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Anwar out of Malaysian election, top party official regrets decision

Date: 21 Nov 1999
Time: 22:16:13


Anwar out of Malaysian election, top party official regrets decision

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 20 (AFP) - Jailed ex-deputy premier and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has decided not to try to contest a seat in Malaysia's upcoming election in a last-minute move that disappointed some in his party, supporters announced Saturday.

Officials denied the decision was a blow to the National Justice Party (Keadilan) as campaigning got under way for the November 29 polls, saying Anwar took the decision in the interests of his party and constituents.

But party deputy president Chandra Mufazzar acknowledged the decision was a surprise and expressed regret. "It would have been a boost to us if he had stood or submitted (nomination) papers," he told AFP.

Party official Zainur Zakaria, who filed his own nomination Saturday in Anwar's place, told reporters: "He feels that the risk (of his party losing a possible seat) is not worth it because he can be disqualified on nomination day.

"Or even if he wins the election he may be disqualified later, perhaps upon a petition being filed."

Anwar, 52, remains the prime ministerial candidate for the alliance comprising the National Justice Party, the Democratic Action Party, the Parti Islam SeMalaysia and the Malaysian People's Party.

Chandra and Anwar's wife Wan Azizah had both insisted Friday that Anwar would try to stand as a candidate in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Lembah Pantai.

The party said Anwar's nomination papers would be filed on his behalf. Candidates did not have to be present in person on nomination day.

But Zainur said he visited the politician in jail Friday evening and Anwar "feels he should not take the risk."

He denied the last-minute change of strategy was a blow to the party, adding: "Our chances are still as good because he is a symbol of the party and I believe the party has the support of the people."

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sacked Anwar as deputy premier and finance minister in September 1998. He was later that month expelled from the ruling party and detained.

In April Anwar was jailed for six years for corruption -- abuse of his official powers to cover up allegations of sexual misconduct -- and is now on trial for sodomy.

Malaysian law bars convicted criminals from running for office for five years from the date of their release. But Anwar's supporters say he is eligible to stand, even from jail, as his appeal is pending against his conviction.

Wan Azizah blamed Anwar's failure to contest on difficulties in getting him to sign a document.

"One of the forms, Number Five, required a Commissioner of Oaths to be present to certify his candidacy but it is difficult to get the commissioner into jail," she told reporters in Penang state, where she filed her own nomination papers in her husband's old seat.

"That's basically the reason and there were no obstacles, just difficulties," she said. "Our chance is taken away from us."

Wan Azizah said Anwar's absence from the polls was a challenge to her. "He should have been here today but this is a challenge to me and, hopefully, we will enter the new millennium with new changes."

Anwar's decision took several officials in his party by surprise. Chandra

said the decision was "a surprise but not that great. Even earlier we had received mixed signals."

He said Anwar was apparently concerned that even if allowed to stand, he would not have been able to serve his constituents from jail. "The voters would be in limbo. He wanted a clear-cut choice for the people."

Chandra said Anwar was also concerned that should he be disqualified now or later, his party would have lost the chance of another candidate winning the seat.

Asked about the last-minute timing, he said: "It is difficult for him to decide in prison with no access to information."

One diplomat said Anwar's decision not to try to stand might affect the opposition's strategy but another diplomat disagreed.

"I don't think it really hurts them too much," he said. "There is no doubt that he is the symbol of the opposition alliance."

He said the move could be due to problems consulting Anwar in prison but said the politician could still be premier if he were pardoned and ran in a by-election later, or were made a senator.

Last changed: November 21, 1999