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Malaysia opposition vows reform, higher incomes

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Malaysia's opposition unveiled a sweeping election manifesto Monday that pledges to end authoritarian rule and corruption while promising higher wages and other populist sweeteners.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim vowed a new era for the racially diverse and economically vibrant country, which has been governed since independence in 1957 by essentially the same coalition.

"This is about the rise of the people. We, as leaders, are only the catalyst," Anwar said in a speech after the manifesto's release.

"We are responsible for returning human dignity and pride to the people."

Parliamentary elections are due by late June but speculation is rife that Prime Minister Najib Razak could call polls for as early as next month.

His ethnic Malay-dominated Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition faces the three-party opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact).

The opposition shocked the government by surging to its strongest showing yet in 2008 parliamentary elections. It is widely seen as facing its best chance ever to dethrone the ruling coalition in the coming vote.

Its manifesto seeks to tap public impatience with the ruling bloc, which is criticised for its tough handling of dissent and a litany of corruption scandals, while pledging wide-ranging economic reform.

It vows to wage "war" on corruption, abolish laws that infringe on democratic rights and end what it portrays as political interference in government institutions and academia.

The manifesto also pledges to cut prices of fuel and other key items, raise wages, create a million new jobs, and dismantle monopolies it says benefit government "cronies."

The alliance is made up of Anwar's multiracial People's Justice Party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party representing Muslim ethnic Malays, and the Democratic Action Party dominated by ethnic Chinese.

Barisan Nasional is dominated by Malaysia's most powerful party, the United Malays National Organisation.

The ruling bloc is seen having the edge in an expected tight contest thanks to its deep pockets, control of mainstream media and an electoral system the opposition says is rigged.

Barisan Nasional dismissed the opposition platform as "a wish-list of uncosted and empty promises."

"They say they will reduce the price of almost everything while reducing taxes and increasing wages. But they don't say how they will pay for it. Implementing even half of these pledges would bankrupt the country," a spokesman said.

"It is a recipe for economic ruin."

But Anwar said Barisan Nasional was driving the country of 29 million people to disaster through "massive corruption, enriching cronies and stealing billions".

Anwar is a former deputy premier who was ousted in 1998 and jailed after a falling out with then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, pushing him to the opposition camp.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130225/malaysia-opposition-vows-reform-higher-incomes