Fierce campaign erupts in Malaysia

INTENSE: Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister, is campaigning for a state legislative seat, attacking the nation's No. 2 leader with with accusations of corruption


Mon, Apr 23, 2007 - Page 4

Malaysia's No. 2 leader is fighting efforts by opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim to tie him to a high-profile murder, as the rivals square off in a bitter electoral campaign.

Anwar, himself a former deputy prime minister, has repeatedly claimed in recent days that Najib Razak is corrupt, and has tried to link Najib to the murder of a Mongolian woman.

Najib denied any wrongdoing in a speech late on Saturday, insisting that Altantuya Shaariibuu's murder case "has nothing to do with me" and accusing the opposition of being "bankrupt of ideas," the New Straits Times newspaper reported yesterday.

Anwar told supporters late Friday in the semi-rural constituency of Ijok, 50km northwest of Kuala Lumpur, that he possessed "knowledge of many things about Najib," and threatened to "reveal more when the general elections arrive."

Video footage of Anwar's speech was posted on several opposition Web sites.

The conflict comes while both men are leading rival factions in fierce campaigning to win a state legislative seat in Ijok in an April 28 by-election, which has drawn widespread attention amid speculation that the government will call general elections by early next year.

Anwar accused Najib, who is also defense minister, of "deceiving the public" about government defense contracts, and suggested that Najib might also be connected to last October murder of Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old Mongolian who had an eight-month-affair with top political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, who has close ties to Najib.

"Who ordered the murder?" Anwar said. "We want to ask Najib, did you know about it? Did you know Altantuya?"

Najib has rejected the taunts by Anwar, who held the No. 2 position under former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad for five years until Mahathir fired him in 1998 over allegations of graft and homosexuality.

Abdul Razak has been charged with abetting the murder of Shaariibuu, who was believed to have been shot and her body blown up with military-grade explosives. Two policemen are charged with carrying out the murder, and their joint trial is scheduled to begin June 4. If convicted, all three face the death penalty.

In the past week, Najib has said that he too knows of skeletons in Anwar's closet.

"If I want to talk, I can," Najib said on Wednesday. "However I do not want to embarrass him because we know he has a wife and children."

After Anwar was fired by Mahathir, he was tried and convicted of abuse of power and sodomy, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was freed in 2004 after Malaysia's top court overturned the sodomy conviction.

Anwar has said the charges were fabricated to keep him from challenging Mahathir, who retired in 2003 and handed power to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The by-election in Ijok, which pits Abdullah's National Front ruling coalition against Anwar's opposition People's Justice Party, is considered a warm-up for both sides to gauge their preparedness for general elections, as well as a test of Anwar's popularity after nearly a decade in political limbo.