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By Nancy-Amelia Collins
26 August 2008
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won by a landslide in a crucial by-election that gives him a seat in parliament, the first step in his bid to topple the government. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Jakarta has more.
The Election Commission says Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has won nearly 32,000 of the 47,000 votes cast in a special by-election that pitted him against opposition leader Arif Shah Omar Shah, from the ruling United Malays National Organization party.
|Malaysia's former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim casts his vote at Permatang Pauh, 26 Aug 2008|
Anwar leads a three-party coalition of Islamists and activists, while his opponent represented UMNO, the dominant party in a coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957.
After the March general elections gave the opposition a third of parliament, Anwar pledged to topple the government by September 16th. Now that he has a parliament seat, he will need to convince 30 lawmakers to switch sides in order to seize power.
Speaking before a crowd of his supporters, Anwar said it is clear Malaysians want change.
"You see, the groundswell of support is there," Anwar said. "This vote means that Malaysians want a change. We are entering parliament with a clear agenda. It is time that you behave and accept the stark realities of the day."
Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, has struggled to get back into the political arena, after he was jailed for six years on sodomy and corruption charges which he says were politically motivated.
The supreme court overturned the sodomy charges, releasing Anwar from jail in 2004, but he was barred from entering politics until April, because the corruption charges stood.
Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, vacated her seat in June, paving the way for her husband to re-enter politics. But the government again charged Anwar with sodomy - this time with his 23-year-old male aide - a crime in Malaysia that is punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
Anwar, a 61-year-old father of six, vehemently denies the sodomy charges, saying they are politically motivated. A recent poll shows most Malaysians agree with him.
Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng says Anwar's message has resonated with the Malaysian people.
"I think very significantly the importance of the victory is in the campaign message itself," Khoo Kay said. "I think it is evident in this campaign that Anwar has carried a truly non-sectarian and non-communal message to the people. And I think this is something very, very important for all our people, especially proponents of non-sectarian politics in this county."
Anwar has pledged to clamp down on corruption and revive the country's ailing economy.