Asia-Pacific, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Human Rights

POLITICS: Malaysia’s Anwar Gears Up for Make-or-Break Sodomy Trial

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 27 2010 (IPS) - Reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim, 63, who has been inflicted with various harms in his four-decade-old campaign to build ‘a just, prosperous and democratic Malaysia’, is facing probably the final battle of his epic career.

On Feb. 2 Anwar will stand trial for allegedly sodomising his political aide Saiful Bukhari, 26, a charge he said was trumped up to foil his plans to mobilise the people and seize state power in the next general election.

“They want to derail my plans to become prime minister, to rewrite the history of this country, to end the injustices and violence against the people,” Anwar told IPS on the sidelines of a rally outside the capital.

“I am facing a horrendous ordeal…. It’s all politics, a conspiracy to derail the reformation of society,” he said as scores of supporters mobbed and hugged him.

Anwar is attracting thousands of people to his rallies across the country ahead of the trial that political analysts say can “make or break” his political career.

“The trial can adversely impact his political career and that of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition that he leads and even the reformation struggle he has led for so long,” said Dr Sivamurugan Pandyan, a political scientist with the University Science Malaysia.

“It all depends on what happens at the trial and how the case is handled,” he said, adding that the 1999 sodomy trial was a public relations disaster, with many people rejecting the guilty verdict that the court handed down.

In 1998 Anwar figured in a political power struggle with then strongman Dr Mahathir Mohamad for control of the country and the direction it should take.

The 1997 Asian financial crisis was the backdrop of their power struggle and Anwar was sacked as the economy shrank and the Malaysian currency, the ringgit, plummeted.

Mahathir declared Anwar was unfit to be a leader because of alleged “homosexual tendencies” and promptly sacked him as deputy Prime Minister, removed him as finance minister and later had him arrested under the security laws that allowed for detention without trial. Subsequently, Anwar was charged with corruption and sodomy and convicted to a total of 15 years in jail.

The trial was universally rejected as biased. Anwar then launched a political party, ‘Parti Keadilan Rakyat’ (People’s Justice Party), and a reformation movement from inside the jail.

He spent six years in prison and was released after the country’s Federal Court, the highest court in the multi-racial South-east Asian country, held that he was innocent and acquitted and freed him of the sodomy charges.

In 2008 Anwar put together a coalition of dissimilar political parties – his own PKR, the Chinese-majority secular Democratic Action Party and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party – into the formidable Pakatan Rakyat coalition and rode to sterling victory, seizing five states and ending the two-thirds majority in parliament that the ruling Barisan National’s had enjoyed for half a century.

That victory brought him one step closer to Putra Jaya, the purpose-built political capital of the country. In March 2008 shock waves hit the country after Anwar was arrested, questioned and subsequently charged with sodomy against his aide, setting the stage for the Feb. 2 showdown.

Under Malaysian laws, sodomy is punished with 20 years in prison. If Anwar is found guilty and jailed, the resulting setback would seriously damage an otherwise impressive comeback and his unremitting ambition to be Prime Minister of the country and pursue his reform agenda.

But notwithstanding the trial, the country is gradually changing under the leadership of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who, in the view of many people, has by most counts done an admirable job in a short time since taking over the country in April 2000.

“He has co-opted the change agenda from the Pakatan…. He is making the changes that the country needs and he is gaining political mileage with his reform agenda,” said Dr Denison Jayasooria, a political scientist with the National University of Malaysia.

“The government is gradually reforming itself and society under the ‘One Malaysia’ concept,” he told IPS, referring to Najib’s idea of uniting the different races in Malaysia and distributing national resources in a just, fair and egalitarian manner.

Although this goal pertains to the future, ordinary people are already warming up to the ideal, as shown by numerous opinion polls.

But Anwar has promised dramatic reforms in his political agenda for change. His coalition party released a Common Policy Platform document in December 2009 outlining the major reform measures they would take if they were voted to power in the next general election, which many expect to happen next year although the government’s term ends in 2013.

A key pillar of the document is affirmative action for all Malaysians, who prefer it to the current policy of helping only the ‘bumiputra’or native Malays and indigenous people.

The Pakatan agenda also promises to reduce federal power and grant the states more freedom to manage their resources, including offering higher oil and gas revenues.

“Taken together, the Pakatan is offering in form and substance an alternative vision of how to build a new Malaysia, starkly different from what the Barisan has offered in five decades of misrule,” said former parliamentarian Sim Kwan Yang.

“It is a far superior, just and urgently needed vision,” he told IPS. “We need a new Malaysia.”

The upcoming sodomy trial is just one dimension of the four-decade-long struggle between Anwar and the entrenched forces in the country, political analysts said. Although the trial would have a significant impact on the political future of individuals, the reform process will continue.

“We are very worried about what will happen to Anwar. We do not want to see him jailed again on trumped-up charges,” said veteran parliamentarian Lim Kit Siang, who was first elected to the legislature in 1969.

“But as a united Pakatan coalition, we are ready to struggle on for reform and democracy. We will battle on.”

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

hello beautiful book summary