Malaysian opposition insists on foreign observers at next general election

The wife of Malaysia's former deputy leader Anwar Ibrahim called Friday for foreign observers to be allowed to monitor the country's next general election to ensure it is free and fair. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who heads the opposition People's Justice Party, said allegations of phantom voters and irregularities on the electoral roll dogged the 2004 poll and a key by-election in a northeastern state earlier this month. The by-election in Kelantan, the only state ruled by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, was won by a candidate from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's ruling coalition. PAS has lodged a complaint with the Election Commission, accusing the coalition of using dirty tactics. Wan Azizah noted the coalition won by a narrow margin and that the winning candidate secured an unusually high number of postal votes.

"If we want to be proud of the country's success as a democratic nation, we must be brave enough to invite foreign observers to monitor the election process," she told delegates at her party's annual assembly. She told reporters later that the presence of foreign observers would ensure the next general election, which is not due until mid-2009, is free and fair.

The People's Justice Party, which has some 160,000 members, plans to seek alliances with other parties, especially those in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island, to expand its support base ahead of polls, Wan Azizah said. She declined to give details. Although her party was formed in 1999 to fight for Anwar's release from jail, she said it is now committed to seeking wider democratic rights and good governance, and to fighting corruption. Anwar was sacked in September 1998 following a fallout with then-premier Mahathir Mohamad over economic policies. He was arrested, tried for corruption and sodomy, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

He was released in September 2004 when the sodomy conviction was overturned, but he is banned from running for office until 2008 because of the corruption sentence that he served. Wan Azizah's party and PAS were routed by the ruling coalition in 2004 polls but officials are hopeful that Anwar's return to politics will boost the opposition's performance in the next general election.

Anwar, who has spent most of the past year lecturing at universities abroad, could be a candidate unless the government calls polls more than a year early to thwart the charismatic politician from drumming up support for the opposition, reports the AP. N.U.

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