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article imageMalaysia's Anwar faces sodomy accuser in election

By Mohd Rasfan (AFP)     Sep 29, 2018 in World

Malaysian leader-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim started campaigning Saturday for a poll set to return him to frontline politics -- but faced a surprise challenge from an ex-aide whose sodomy allegations landed the political heavyweight in prison.

Anwar is expected to easily win the local election on October 13 and re-enter parliament as an MP, just months after being released from jail following his alliance's shock win at national polls.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 93, has pledged to step aside within two years to hand power to Anwar, his former nemesis with whom he teamed up to oust scandal-plagued Najib Razak and his long-ruling coalition at the May election.

Following the vote, Anwar, 71, received a royal pardon releasing him from prison where he was serving a sentence for sodomy in a case that his supporters said was politically motivated.

He needs to be elected as an MP to qualify to take over from Mahathir, and earlier this month a lawmaker from his party vacated his seat in the coastal town of Port Dickson to make way for Anwar, a former deputy premier.

On Saturday, hundreds of flag-waving supporters of the ruling Pact of Hope alliance marched to a hall in the town as Anwar and the other candidates formally registered for the poll.

But there was shock when it emerged that one of his six rivals in the election is Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a former volunteer in his office whose accusations of sodomy led to him being jailed in 2015.

- 'Have you no shame?' -

The ex-aide, who is running as an independent candidate, was booed by Anwar supporters when he registered his candidacy with some of the crowd reportedly shouting: "Have you no shame?"

Anwar shrugged off the prospect of Saiful using the decade-old sodomy allegations to attack the veteran politician during the poll race.

"That is his issue, and I don’t want to interfere. I want to focus on my work, and I think the leadership is taking the same decision as well," he was cited as saying in The Star newspaper.

It was not clear who may be backing Saiful to run.

But Ibrahim Suffian, who heads independent polling firm Merdeka Center, told AFP that Anwar's "detractors are out to embarrass him in any little way they can".

Barisan Nasional, Najib's coalition which was ousted in May after six decades in power, has boycotted the election saying it is undemocratic as it is merely a device for Anwar to return to parliament.

Sodomy charges were first thrown at Anwar in the 1990s, when he was deputy premier and Mahathir was in his first stint as premier, after the pair had a bitter falling out.

He was jailed for the first time in 1999 for sodomy and corruption.

After years leading a disparate opposition, Anwar forged an unexpected alliance with Mahathir to challenge the long-ruling coalition after Najib became embroiled in a scandal surrounding state fund 1MDB. Najib has been arrested and charged over the controversy since losing power.

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