Mahathir reportedly preparing to face Malaysia elections
June 20, 1999
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is expected to call elections as soon as an anticipated economic rebound occurs, according to party leaders.
Leaders of Mahathir's party say they are ready to face a vote but first want to overcome damaging allegations raised by jailed former minister Anwar Ibrahim.
The spectre of elections hung over the annual assembly of Mahathir's United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party over the weekend as leaders urged delegates to close ranks and attacked opposition parties.
But the sacking of Anwar from political and party posts still reverberated within UMNO, the core of the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition, forcing Mahathir to go on the offensive.
Just days after saying the Anwar saga is a "historical event," UMNO president Mahathir devoted much of his speech to the opening of the assembly on Friday attacking his former deputy.
Allegations from Anwar
He accused Anwar of working with internationals to tarnish the country and said the former deputy premier and finance minister was also disloyal to the party.
To counter allegations by Anwar that the 73-year-old premier practiced cronyism and nepotism, Mahathir on Saturday released for the second year the names of hundreds of companies and individuals who had benefited from special share allocations and projects.
The list included 27 big-ticket projects valued at 34 billion ringgit ($9 billion) which Mahathir said were awarded to Anwar's family and friends.
Anwar was sacked in September with Mahathir calling him morally unfit to lead the nation. Anwar said he was a victim of a political plot by Mahathir and his associates to destroy his political career.
Anwar is behind bars for six years on four corruption offenses and is on trial on a sodomy charge.
Mahathir said the party was ready for polls but he had decided to re-ignite the Anwar issue as he wanted to put allegations of cronyism and corruption behind him. Polls must be held by June 2000 but are widely expected to be held this year.
Party leaders said aspersions cast by Anwar on the premier's 18-year leadership of the nation had put Mahathir in a combative mood.
Pressing for elections
"Anwar has become an issue because of his dismissal from party and government. He formed a political party, he circulated on the Internet all sorts of confusing statements, all sorts of confusing propaganda, so we have to have our focus correct," Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said.
"Now is the best time to hold elections as the economy has picked up. If we wait too long something else might happen," said Abu Bakar Dewa, an UMNO leader from southern Johor state.
The 14-party Barisan Nasional coalition controls four-fifths of the seats in parliament and Mahathir said he wants to retain at least a two-thirds majority.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Ex-police chief reported charged over beating Malaysia's Anwar
Malaysia (general information)
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