Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Anwar Predicts Snap Polls Next Month, Urges Opposition To Unite

Malaysia's de facto opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, called on the country's disparate opposition on Tuesday to forge a loose electoral pact ahead of a snap election he predicted would take place next month.

Opposition parties with different racial support bases could find common ground on economic and democratic reforms, rallying cries for a big anti-government protest earlier this month, Anwar told reporters at a business forum in neighbouring Thailand.

"This is a challenging task because the relations between the PAS and the DAP are not too good," Anwar said, referring to Islamic party PAS and Chinese-based Democratic Action Party.

But Anwar said PAS, DAP and his Parti Keadilan had the shared goals of free elections, an independent judiciary and review of economic policy when they took part in the Nov. 10 rally, which ended in a police crackdown and at least a dozen arrested.

"If we can agree on this minimum programme -- political, economic -- then we can move on. I am sure we can get one opposition versus one UMNO-ordering Barisan Nasional," he said of the coalition government that has ruled Malaysia since 1957.

The coalition, made up of 14 parties including Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's UMNO, won a record number of seats in 2004 polls but analysts say it could be tough for the alliance to match that victory in the next election technically due in 2009.

On Monday Malaysia's electoral chief reignited speculation about an early election, saying the country would go to the polls before long. Abdullah is widely expected to dissolve parliament and call fresh polls by early next year.

Anwar said the most likely date for the elections would be December, but he did not expect a free and fair poll. "Just one week of campaign, I don't call it an election. I call it UMNO-controlled elections, no access to the media, not a general election," the former deputy prime minister said. (Reuters)
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