KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in to parliament Thursday, ending a decade-long political exile and taking another step forward in his plan to topple the government.
Anwar claimed a landslide victory this week in a by-election to return him to parliament, capping a stunning comeback after he was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed for sodomy and corruption.
"I'm glad to be back after a decade," Anwar told a press conference, attacking Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who has faced calls to quit since March elections in which the opposition gained unprecedented ground.
"The prime minister has lost the mandate of the country and the nation," Anwar said, calling on Abdullah, his deputy Najib Razak and "all their cronies" to be removed from power.
Asked if he was on track to carry out his plan to secure enough government defectors to oust the ruling coalition by September 16, he said "Yes".
Anwar arrived at parliament with his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who held his seat in northern Penang state during his exile, and his daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is also a parliamentarian.
Dressed in a dark blue traditional Malay outfit and black "songkok" hat, he was sworn in during a brief ceremony.
"I hope the member for Permatang Pauh will contribute to the proceedings of this house. I am satisfied he has been unanimously appointed leader of the opposition," said speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia.
Lim Kit Siang, from the Democratic Action Party which is a member of Anwar's three-member opposition alliance, greeted him from the parliamentary benches.
"I would like to welcome the member for Permatang Pauh who is back in the house after a second political tsunami. The government is like the Titanic which is going to sink," he said.
The March elections saw the opposition gain control of five states and a third of parliamentary seats, in the worst ever setback for the Barisan Nasional coalition which has ruled Malaysia for half a century.
Anwar needs to persuade 30 government lawmakers to defect in order to form a government, in a task political observers say will be difficult but not impossible.
He faces another daunting hurdle with new sodomy allegations levelled by a 23-year-old former aide, which he says have been concocted by the government to sideline him.
Anwar's original sodomy conviction was overturned by the nation's highest court in 2004, allowing him to go free after six years in jail.
Sodomy is a serious offence in Malaysia, a conservative and predominantly Muslim country, and carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. No trial date has been given yet for the new sexual misconduct allegations.
The government dismissed Anwar's claims of being on the verge of seizing power.
"There is no threat from Anwar, he has won in a by-election and he becomes just another MP," Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said at parliament.
"From the March 8 elections till now we have done nothing but politicking... but (the defections) haven't happened. They are waiting for it to happen but it hasn't happened -- good luck to them."
Anwar arrived in parliament in time for debate Thursday on a new bill which would force criminal suspects to provide DNA samples -- legislation he says is aimed at him after he refused to give a sample following his sodomy arrest.
The former finance minister will also be in parliament for Friday's reading of the 2009 national budget.
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