Anwar to defy police and celebrate ban expiry
Posted April 14, 2008on:
|Apr 14, 08 12:48pm Malaysiakini.com|
|Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will celebrate the lifting of a ban from politics with a huge rally tonight despite police declaring the event illegal, his party said.
Political gatherings are strictly controlled in Malaysia, and police have reportedly threatened to cordon off the private club where the event is to be held, and deploy riot squads to prevent it from going ahead.
“We have not issued any permits for the gathering. I advise all the supporters not to attend it. The gathering is banned,” city police chief Muhammad Sabtu Osman told AFP.
Anwar’s party PKR said it expects some 10,000 people to attend the celebrations in central Kuala Lumpur which mark the expiry of his ban from public office, a decade after he was sacked as deputy prime minister.
Once seen as the heir apparent to long-time leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he was subsequently convicted on sex and corruption charges and spent six years in jail, before storming back to prominence in March elections.
With Anwar at the helm, a reinvigorated opposition seized a third of parliamentary seats and five states in the worst ever showing for the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled for half a century.
Now the 60-year-old maverick is once again being touted as a future prime minister, but this time for his Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance which he has described as a “government-in-waiting.”
The sex charges were later dropped but the corruption count prevented him from standing for public office until Tuesday.
Surprise in store
Anwar had been expected to re-enter Parliament quickly through a by-election in one of the seats held by his party, and to challenge Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in a symbolic no-confidence vote soon after.
But in light of the stunning and unexpected gains, he has said he is in no hurry to act and will instead focus on building up the opposition.
In a highly anticipated speech late today, Anwar is expected to set out his plans for the future.
“We had some discussions last night in the (PKR) committee and I presume he’ll be making some important statements. Let him give the surprise tonight,” the party’s deputy president Syed Husin Ali told AFP.
Syed Husin rejected the police objections to the rally, but said PKR had made confidential alternative arrangements for the celebration.
“We will go ahead with it for the simple reason that that area is a private area, it is not a public area,” he said of the proposed venue.
“We can’t understand why there is this sudden change of mind on the part of police… in fact they were originally involved in discussions to control traffic and ensure security.”
Pressuring the police
Syed Husin said he suspected the government, which has been badly rattled by the unprecedented election setback, may be putting pressure on police.
“They might fear that there might be some strong political influence that this gathering might have on the public,” he said.
Abdullah has refused to stand down despite the electoral debacle, insisting he has a mandate to rule and promising to introduce long-heralded reforms that voters punished him for never delivering.
But the opposition and many political commentators believe the coalition will continue to flounder and that Anwar could seize power within a few years, or perhaps even a few months.
“I think they are very likely to form the next government and it’s a matter of timing, of when this will take place, whether it’s at the next elections or before then,” said Tricia Yeoh of the Centre for Public Policy Studies.