Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Sunday he was bracing for "massive" vote-rigging by the government to block him from winning a key by-election, which could propel him back to power. Anwar launched his election campaign in his home state, despite the looming threat of arrest on sodomy allegations -- which he has insisted are a political smear.
A crowd of more than 10,000 people gathered at an open area in northern Penang state late Sunday to hear Anwar speak. They thrust their fists into the air and shouted the opposition battle-cry of "Reformasi" or "Reform" as Anwar walked onto a makeshift stage.
"I am touched by the support I am seeing. I promise to clean up this country of all the corruption and other wrongdoing once we take over," he said.
Leaders from the other two parties in the opposition alliance, the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party and the Islamic PAS party, pledged to back Anwar's election campaign.
"It's time the government realised that the people are sick of them. We need change!" PAS vice president Husam Musa said in a speech.
The former deputy premier Anwar, who was jailed on sodomy charges a decade ago, got the chance to run for parliament in a special by-election when his wife announced last week she was giving up her seat in her Permatang Pauh constituency.
"I am sad to leave my constituency after ten years ... but it is for the greater good of this country when Anwar steps into parliament," Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told the crowd.
"We look forward to the election as we need to get the message to the government that we need a new leader," said 38-year-old Helmi Faizal, an opposition supporter.
Earlier, Anwar told reporters he was prepared to fight any tactics the ruling Barisan Nasional government coalition might use to thwart his bid in the by-election.
"If UMNO-Barisan Nasional decide to (play) rough with massive funding and bribery, then we will have to be really prepared," he said, referring to the powerful ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
He said under "normal conditions" it would be easy to retain the seat that his wife -- the official leader of his Keadilan party -- held.
"How rough they want to play and how is the Election Commission going to conduct the elections, these issues we are going to study," he said. "We are not taking it for granted."
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said the government will not prevent Anwar from seeking the seat, but authorities will investigate the sodomy allegations against him.
Keadilan officials have said Anwar could face imminent arrest on charges he sodomised a 23-year-old aide, Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan.
"It is not a question of facts and law. The arrest (will be) a political decision," Anwar said.
He has repeatedly rejected the sex claims and called his accuser an "outright liar" who was working with others in power to frame him and block his plans to topple the government.
Anwar was jailed 10 years ago on the same sex charges before they were overturned. He was also imprisoned for corruption.
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