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Hounding Anwar
Hounding Anwar
Malaysia?s attempt to smear the opposition is a squalid ploy, unworthy of a democracy
Malaysia is often cited as a Muslim country that has successfully embraced modern technology and participatory democracy.
Wednesday, July 23,2008 08:49
Times On Line.co

Malaysia is often cited as a Muslim country that has successfully embraced modern technology and participatory democracy. Its success in building an economy based on knowledge and enterprise is evident. Its ability to run a just and transparent democracy is far less apparent.


The arrest last week of Anwar Ibrahim, the ambitious and resilient opposition leader, bore all the hallmarks of a political vendetta. It came as Mr Anwar attempts to win over enough government supporters to bring down the unpopular and discredited Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi. In March Mr Anwar"s three-party People"s Alliance made unprecedented gains in the general election, leaving the ruling United Malays National Organisation with a slim majority and threatening its hold on power for the first time since independence in 1957. Last month Mr Abdullah narrowly avoided the first no-confidence challenge to a sitting Prime Minister. And rising voter anger, spurred by a recent rise in petrol and diesel of up to 63 per cent, is encouraging some waverers to consider defection.


The 60-year-old opposition leader is a formidable threat. He rose swiftly under the former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, to become his heir apparent until the two fell out in 1998 over Mr Anwar"s criticism of economic policy and allegations of nepotism. He was sacked and, as supporters led protests through the streets, arrested on charges of sodomy and corruption. He was assaulted by police in custody and his lurid trial, widely denounced as biased, led to a sentence of six years for corruption and nine for sodomy, a crime punishable by a term of up to 20 years. He was freed in 2004 when the Federal Court quashed the sodomy charge, but was banned from seeking office until April this year.


The autocratic Mr Mahatir has since retired. But his ruling party is afraid of revenge by a man so publicly mistreated. Its response has been a squalid attempt to sabotage Mr Anwar"s comeback with a new smear campaign. It chose to return to the emotive charge of sodomy, producing a 23-year-old aide to level new charges. And although Mr Anwar agreed to be questioned, police staged a publicity-seeking hold-up of his car an hour before he was due to report. The aim, as Mr Anwar recognised, was clear: to provoke outraged supporters into protests that could be an excuse for a clamp-down on the opposition.


Humiliating Mr Anwar is a political priority. Little wonder that he suspects the police"s request for DNA before releasing him last week is an attempt to fabricate evidence. The Government would do better to fight Mr Anwar on his political record. There is still legitimate concern over his extremist overtones on Islam in the past. Whether he fully accepts Malaysia"s secular, multi-ethnic society remains unclear. Nor has he put forward a credible alternative to the fuel and food price rises now stirring popular discontent.


The Government is acting from weakness, however. Mr Abdullah was undermined by the stinging dismissal of his leadership by his retired predecessor, and hardly projects an image of competence. The Government has also been ensnared in a sex scandal, this time involving Mr Abdullah"s deputy and a murdered Mongolian woman. Seeking political escape by hounding the Opposition is neither democratic nor just. Malaysia deserves better.


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