KUALA LUMPUR: The wife of jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won her husband’s parliamentary seat Thursday in a by-election seen as a test of support for the three-party alliance he headed, local media reported.
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, an Irish-trained medical doctor and mother of six, took the seat in the northern state of Penang—according to unofficial poll results—that was vacated after her husband was jailed in February.
Anwar was imprisoned for five years on charges that he sodomized a former male aide, a case he says was fabricated by the government.
Thursday’s result marks the second time that Wan Azizah, 62, has stepped in for her husband during his controversial imprisonments.
She won the same seat in 1999, replacing Anwar after he was sacked as deputy prime minister in Malaysia’s long-ruling government and jailed on previous sodomy and corruption charges widely considered politically motivated.
That imprisonment left Wan Azizah at the head of the reform movement that emerged in response to Anwar’s ouster, and she twice defended the seat.
But she vacated it in 2008 to allow the charismatic Anwar to return to parliament after his release.
Taking over leadership of the opposition, he helped inspire a once-fragmented opposition to unprecedented gains in parliament, nearly taking power in 2013 polls from the ruling coalition that has dominated Malaysia for decades.
The widely respected Wan Azizah, a petite woman who wears a traditional Muslim headscarf, appears unlikely to replace her husband as opposition leader, however.
That baton is expected to pass to Anwar’s longtime protégé Azmin Ali.
There had been some concern over Wan Azizah’s ability to retain the seat for her People’s Justice Party.
The three-party opposition alliance is mired in uncertainty amid internal policy squabbling, a situation worsened now without Anwar’s dominant presence.
In particular, the conservative Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), part of the opposition alliance, has angered many moderates by calling for harsh sharia law in a state it governs, despite an earlier pledge not to.
The sharia campaign looks unlikely to succeed.