BANGKOK — Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Thursday he believes his three-party alliance has a “fair chance” of winning a general election that could be called as early as November.
Anwar leads the Hope Alliance, which earlier teamed up with an ethnic Malay party led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for a historic win in 2018 elections. Anger over corruption led to the shocking defeat of the United Malays National Organization, which had ruled Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957.
Anwar was in prison at the time on sodomy charges he said were politically motivated. He was pardoned after the polls, and was due to take over as prime minister from Mahathir. But the reformist government collapsed after less than two years due to defections, and UMNO returned to power.
Anwar, 75, said in a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, that his coalition still has strong support, while there is infighting within current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s governing coalition and corruption within the government.
“I remain optimistic,” he said. “I think we should have a fair chance” without Mahathir on the basis of the Hope Alliance’s own strength, Anwar said.
He said there is a small possibility that the election will be called in November, but it may also be held by February or March to avoid the yearend monsoon season that often brings heavy rain and floods.
A general election is not due until September next year, but Ismail has come under pressure from within UMNO to dissolve Parliament for early polls. Ismail has advanced the introduction of the 2023 budget by three weeks to Oct. 7, sparking speculation that Parliament may be dissolved after generous budgetary allocations are made to win support in the polls. An election must be called within 60 days after Parliament is dissolved.
Although Ismail is from UMNO, he is dependent on support from allied Malay parties. UMNO, which has said it will not work with its current allies in the upcoming polls, is aiming to win big so it will not be beholden to any other parties.
Calls for early polls from UMNO intensified after ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak began a 12-year jail term last month after losing his final appeal in a graft case linked to the massive looting of the 1MDB state fund.
Anwar said Najib, with some other UMNO ministers, last year signed an pledge to support Anwar’s bid to become prime minister but wanted Anwar to promise that he would not be convicted. Anwar said his leadership bid failed because he refused to interfere with Najib’s court cases.
He said Najib’s imprisonment was a “clear-cut case” and should be a lesson to all political leaders not to squander public funds.