Anwar, back in Malaysia parliament, stages walkout

By VIJAY JOSHI, Associated Press Writer

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim rejoined Malaysia's Parliament on Thursday, resurrecting his mission to become prime minister a decade after he was charged with sodomy and his career written off.

Hours after he was sworn in, Anwar staged a walkout to protest proposed legislation that critics say is meant to bolster a new sodomy case against him.

Anwar says his alliance is on track to topple the government by Sept. 16 with defections from the governing National Front coalition, which has ruled Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957.

"I am glad to be back after a decade. I really feel vindicated. I feel great," Anwar said on Thursday.

Anwar was forced to resign his Parliament seat in 1999 amid a sodomy allegation and was jailed for six years after he was convicted of corruption and sodomizing his family driver. The sodomy conviction was overturned by Malaysia's top court in 2004.

A special election was held Tuesday after his wife vacated her seat, which she had held for two terms during Anwar's political exile. He regained the seat in a landslide victory.

Anwar's triumph came on the heels of big gains by the opposition in the March general elections that loosened the governing National Front's 51-year grip on power.

The Front returned to power with a simple majority of 140 seats in the 222-member house. Anwar's People's Alliance coalition increased its strength from 19 to 82 seats and needs 30 more to form a government.

"Anwar — whatever we think of him and many of us are deeply skeptical — is looking more and more like our future prime minister," columnist Karim Raslan wrote in The Star daily on Thursday. "There is a mounting sense of inevitability to his impending succession."

Tuesday's election also was a gauge of public anger against Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's administration, which the opposition has painted as corrupt, inefficient and uncaring toward minorities.

The opposition promises to scrap Malaysia's decades-old system of preferences for ethnic Malays. The government says that would jeopardize the country's unity.

Within hours of being sworn in on Thursday, Anwar led the opposition in a walkout to protest a proposed law that would make it mandatory for criminal suspects to provide DNA samples.

Critics say the law is meant to target Anwar, who has been accused of sodomizing a 23-year-old male aide in case separate from the 1999 one.

Anwar has dismissed the allegation as a "sickening" government conspiracy to prevent his rise to prime minister and has refused to give a DNA sample to police, saying he fears it would be tampered with.

A court will hear his case on Sept. 10 to set a date for the trial. Under Malaysian law, even consensual sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

On Thursday, Home Minister Syed Hamid's closing speech on the DNA legislation debate was interrupted numerous times by heckling opposition lawmakers.

Just as Syed Hamid was finishing his speech, Anwar led all opposition members in a walkout, watched by stunned government lawmakers. He told reporters that the opposition had demanded the setting up of a select committee to study the bill first.

"We have walked out because they have refused to respond" to the request, he said. "So there's no point in staying and participating in this debate."


Associated Press writers Eileen Ng and Sean Yoong contributed to this report.

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