|Malaysia's Islamic party unveils|
reforms to broaden appeal
KOTA BHARU -- Malaysia's hardline Islamic party (PAS) announced major reforms to broaden its appeal Friday, and called for former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim to lead the opposition alliance.
PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang backed the charismatic Anwar, who is currently banned from politics after being convicted of corruption and sodomy, to lead the charge to dislodge the ruling National Front coalition led by the dominant United Malays National Organization (UMNO).
"PAS is now at a critical crossroads. We must work with all including Anwar. Now even some in UMNO are trying to get him back into the ruling party," Hadi said.
"If Anwar is the opposition front, existing UMNO members may join the opposition. It will boost our strength and our credibility. We have accepted him as the leader," he added.
Anwar was heir apparent to former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad before being sacked in 1998 and jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy, which he said were cooked up to prevent him challenging Mahathir for the premiership.
Malaysia's Federal Court overturned Anwar's sodomy conviction last September, saying the charges could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt and criticized the police and prosecution for their handling of the case.
The corruption conviction was not overturned and means Anwar cannot stand for office until a ban expires in April 2008.
The next general elections are expected to be held that year and Hadi said that because Anwar was the victim of a political conspiracy and had served his jail sentence, the government should lift the ban.
Anwar, once hailed as a brilliant finance minister and future prime minister, was jailed in 1999 and freed last year after serving six years in prison.
The opposition front groups PAS and the People's National Party led by Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. The Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party left the front in 2004 after PAS pushed for the formation of an Islamic state.
Addressing more than 1,100 members dressed in traditional Malay costumes with the men wearing white skull caps, Hadi said the party's 800,000 members must rally together to cripple the ruling National Front.
Both PAS and UMNO base their political struggle on advancing the interests of Malays who account for about 60 percent of the country's 25 million population.
Outlining his strategy, Hadi said PAS must work with all races, increase its membership, promote democracy and embrace science and technology.
He said that PAS, a party which now only finds support in the Muslim heartland states, must accept the reality of national politics.
"We need to change our strategy. Malaysia is a multiracial country. This is a fact. PAS cannot rule alone. We need the cooperation of all races," he said.
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