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Malaysian Parliament Dissolved, Elections to Be Held Soon

Malaysia's prime minister has set the stage for early elections by dissolving Parliament. The vote will likely be held before opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is eligible to run for office. Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong, where Anwar spoke to the media.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced the dissolution of Parliament on Wednesday in Putrajaya, the administrative capital near Kuala Lumpur.

Mr. Abdullah says this will allow general elections to be held as stated in the constitution.

A date for the vote has not been set, but the elections are expected within the next few weeks. Elections are not due until the middle of 2009, when Mr. Abdullah's five-year term expires.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says the prime minister is calling early elections to prevent him from running for office. Once Malaysia's deputy prime minister, Anwar was removed from office and jailed in 1998 on sodomy and corruption charges. The sodomy charge was overturned but his corruption conviction bars him from politics until April this year.

Speaking to journalists in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Anwar said he plans to start his political comeback through a by-election later this year.

"Knowing this dirty trick of the government to deny me my right to participate, what we plan to do is to devise a strategy where we chose about 20 constituencies where the candidates will opt to resign in the event they win, and I would then be able to contest in a by-election," Anwar said.

Prime Minister Abdullah's Barisan Nasional coalition, in power since Malaysia gained independence more than 50 years ago, expects to win a two-thirds majority in the upcoming elections. But, Anwar says his Keadilan, or "justice" party and its two coalition partners have other plans.

"I am confident that we will start this campaign by denying the ruling Barisan Nasional government two-thirds majority, which means that we would achieve safely about 70 parliamentary seats," Anwar said.

The ruling coalition won 90 percent of the seats in Parliament in Malaysia's last elections in 2004.

In recent months, the government has been rocked by a series of issues - an embarrassing sex scandal involving a Cabinet minister, inflation, alleged corruption in the judiciary, and rare protests by ethnic Indians over alleged discrimination.