March 24 (Bloomberg) -- Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, won a special state election, having replaced her husband in the contest after he was sentenced to jail for sodomy.
Wan Azizah defeated Chew Mei Fun from the national ruling Barisan Nasional coalition by 16,741 votes to 11,362, according to state-run news service Bernama. Voter turnout yesterday was about 72 percent, it said.
Anwar had planned to stand as the People’s Justice Party candidate for the vacant state seat in opposition-controlled Selangor, until the Court of Appeal on March 7 overturned his 2012 acquittal on a sodomy charge.
Wan Azizah ran against Chew from the Malaysian Chinese Association party. Chew was formerly the deputy minister for women, family and community development in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s cabinet. Wan Azizah held a parliamentary seat from 1999 to 2008 in the constituency previously held by Anwar, when her husband spent six years in jail following a falling out with former premier Mahathir Mohamad. She later relinquished the seat to Anwar, who won a subsequent special election in 2008.
Had Anwar secured the district in Selangor in the special election it would have opened the way for him to later seek the post of chief minister in the state, which surrounds the capital Kuala Lumpur and in 2012 was the biggest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product.
“We fully respect the choice made by the voters,” Chew said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “Even though BN didn’t win in this by-election, we successfully reduced the majority votes” the People’s Justice Party won by.
The current chief minister Khalid Ibrahim, who represents Anwar’s alliance, has signaled he would not make way for the opposition leader. Khalid’s restructuring of water assets in Selangor in agreement with Najib’s government and without the coalition’s prior consent has sparked infighting.
“It’s important to have the option, should we need to switch Selangor’s chief minister between Wan Azizah and Khalid Ibrahim, we can do that immediately without having to go through a by-election,” Rafizi Ramli, strategic director of the People’s Justice Party, said today by phone. “It’s open, the possibility is there. It would be a collective decision among the three member parties” within the opposition coalition.
“The bigger focus now is to improve Selangor’s delivery and make the state a showcase for PKR,” he said, referring to the People’s Justice Party.
The court verdict against Anwar garnered further attention when Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. The search for the jet is now focused on a vast area of the southern Indian Ocean.
The jet’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was an opposition supporter whose Facebook posts showed a disdain for the ruling coalition that has been in power since 1957. An analysis of a home-computer flight simulator belonging to the pilot produced no leads.
Anwar was Mahathir’s deputy in the late 1990s during the Asian financial crisis. As finance minister he gave speeches citing Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction. In the case of Southeast Asia, that meant countries would emerge stronger from the financial downturn, Anwar said.
Mahathir disagreed. In 1998, he fired Anwar, pegged the currency and imposed capital controls. Within a month, Anwar was arrested. He spent the next six years in prison on convictions for abuse of power and sodomy, and was released in 2004 after Mahathir retired and a judge overturned the guilty verdict for having sex with a man.
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