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Malaysian opposition challenges 56-year rule
Jim Middleton speaks with Nurul Izzah Anwar, opposition member of parliament and the daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Malaysia's Barisan Nasional coalition, dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in 2008 elections. Now Malaysia's Opposition PKR wants to go one step further, and claim government.
JIM MIDDLETON: Nurul Izzah Anwar, thanks very much for joining us.


JIM MIDDLETON: In his election announcement, the prime minister said this: "If there is a change of power, it will and must happen peacefully. This is our commitment", quote, unquote. Were you surprised to see him actually acknowledge the possibility of defeat?

NURUL IZZAH ANWAR: Well it came as a surprise but I think if the very least he can do, in view of the increasing political violence, the fact that opposition leaders are being intimidated on a weekly basis. However, I think that statement will be coupled by swift action from the authorities to arrest and to ensure that no skirmishes, no political violence takes place during campaign period, especially those from the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) coalition.

JIM MIDDLETON: You gave the government a fright five years ago, but you can't expect to catch them napping a second time can you?

NURUL IZZAH ANWAR: You're right. They are of course far more ready. They saw the political tsunami that took place in 2008. And you talk about level of preparedness, they are ready for us.

But this doesn't mean we've lost the momentum. In fact, one of the reasons that Najib Razak, the prime minister, has lost some credibility and some ground is because he has been postponing the elections for so long. You know Malaysia has never seen five years pass by between two elections, except for this one and for the year 1969.

So, if you talk about the government more prepared, well the opposition we are also been very successful forming our coalition, launching our manifesto and starting to address our campaign and electioneering practices. So it's going to be a tough election, the mother of all elections and I would say both sides are going to do their best to win.

JIM MIDDLETON: Your father has predicted victory for the opposition by 10 seats. That implies the opposition picking up close to 50 seats from the government. That's a mammoth task, isn't it?

NURUL IZZAH ANWAR: I think he, you know, he based the answer on suggestions by the interviewer. I think we are cautiously optimistic.

You must remember, we face an unlevel playing field, it is very unfair, the Election Commission is very partisan. In my particular case, I have filed a judicial review on suspect names in my electoral roll, and the Election Commission has been less than satisfactory in answering these allegations. So certainly it's an uphill battle.

But what we want to do and what we are asking the electorates to do is to ensure the turnout, the turnout is high, that's the only way you can curb the incidences of fraud during elections. We are also asking people to support the call for observers during the elections. Remember that Ambiga Sreenevasan, the coalition for free and fair elections, she's gathering as many volunteers as possible to ensure citizens are mindful of unfair and illegal practices during elections. And this will be one of our basic defences against fraud in the upcoming elections.

So for me, yes, optimistic but we must always be very careful, and we will do our best to save Malaysia's future.

JIM MIDDLETON: You say it is not a level playing field but the Electoral Commission has acted to address electoral fraud, not as much as you would like. Nevertheless, that should improve your competitiveness?

NURUL IZZAH ANWAR: I will say this: the fact that Selangor government under Pakatan Rakyat has clearly shown 20 per cent of the electoral roll is suspect, yet they fail to force the Election Commission to remove these names. So we still have a lot of challenges facing us, but we're lucky because, in this instance, the government had to be forced to admit (inaudible) in elections. And the people of Malaysia, I mean Malaysians are far more aware, that's true.

On that two counts, it will be more competitive because everyone will do their best to ensure elections will be far better conducted. I wouldn't say entirely free nor fair.

With regards to media, yes. I continue to make the call that local, traditional mainstream media allow for more coverage of the opposition. Because you know it's quite an embarrassment to only get 10 minutes for every party because even Burma got 15 minutes for competing political parties in their elections, mind you a junta at that. So for me, yes, Election Commission but also media access because this will have an impact on the outcome.

JIM MIDDLETON: The prime minister has thrown an awful lot of money at voters, a number of one off payments. That is going to make your task more difficult. It's going to encourage people to vote for the government.

NURUL IZZAH ANWAR: I think we might even reach a new record in the Guinness World Book of Records because you are talking about handouts. Hey see Najib Razak, he can claim to be the person who has bought everyone to be fair in these elections, whether it's PETRONAS from the petroleum agency to workers from the electrical division, everywhere.

So yes, it will make it difficult, but remember one thing, from Merdeka Center, a polling group, from their results it showcases people's degree of cynicism. People no longer, Malaysians no longer view the handouts as being sincere. And if you lose that sincerity, they feel "take the money" but they will not necessarily vote for a desperate regime. And we hope that's what's most important in these elections is they are going to vote with their conscience. They are going to vote for the future and take the money, take whatever BN has given them to date.

JIM MIDDLETON: Finally, do you think you really are going to win this election? Yes or no.

NURUL IZZAH ANWAR: I am optimistic but I know that there is so many challenges before us. And what's most important is the future of Malaysia.

We badly need to win these elections because we have little time left to implement political and economic reforms. And because of that, I pray very hard that we win.

JIM MIDDLETON: Nurul Izzah Anwar, thanks very much for your time.

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