CHEROK TOK KUN, Aug 10 — Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim turned 61 today on the campaign trail in his political fortress and hometown Cherok Tok Kun, part of his old parliamentary seat Permatang Pauh, where he will start his by-election contest in six days.
The by-election is another chapter in his tumultuous career that saw him rise to within a heartbeat of being prime minister, only to be sacked, beaten and jailed, and then return triumphantly to lead Malaysia's resurgent opposition.
He launched his election campaign last night in nearby Seberang Jaya with his Ceramah Perdana Menuju Putrajaya, an allusion to his bid to win the Permatang Pauh seat and then make his way to Putrajaya and be prime minister by his self-imposed deadline of Sept 16 or Malaysia Day.
Despite being charged with another count of sodomy, the same charge he was convicted of 10 years ago before being acquitted, Anwar is confident he can seize power after the historic March elections that denied the Barisan Nasional its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority and a further loss of four states.
"On Aug 27, I will enter Parliament. Then the prime minister will table the Budget 2009 and after we will rock the parliament by taking over the government," Anwar told some 200 supporters after performing prayers at the nearby Masjid An-Nadhoh seeking blessings for a victory that no one doubts on polling day on Aug 26.
Politicians from both sides of the divide agree Anwar will win but wonder about the majority. His former mentor-turned-nemesis Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad agreed as much.
"At the moment, I don't see any (candidates), certainly from the BN. Anwar is going to win. What will be interesting is the margin. Whether it is bigger or less than what he obtained previously," Dr Mahathir told Bernama in Kuala Terengganu yesterday.
He will have two weeks to stitch the deal notwithstanding his next court appearance for his sodomy trial on Sept 10. Anwar has denied the charges and accused the government of being behind the allegations made by Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 23, a former male aide whom he claims is just a mere volunteer and coffee boy
As Malaysians look on to see him make good his boast of finally becoming prime minister, they will also brace themselves for a re-run of the lurid trial a decade ago that sent him to jail for six years on sodomy and corruption charges.
He was at his peak then, rising to prominence as a radical Islamic student leader who was embraced by Dr Mahathir, the strongman of Malaysian politics who ruled for more than two decades until 2003.
He enjoyed a meteoric rise in Umno, which leads the multi-racial coalition that has dominated Malaysian politics since independence from Britain half a century ago.
After joining the party in 1982, he was elected chief of its influential Youth wing two years later and then ascended to the post of deputy president, second only to his mentor Dr Mahathir.
He served in various portfolios, including sports, agriculture and education, before in 1991 becoming a celebrated finance minister and then deputy premier two years later.
Anwar was acknowledged as heir apparent to the ageing Dr Mahathir, but in 1998 as Asian economies were toppling amid the regional financial crisis, a power struggle bubbled over.
Dr Mahathir had become infuriated by Anwar's calls for reform, and an end to corruption and nepotism that had become entrenched in Malaysia during his long rule.
In quick succession, Anwar was sacked, hit with the sodomy and corruption charges, and brought into court with a black eye after a beating from the police chief.
The stunning fall from grace, widely seen both in Malaysia and abroad as politically motivated, triggered massive protests in scenes never witnessed in a country where a tight lid is kept on dissent.
Anwar was sent to jail and finally released in 2004 when the sodomy charge was overturned by the nation's highest court. He emerged in poor health, spending several years recuperating and working as an academic.
By 2007, however, he was making skirmishes on to the political scene, campaigning for the Parti Keadilan Rakyat formally headed by his wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, who was thrust into the political limelight when he went to jail.
In March this year, against all predictions except his own, Anwar led a three-party opposition alliance to astonishing victories in the general election, seizing five states and a third of parliamentary seats.
The unprecedented results, and his boasts shortly after that he was poised to seize power, shook the ruling elite to the core. Several of the coalition parties were obliterated and Umno faced calls for sweeping reforms.
Politics is a family affair for Anwar. His wife Dr Wan Azizah, a petite, Irish-trained doctor, has been in Parliament since 1999, in the Permatang Pauh electorate in Anwar's home state of Penang.
They have six children, five of them girls, and their 27-year-old daughter Nurul Izzah was elected to Parliament in the landmark March elections. — AgenciesClick Here!