Malaysian opposition leader Anwar suspended from parliament
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar suspended from parliament
Anwar, who is also facing trial on sodomy charges that he says are a political conspiracy, was this week found guilty of misleading members in a row over a national unity slogan.
He had criticised the government's "One Malaysia" banner aimed at uniting the multiracial nation, which he said had been copied from the "One Israel" political alliance of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak in 1999.
The charge is highly sensitive in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel and is a supporter of a Palestinian state.
The government on Wednesday cited three senior opposition MPs for contempt for criticising the parliamentary disciplinary probe against Anwar, and demanded that they also serve six-month suspensions.
"It's so clear, it's blatantly biased," Anwar said after the suspension votes against the four were carried in parliament, where the ruling coalition has a clear majority. "It's a mockery of the entire proceedings."
The votes were held after chaotic scenes in the house where debate was drowned out by a half-hour shouting match, and opposition lawmakers unfurled placards reading "Save the Parliament" and "Rule of kangaroo".
They later staged a walkout, chanting "Shame on you".
Anwar was once a deputy prime minister in the ruling coalition but was sacked and jailed a decade ago on separate sodomy and corruption charges widely seen as politically motivated.
He spent six years in jail before the original sex conviction was overturned, and returned to parliament at the helm of a reinvigorated opposition which made huge strides in 2008 elections.
The suspensions have heightened political tension in the Southeast Asian country, where new polls are expected to be held early next year, well ahead of a 2013 deadline.
The move will bar Anwar from attending parliamentary debates, but the opposition leader said it will not sideline him or affect his election preparations.
"Now we have to move on, we will have to work harder, to go back to the people," he said, adding that he will use the six months to travel around the country on a campaigning tour.
"The judiciary, the police, the anti-corruption commission and now the parliament -- the only option is to change the system and the government... enough is enough," he said.
Karpal Singh, a veteran lawmaker suspended along with Anwar, said the opposition alliance would consider challenging the suspensions in court.
"What has happened is counter-productive for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. The people are unhappy," he told reporters.
The opposition seized control of five states and a third of parliamentary seats in the 2008 polls but since then it has been beset by infighting and defections that have dimmed its appeal to voters.
Malaysia's minorities -- ethnic Chinese and Indians -- deserted the government in the last elections but there are signs they have been lured back, partly because of the "One Malaysia" initiative.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who came to power last year, is expected to seize on the disarray within the opposition, and the warmer mood among voters, and call snap elections some time next year.