Archive for May, 2013


Friday, May 17, 2013

A speech by Ahwazi environmental activist Haifa Assadi, at the Ahwaz human rights meeting in the UK’s Houses of Parliament, 15 May 2013

The Ahwaz region faces an environmental catastrophe on a par with the destruction of the Amazon rainforests. River diversion and the draining of the marshes are turning a once fertile land into desert while industrial pollution has made Ahwaz City the most polluted place on Earth, according to the World Health Organisation. As well as destroying the unique ecology of the region, the effects have been devastating for the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population.

Over centuries, the climate and environment of Ahwaz have depended on the rivers flowing through the region. The Karoon, Karkheh, Dez and Jarrahi rivers play an important role in the conservation of the marshlands of Falahiyeh and Hawr-Alazim. The life of the Arab farmers depends on the rivers’ water. Moreover, rivers prevent the salt water of the Gulf flowing up the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

However, the Iranian regime has been actively engaged in plans with the most destructive impacts on the ecological balance of the region and desertification of the once green fields of Ahwaz. One of these plans is the transferring of water to the central provinces of Iran through diversion of the rivers. This is done regardless of the region’s minimum water requirements.

Several dams and diversion tunnels have been built for this purpose of diverting water from the Karoon river to the already dry Zayanderood river of Isfahan. A total of 69 dams have been built or are under construction.

At the same time, the Iranian regime has been investing on the development of the environmentally destructive sugarcane plantations, created on 250,000 hectares of fertile farmland confiscated from Arab farmers.

The destructive environmental impact of these projects is the salty wastewater that turns the green fields of Ahwaz further downstream into barren lands. At the same time, fresh water from the Zagros mountains is being replaced by wastewater from the western cities of the country, contributing to the environmental crisis. The date plantations that traditionally sustained the livelihoods of thousands of Arab farmers are now dying. Moreover, the saline wastewater stored in a large area around the city of Muhammara for evaporation has left hills of salt there to become a great threat to the health of the Arab people of Ahwaz.

Due to the excessive pollution of the rivers the amount of total dissolved solids in the water has greatly increased. In the border cities of Abadan and Muhammara, it has reached four times the maximum level for potable water.

Another important factor in the aridification of the region is the deliberate evaporation of the Hawr Al-Azim marsh. This is being done on a par with Saddam’s destruction of the Iraqi marshes.

Hawr Al-Azim marsh has a very important role in maintaining the ecological balance in the Middle East. It has been completely destroyed and dried out due to the activities of oil companies. According to Ali Mohammad Shaeri, the vice president of the Iranian environment organization, “500 thousand hectares of marshlands of Ahwaz have dried out and this is the main cause of sand storms in the region.” The sand storms are the result of a decline in humidity throughout the whole region. As a result, the Pollutant Standards Index – or PSI – of the air quality in Ahwaz region has passed 600 units. This is while according to the international standards a PSI over 300 units is critically hazardous.

The destruction of Hawr Al-Azim has forced people from more than forty villages to abandon their homes and move to city slums. In Ahwaz City alone there are more than 400,000 Arabs living in slums, suffering difficult health and social conditions.

The environmental crisis in Ahwaz has several negative effects on the health of the indigenous Arab people. In recent years, respiratory and lung diseases have become very common as a result of high air pollution, leading to many deaths. Water pollution has resulted in skyrocketing digestive and Kidney diseases.

Because of the discriminatory policies of the Iranian regime against the indigenous Arab people of Ahwaz, they are deprived of the right to manage their own affairs. The crucial managing positions are assigned to non-native people coming from other provinces. These assigned officials do not consider the right of the native people of Ahwaz in the water resources of the region and the resources are expropriated to the advantage of the central provinces. The Iranian regime has no intention of stopping or even considering stopping these plans. Instead, new projects for dam construction and water diversion are being proposed and destructive industries – which do not employ local people – are contributing ever higher amounts of toxic pollution.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/05/destruction-of-ahwazs-marshes-is-like.html.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Speech by Ahwazi women’s rights activist Elham al-Saedi at the Ahwaz human rights meeting in the UK’s Houses of Parliament, 15 May 2013

Ahwazi Arab women suffer double persecution by the Iranian regime due to their ethnicity and gender. This operates in the areas of education, health, politics and social life. While Ahwazi Arab men are second-class citizens, Ahwazi women are third-class.

Illiteracy among Ahwazi Arab women is around 80 per cent, compared to around 50 per cent for Ahwazi men and 27% for Iran as a whole. Ahwazi women suffer health problems as a result of a lack of adequate health facilities. As a result, Ahwazi women suffer gynaecological problems and have a high incidence of infertility, stillbirths and birth deformities.

Ahwazi Arab women are also subjected to state terrorism. The wives of Ahwazi political and cultural activists are often arrested and imprisoned, along with their small children, in order to put pressure on their husbands to confess to crimes they did not commit. Women and children are held as hostages by the Iranian regime and often held for months without charge.

Some incarcerated Ahwazi women have been pregnant and have either miscarried or forced to give birth in prison without adequate medical assistance and in unsanitary conditions. An example is Fahima Ismail Badawi who gave birth to her daughter Salma in prison. She was held in custody as punishment for refusing to denounce her husband Ali Matouri Zadeh and divorce him. She refused and as a result is currently serving a 15 year prison sentence following a secretive trial by Branch 3 of Ahwaz Revolutionary Court. Her husband was tortured into confessing to being a British secret agent involved in terrorist attacks and was executed.

Officially, Ahwazi Arab women have the same legal rights as every other woman in Iran. However, Ahwazi women share same the same culture and social existence with women in neighboring Arab countries.

In terms of their social and economic life, they endure a great deal of backwardness even in Iranian terms. We cannot blame only the discriminatory laws against women in Islamic republic regime as the cause of this problem. These laws are applied to both Ahwazi Arab women and women in central areas of Iran, although non-Persian women are subjected to more political repression. We cannot blame the ethnic tribal customs and traditions of Ahwazi Arabs people either. Women with same culture and social beliefs in neighboring countries, for instance in Bahrain, have become advocates and judges. As such, ethnic customs are not the only cause of Ahwazi women’s oppression.

Non-Persian women suffer multiple discrimination in terms of criminal and common laws. Because they are less protected by law, they are subjected to more social crimes and violence, such as honor killing. Honor killings are more common in non-central, non-Persian areas and are justified by law and custom. Women are subjected to domestic violence, forced marriage – sometimes while they are still children and traded like objects as gifts between some tribes in economically backward areas. Arabistan leads all other regions in anti-women crimes due to backward cultural attitudes that are tolerated and encouraged by the regime.

Only through education and culture can Ahwazi women be free of persecution. But the Iranian state prevents any form of Arab cultural activity. All cultural modes, such as television and newspapers, are controlled by the state. The government wants to sustain traditional tribal systems of control to keep the Arab community in a backward state and prevent self-directed cultural improvement. Meanwhile, official positions that are supposed to cover women’s issues in the Arab-populated region – such as the chair of women’s affairs in the provincial governor’s office – have always been occupied by non-Arab, non-local women. They do not know the culture, customs and tradition of these people.

Ahwazi Arab women’s problems and concerns are rooted in their community culture, customs and traditions and they are not going to be solved unless there are civil society organisations which originate in the heart of their culture. These civil organisations can play a major role in providing the best environment to work against discrimination against women.

Ahwazi Arab women are capable of social activism, as seen in their participation in political activities during the short reformist reign of President Khatami which to some extent was politically tolerant. During this time, Ahwazi Arab women won three out of nine seats in the Arab-majority city of Showra. But in the current situation, with the regime imposing discriminatory practices against ethnic nationals, women will be the most disadvantaged people. As such, it is no surprise that Ahwazi Arab women are absent from social and political life.

The freedom of all Ahwazi Arabs depends on the freedom of the female half of the population. Women’s rights should be central to the Ahwazi struggle.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/05/ahwazi-arab-women-are-third-class.html.

May 17, 2013

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) — A once-fearsome cyclone that was threatening Bangladesh and Myanmar dissipated quickly, causing some deaths but largely relieving authorities who had told more than 1 million people to leave vulnerable coastal areas in preparation for a far worse storm.

Cyclone Mahasan lost power as it shed huge amounts of rain and then veered west of its predicted path, sparing major Bangladeshi population areas, including Chittagong and the seaside resort of Cox’s Bazar, said Mohammad Shah Alam, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department.

Coastal areas were spared major damage because it hit Thursday afternoon during low tide, causing no major tidal surge, he said. “Thank God we have been spared this time,” local government administrator Ruhul Amin said.

Before the storm threat weakened, Bangladesh had evacuated 1 million people, and the United Nations warned that 8.2 million people could face life-threatening conditions. Myanmar was spared almost entirely. Evacuation attempts there had met with frustration as some of the tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya people in western Rakhine state were wary about the government’s order and refused to leave.

“It’s all over, and we are very relieved that we didn’t have any unfortunate incident in Rakhine state due to the cyclone,” Win Myaing, Rakhine’s regional spokesman said. In Cox’s Bazar, tens of thousands of people had fled shanty homes along the coast and packed into cyclone shelters, hotels, schools and government office buildings. But by Thursday afternoon, the sun was shining and Amin said he planned to close the shelters by the evening.

The storm’s slow movement toward Bangladesh gave the government plenty of warning to get people to safety, Amin said. “But for the evacuation, the casualties would have been higher,” he said. Ferry services in the delta nation resumed Thursday night after being suspended in advance of the cyclone. Scores of factories near the choppy Bay of Bengal had been closed, and the military said it kept 22 navy ships and 19 Air Force helicopters at the ready.

A 1991 cyclone that slammed into Bangladesh from the Bay of Bengal killed an estimated 139,000 people and left millions homeless. In 2008, Myanmar’s southern delta was devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which swept away entire farming villages and killed more than 130,000 people. Both those cyclones were much more powerful than Mahasen, which hit land with maximum wind speeds of about 100 kph (62 mph) and quickly weakened, said Alam, the meteorological official.

By the time it hit Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar, wind speeds had plunged to 25 kph (16 mph), Alam said. The storm then dissipated entirely, he said. Bangladesh counted at least 10 deaths, most from the collapse of mud walls or by fallen trees. Related heavy rains and flooding had been blamed for eight deaths in Sri Lanka earlier this week.

At least eight people — and possibly many more — were killed in Myanmar as they fled the cyclone Monday night, when overcrowded boats carrying more than 100 Rohingya capsized. Only 43 people had been rescued by Thursday, and more than 50 were still missing.

Babul Akther, a Bangladeshi police official in Tekhnaf close to Myanmar border, said police there found 19 bodies Thursday in the Naaf River, which separates the two nations. He said most of the bodies were of children, and they suspect they are victims of Monday’s boat capsizings.

Much of the fears about the storm’s impact had been focused on western Myanmar because of the crowded, low-lying camps Rohingya were refusing to evacuate. U.N. officials, hoping they would inspire greater trust than the government, had worked to encourage people to leave.

In Rakhine state, around 140,000 people — mostly Rohingya — have been living in the camps since last year, when two outbreaks of sectarian violence between the Muslim minority and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists forced many Rohingya from their homes.

Nearly half the displaced live in coastal areas that were considered highly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding from Cyclone Mahasen. “Pack and leave,” a Rakhine state official, U Hla Maung, warned before the storm hit as he walked through a camp near Sittwe, the state capital. Accompanied by more than a dozen soldiers and riot police, he suggested that people living there move to a nearby railroad embankment, then left without offering help.

Some Rohingya took down their tents and hauled their belongings away in cycle-rickshaws, or carried them in bags balanced on their heads. Ko Hla Maung, an unemployed fisherman, was among those who had not left as of Thursday morning.

“We have no safe place to move, so we’re staying here, whether the storm comes or not,” he said. “… The soldiers want to take us to a village closer to the sea, and we’re not going to do that. … If the storm is coming, then that village will be destroyed.”

Associated Press writers Tim Sullivan in Sittwe, Myanmar, Yadana Htun and Aye Aye Win in Yangon, Myanmar, Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok and Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

May 07, 2013

TRIPOLI: Libyan Defense Minister Mohammed al-Barghathi announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a crisis sparked by gunmen who have besieged two ministries for more than a week.

“I find myself compelled, despite opposition from my colleagues in recent days, to present (my resignation) voluntarily and without hesitation,” Barghathi said, quoted by the official Lana news agency.

“I cannot accept the policy of force used by armed groups in our new state,” he added.

Militiamen have surrounded the justice and foreign ministries since last week to demand the removal from public posts of former officials of the regime of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

However, the resignation of former Kadhafi air force commander Barghathi appears to have been motivated by a law passed on Sunday that excludes former regime officials from public posts.

Initially, the gunmen intended to pressure the National General Congress, the highest authority in the country, to adopt the law on political exclusion.

But they remained camped outside the ministries despite the adoption of the legislation, with some of them now calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s government.

On Tuesday, a dozen vehicles armed with anti-aircraft guns and rocket-launchers were still parked in front of the foreign ministry, an AFP correspondent reported from the site.

“We are thuwars (revolutionaries) and we want to correct the process of the revolution,” said one of the gunmen who identified himself as Mohamed Ben Neema.

“The employees and officials of the former regime who massacred the Libyan people continue to occupy important positions, especially the foreign ministry. The revolution has not come to this building.”

Most of the gunmen had left the justice ministry, although five men in military fatigues posing as former rebels were still milling around the building’s closed front door.

“We ended our protest. After the adoption of the law on political exclusion, we reached our goal. We just expect a ministry official to formally enter the building,” said one of them.

Questioned by AFP, Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said officials from his department would not return to work “as weapons are still there.”

“Two armed with anti-aircraft guns vehicles were still in the interior ministry, behind closed doors,” he said.

Marghani added that “if this siege continues, we will study the possibility of moving the department to another district or another more secure city”.

The controversial law passed by Libya’s General National Congress is expected to take effect within a month.

Source: The Daily Star.

Link: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/May-07/216193-libya-defense-minister-quits.ashx.

2013-05-06

A protest of young Algerians over jobs was suppressed by the police, El Watan reported on Sunday (May 5th). The young people, who work on pre-employment contracts, had gathered in front of the parliament to demand integration.

Source: Magharebia.

Link: http://magharebia.com/en_GB/articles/awi/newsbriefs/general/2013/05/06/newsbrief-04.

May 06, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels shot down a military helicopter in the country’s east, killing eight government troops on board as President Bashar Assad’s troops battled opposition forces inside a sprawling military air base in the north for the second straight day, activists said Monday.

In the past months, rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad have frequently targeted military aircraft and air bases in an attempt to deprive his regime of a key weapon used to target opposition strongholds and reverse rebel gains in the 2-year-old conflict.

The fighting inside the Mannagh air base in northern Syria came a day after Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the capital, Damascus, setting off a series of explosions as they targeted a shipment of highly accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles believed to be bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, officials and activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Monday posted a video online showing several armed men standing in front of the wreckage. One of the fighters in the footage says it’s a helicopter that the rebels shot down late Sunday in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, along Syria’s border with Iraq.

As the man speaks, the camera shifts to a pickup truck piled with bodies. The fighter is then heard saying that all of Assad’s troops who were aboard the helicopter were killed in the downing. He says Islamic fighters of the Abu Bakr Saddiq brigade brought down the helicopter as it was taking off from a nearby air base in the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said eight troops were killed. On Sunday, rebels occupied parts of the Mannagh military air base after weeks of fighting with government troops who have been defending the sprawling facility near the border with Turkey for months, the Observatory said.

Assad’s warplanes were pounding rebel positions inside the Mannagh air base Monday as clashes between rebels and government forces raged on, the Observatory said, adding there was an unknown number of casualties on both sides.

The rebels moved deep into the air base on Sunday despite fire from government warplanes, capturing a tank unit inside the base and killing the base commander, Brig. Gen. Ali Salim Mahmoud, according to another activists group, the Aleppo Media Center.

The Israeli airstrike on Sunday, the second in three days and the third this year, signaled a sharp escalation of Israel’s involvement in Syria’s civil war. Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles hit a military and scientific research center near Damascus and caused casualties. The reports did not specify the number or say if the casualties were civilians or troops.

State-run SANA news agency made no mention of the fighting inside the Mannagh air base. But the agency reported that government troops on Monday regained control of villages along the highway that links the northern city of Aleppo to its civilian airport, the country’s second largest.

Syrian “armed forces restored security and stability to (six) villages” south of the city and along the airport highway, SANA said, calling it a “major strategic victory in the north.” Much of the north has been in rebel hands since the opposition fighters last summer launched an offensive in the area, capturing army bases and large swaths of land along the border with Turkey and whole neighborhoods inside Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

The rebels have for months battled regime troops over the airport complex that includes army bases and a military air field. They’ve captured village and towns along the strategic highway and earlier this year advanced within a few kilometers (miles) miles of the airport, cutting the main road the army has been using to ferry troops and supplies to its bases at the airport.

But last month government troops recaptured the village of Aziza on a strategic road that links Aleppo with its airport and military bases, dealing a huge setback to the rebels unable to hold on to the territory in the face of Assad’s superior fire power.

The Syrian conflict started with largely peaceful protests against Assad’s regime in March 2011, but eventually turned into a civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people according to the United Nations.

More than one million Syrians have fled their homes during the fighting and sought shelter in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Millions of others have been displaced inside Syria.

In Geneva, former war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said a U.N. commission has indications that Syrian rebel forces used nerve agent sarin as a weapon in their fight against Assad’s regime — but no evidence that government forces also used sarin as a chemical weapon.

Del Ponte is on the U.N.’s four-member independent human rights panel probing alleged war crimes and other abuses in Syria. She told Italian-language Swiss public broadcaster SRI in an interview broadcast Sunday night that the indications are based on interviews with victims, doctors and field hospitals in neighboring countries.

The panel’s investigators have “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated,” said del Ponte.

Associated Press Writer John Heilprin contributed to this report from Geneva.

May 06, 2013

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — At least 15 people died in clashes Monday between police and Islamic hardliners demanding that Bangladesh implement an anti-blasphemy law, police said.

A police official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said eight people, including two policemen and a paramilitary soldier, were killed in clashes in Kanchpur just outside the capital, Dhaka.

Another seven people died in Motijheel, a commercial area of Dhaka, the official said. The protesters blocked roads in the area with burning tires and logs during more than five hours of clashes, television footage showed.

The private United News of Bangladesh reported that the violence erupted after security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets in the central commercial district. The Islamic activists have been protesting to demand that the government enact an anti-blasphemy law.

The government in the Muslim-majority nation has rejected the groups’ demands, saying Bangladesh is governed by secular liberal laws. Dhaka Metropolitan Police said in a statement that all rallies and protests have been banned in the city until midnight Monday for fear of more clashes.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League and an alliance of 18 opposition parties led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia had planned rallies in Dhaka later Monday. There was no immediate comment from the parties.

By Fayaz Bukhari and Satarupa Bhattacharjya

SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI, Indian | Mon May 6, 2013

(Reuters) – India and China simultaneously withdrew troops from camps a few meters apart in a Himalayan desert on Sunday, apparently ending a three-week standoff on a freezing plateau where the border is disputed and the Asian giants fought a war 50 years ago.

The two sides stood down after reaching an agreement during a meeting between border commanders, an Indian army official told Reuters, after the tension threatened to overshadow a planned visit by India’s foreign minister to Beijing on Thursday.

But it was not immediately clear how far China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers had withdrawn – Delhi had claimed they were 19 km (12 miles) beyond the point it understands to be the border with China, a vaguely defined de facto line called the Line of Actual Control, which neither side agrees on.

Defense and foreign ministry spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Our troops have moved one kilometer backwards from the position they were on since April 16,” said the officer, from the Indian army’s Northern Command, which oversees the disputed region on the fringes of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state.

“Chinese troops have also moved away from their position they were holding on since April 15 when they intruded in Indian territory. It is not clear yet how (far) the PLA moved back.”

India considered it the worst border incursion for years.

New Delhi often appears insecure about relations with its powerful neighbor, despite slowly warming relations between Asia’s largest countries. China is India’s top trade partner, but the unresolved border sours the friendship.

India’s opposition and much of the media has been critical of the government’s handling of the standoff, drawing parallels with a 1962 war which ended in its humiliating defeat. On Friday, parliament was adjourned after members shouted “Get China out, save the country”.

“YOU ARE IN CHINESE TERRITORY”

India says Chinese troops intruded into its territory on the western rim of the Himalayas on April 15. Some officials and experts believe the incursion signaled Chinese concern about increased Indian military activity in the area.

A group of about 30 Chinese soldiers, backed by helicopters, had pitched several tents near a 16th century Silk Road campsite called Daulat Beg Oldi, close to an air strip New Delhi uses to support troops on the Siachen glacier.

Each day since, Indian and Chinese soldiers and border guards left their camps and stood about 100 meters (330 feet) apart on the Depsang Plain, a 5,000 meter (16,400 feet) high desert ringed by jagged peaks of the Karakoram range.

Winter temperatures can drop to minus 30 degrees centigrade, and the area is lashed by icy strong winds all year round.

A photograph released by a source in the Indian army showed a group of six Chinese soldiers on a rock-strewn landscape holding a bright orange banner that read, in English and Mandarin, “This is the Line of Actual Control, You are in Chinese territory”.

Delhi reopened the Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip in 2008. Two other runways, out of use since the war, have been opened and Daulat Beg Oldi has been upgraded since.

Siachen, at the north of the disputed region of Kashmir, is claimed by both India and Pakistan and has the dubious distinction of being the world’s highest battlefield.

Tensions are likely to persist given India and China’s increased presence in an area that for centuries was largely unclaimed and criss-crossed with caravan routes. Now the land abuts the Karakoram Highway joining Pakistan to China, which Beijing hopes to develop further as trade route linking it to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar.

Speaking before Sunday’s resolution, Srikanth Kondapalli, an Indian analyst who specializes in China studies, said the dispute lay close to large hydroelectric projects and an ambitious plan to expand the Karakoram highway.

He said the lack of agreement about where the border lies, combined with increased military and infrastructure activity meant more flashpoints were likely.

“It is a no-man’s land,” said Kondapalli, who considers the current standoff to be more serious than the usual cross-border incidents. “Even if the (present) issue is resolved, this will only flare up.”

(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Jon Hemming)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/06/us-india-china-idUSBRE9440B220130506.

By Niluksi Koswanage and Stuart Grudgings

KUALA LUMPUR | Mon May 6, 2013

(Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak may have to step down by the end of the year, ruling party sources said on Monday, after his coalition extended its 56-year rule but recorded its worst-ever election performance.

Najib, 59, had staked his political future on strengthening the ruling coalition’s parliamentary majority in Sunday’s general election on the back of a robust economy, reforms to roll back race-based policies and a $2.6 billion deluge of social handouts to poor families.

But he was left vulnerable to party dissidents after his Barisan Nasional coalition won only 133 seats in the 222-member parliament, seven short of its tally in 2008 and well below the two-thirds majority it was aiming for.

It also lost the popular vote, underlining opposition complaints that the electoral system is stacked against it. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Alliance won 89 seats, up 7 from 2008 but still incapable of unseating one of the world’s longest-serving governments.

Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, said in a statement on Monday that he would not accept the result because it was marred by “unprecedented” electoral fraud. He has called for a rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

Undermined by the result, Najib now faces a difficult task persuading his dominant United Malays National Organization (UMNO) to press ahead with economic reforms and phase out policies favoring majority ethnic Malays over other races.

“We could see Najib step down by the end of this year,” said a senior official in UMNO, which leads the coalition.

“He may put up a fight, we don’t know, but he has definitely performed worse. He does not have so much bargaining power,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, still a powerful figure in UMNO, told Reuters last year that Najib must improve on the 140 seats won in 2008 or his position would be unstable.

Kuala Lumpur’s stock market surged nearly 8 percent in early trade to a record high on investor relief that the untested opposition had failed to take power, but later gave up some gains to close 3.38 percent higher. The Malaysian ringgit jumped to a 20-month high.

Ethnic Chinese, who make up a quarter of Malaysians, continued to desert Barisan Nasional, accelerating a trend seen in 2008. They have turned to the opposition, attracted by its pledge to tackle corruption and end race-based policies, undermining the National Front’s traditional claim to represent all races in the nation of 28 million people.

MCA, the main ethnic Chinese party within the ruling coalition, only won seven seats, less than half its 2008 total.

Najib, the son of a former prime minister, said he had been taken by surprise by the extent of what he called a “Chinese tsunami.” Alarmingly for Najib, support from ethnic Malays also weakened, particularly in urban areas, a sign that middle-class Malays are agitating for change.

Najib, who polls show is more popular than his party, could face a leadership challenge as early as October or November, when UMNO members hold a general assembly and elect the party leader.

“In the next round of elections within UMNO, you will see some dissidents emerging and asking for Najib to resign,” said the official, who has held cabinet positions in government. He said Mahathir would be among those who back the dissidents.

ANWAR CRIES FOUL

Barisan Nasional also failed to win back the crucial industrial state of Selangor, near the capital Kuala Lumpur, which Najib had vowed to achieve.

“Najib is now leading a coalition that lost the popular vote, a coalition that will really struggle to prove its legitimacy,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs in Kuala Lumpur.

“My feeling is it’s not going to be very easy for him.”

Investors had hoped that a strong mandate for Najib would enable him to push ahead with planned reforms such as subsidy cuts and a new consumption tax to reduce Malaysia’s budget deficit, which is relatively high at around 4.5 percent of GDP.

Those reforms now seem in doubt, Credit Suisse said in a report on Monday, although Najib is expected to push ahead with $444 billion Economic Transformation Program aimed at boosting private investment and doubling per capita incomes by 2020.

For Anwar, the election was likely the last chance to lead the country after a tumultuous political career that saw him sacked as deputy prime minister in the 1990s and jailed for six years after falling out with his former boss, Mahathir.

His three-party opposition alliance had been optimistic of a historic victory, buoyed by huge crowds at recent rallies, but faced formidable obstacles including the government’s control of mainstream media and a skewed electoral system.

Anwar, 65, had accused the coalition of flying up to 40,000 “dubious” voters, including foreigners, across the country to vote in close races. The government says it was merely helping voters get to home towns to vote.

“My heart is with every Malaysian who does not accept the results,” Anwar said in his statement.

Malaysia’s Bersih (clean) civil society movement, which has held large rallies to demand electoral reform, joined Anwar in withholding recognition of the result, saying it needed to study numerous reports of fraud.

(Additional reporting by Yantoultra Ngui and Siva Sithraputhran in Kuala Lumpur and Saeed Azhar in Singapore; Writing by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings.; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/06/us-malaysia-election-idUSBRE9430B720130506.