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Malaysian government running scared: Anwar Ibrahim
Jim Middleton speaks to the Malaysian Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim about the government's decision to deport Australian Senator Nick Xenophon.

The deportation of an Australian politician from Kuala Lumpur last weekend has highlighted questions about whether Malaysia's electoral system is free and fair.

Senator Nick Xenophon was heading a multiparty delegation which had appointments with a government minister as well as Malaysia's electoral commission and opposition representatives.

The Malaysian government has suggested it had doubts Senator Xenophon was an official member of the delegation. But the Malaysian opposition says it set up the appointments with the government.

Anwar Ibrahim is Malaysia's opposition leader.
JIM MIDDLETON: Anwar Ibrahim, thanks for joining us.


JIM MIDDLETON: Do you think the government does now think it has blundered, that it would have been better to have stopped Senator Xenophon from coming to your country in the first place rather than have those pictures of him being detained on arrival in Kuala Lumpur for nine hours or so?

ANWAR IBRAHIM: Precisely, Jim. This is always as I had suggested the state craft or semi-authoritarian governments; they always commit blunders and thinking that they could close a case by disallowing people to come in and talk about it. But the end result is of course, greater media attention because you're sending out a senator and at the same time, same time, they are now negotiating with a terrorist from the Philippines in (inaudible). So there's a standard joke here, send out an MP and then welcome terrorists.

JIM MIDDLETON: Some reforms have been introduced in the way this year's elections are to be conducted. But in the opposition's view, why is what has happened not sufficient to guarantee that the poll will be free and fair?

ANWAR IBRAHIM: The last few years there have been massive rallies in support of free and fair elections. I mean, very tough, rough crackdown against some of these demonstrators, the earlier (inaudible). And as a result prime minister Najib has responded and set up a committee, a parliamentary select committee.

But unfortunately the major recommendations has not been observed. For example to clean the electoral list of voters. That is the key point in the recommendations, how do you proceed with an election without ascertaining a credible list of voters, not bringing in foreigners or not bringing in phantom voters?

Number two, there is no, absolutely no access to the media. Now you find one or two Australian journalists defending this, it is atrocious. How can you defend Malaysia as a democracy when you don't allow one minute of air time for any opposition member?

JIM MIDDLETON: I guess one argument might be that the opposition did much better than expected back in 2008 and under the circumstance, so why won't you do as well this time or perhaps even better?

ANWAR IBRAHIM: That's the worry. But Jim, notwithstanding the fact that we did perform reasonably well in Malaysia, without access to media, you cannot condone a regime that effectively censor the voice of dissent or the voice of opposition, and call it democracy.

And you have in your friends complicity to this sort of authoritarian or semi-authoritarian rule in Malaysia.

JIM MIDDLETON: What does it say about the Najib Razak's confidence or otherwise that he has held off so long before calling the actual election? It's virtually unprecedented in Malaysian political history for a prime minister to wait until so late in a government's term before announcing polling day?

ANWAR IBRAHIM: The fact it has been prolonged to the maximum, in fact is virtually a date of automatic dissolution means that he lacks the confidence. Despite the fact that they have massive funds and using entire government missionary and no access to the media for the opposition, it only portrays his uncertainty and lack of confidence. He's pushing to the maximum, and they compare here to the Gordon Brown strategy and hopefully the end result will be the same.

JIM MIDDLETON: One final question: you've been on the campaign trail. There are many more people on the electoral roles than there were in 2008. Malaysia is also an increasingly young nation. I think I'm right when I say that nearly 50 per cent of the population is under 25.

Are those factors going to work in your favour regardless of the obstacles that you think you face, are you going to do better than you did in 2008?

ANWAR IBRAHIM: We remain upbeat and very confidence in spite of all these outs, because firstly the Najib's strategy in the last six months to one year has been to focus only on the ethnic Malays talking about their survival, their supremacy and therefore having very strong racist undertones. And using, for example, Dr Mahadev's rhetoric, even questioning citizenship given to the ethnic Chinese and Indians in 1957. And I think that helps to antagonise Malay and the support of ethnic Chinese and Indians.

And secondly, the climate for reform, for justice, the disgust against authoritarian trade and corruption among the young is really very and quite certainly pervasive. And I believe, therefore, we have an edge, we have to continue to work very hard.

Our friends in the international community, those who are in support of democracy, could at the very least just impartial, remain impartial but support a democratic process and not ever condone any sort of oppression or fraud in the electoral process.

JIM MIDDLETON: Anwar Ibrahim, thank you very much.

ANWAR IBRAHIM: Thank you Jim.
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