He will visit eight states in a whirlwind six-day tour beginning in Johor and ending in a courthouse rally.
KUALA LUMPUR: Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim embarks Tuesday on a nationwide tour ahead of a verdict in his long-running sodomy trial, to declare his innocence and campaign for a change of government.
The trial, which opened nearly two years ago, is the latest crisis for the former finance minister who was sacked and jailed on separate sodomy charges a decade ago, only to make a comeback at the helm of a resurgent opposition.
Ahead of the Jan 9 verdict which could see Anwar jailed for up to 20 years, he will visit eight states in a whirlwind six-day tour beginning in southern Johor state and ending in a courthouse rally.
“I am making a call for change, enough of this arrogance of power, the abuses of the ruling party, we need change so that such baseless accusations, the persecution of individuals like myself, do not continue,” he told AFP.
“The tour is not only to declare my innocence but to convince the people that it is time to vote out Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s government so as to move towards greater democracy and openness.”
Najib has until March 2013 to call general election, but is widely expected to go to the people this year with hopes of winding back the stunning gains the opposition secured in the last polls in 2008.
Anwar’s opposition alliance, led by his PKR, won an unprecedented one-third of parliamentary seats in that ballot, stunning the Barisan Nasional government which has ruled for half a century.
The new sodomy allegations, levelled by a young former aide, were lodged soon after, fuelling Anwar’s allegations that the charges were concocted to destroy his political career.
Anwar’s tour begins in the ruling party’s bastion of Johor before heading to the central states of Negeri Sembilan and Malacca on Wednesday, and the opposition’s stronghold of Kelantan in the north on Thursday.
Jan 9 rally
Event organisers say they are expecting several thousand supporters at the late-night event in Johor to hear Anwar speak in a boisterous ceramah.
Anwar is famed for his eloquence and charisma and in cities and villages alike typically gathers large crowds keen for a display of his caustic wit and fiery rhetoric.
The roadshow will Friday move on to Malaysia’s richest state Selangor, which surrounds the capital Kuala Lumpur, followed by Penang, Pahang and Terengganu on Saturday.
After a gathering Sunday night at Anwar’s residence — long a rallying point for his supporters — the tour will culminate on Jan 9 in a rally outside the Kuala Lumpur High Court where the verdict will be handed down.
“We are expecting over 20,000 people to turn up at the courthouse following the country-wide tour, for people to show their support for Anwar,” PKR young wing leader, Shamsul Iskandar, told AFP.
Anwar’s original conviction sparked unprecedented protests and police have urged the leaders of the courthouse rally to cancel the event, warning it would be “unlawful and threaten public order”.
Sodomy is illegal in conservative, Muslim-majority Malaysia and legal experts say a guilty verdict would bar Anwar from contesting the upcoming polls, although others say he may be able to run until appeals are exhausted.
Pakatan struggle will continue
“I have my family around me and party leaders with me, we will speak to the people and reiterate my innocence and pray for the best on Jan 9,” the 64-year-old opposition leader said.
“However, even if I am found guilty and jailed, the opposition’s struggle will go on. We are prepared.”
Anwar’s legal battles have loomed over Malaysian politics for years.
He had been groomed to take the helm of the multi-cultural nation but a bitter split with his boss, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in 1997 led to his arrest the following year.
He was later convicted on sodomy and corruption charges widely seen as politically motivated, but was freed from jail in 2004 after the sodomy conviction was overturned.