim nation of 27 million people.


CHEERS FROM THE CHAMBER


Anwar was straight into parliamentary business after a
rapturous welcome from his MPs following the end of a ban on
him holding office and a resounding victory in a by-election on
Tuesday in a seat vacated by his wife.


The government is trying to push through a bill to force
suspects in criminal cases to provide DNA samples, a measure
Anwar fears will be used to fabricate evidence against him. He
has refused to give a DNA sample in the latest sodomy case.


"The government's desire to push it quickly shows that they
are power-crazy and disrespectful to the speaker and the house
... It proves that the government and the cabinet are afraid of
people power," Anwar said in parliament.


Anwar was applauded from almost-full opposition benches as
he entered the chamber wearing Malay dress and a songkok black
hat.


The silent government benches were less than half full.


Anwar wants to put Malaysia back on a fast track to
becoming a developed nation and says he will stamp out
corruption and end an affirmative action programme for ethnic
Malays he says has failed to help them and made the country
uncompetitive.
 

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