Monday, February 1, 2010

Trial Could Reshape Malaysia Politics


Published: January 31, 2010

BANGKOK — During more than three decades in politics, Anwar Ibrahim has spent a good share of his time behind bars — from his detention during his days as a rabble-rousing student leader in the 1970s to his imprisonment a decade ago on charges of abuse of power and sodomy.

On Tuesday, a new trial begins for Mr. Anwar, 62, the charismatic but polarizing politician who leads the country’s resurgent opposition.

The accuser is new, but the charge is again sodomy. A conviction this time could end the career of Mr. Anwar and reshape Malaysian politics.

For Malaysia’s 26 million people, the trial is the latest chapter in the bitter struggle for power between the governing coalition, which has ruled since independence from Britain more than five decades ago, and the diverse but ascendant opposition parties.

“This is as much a court case as it is a battle for public opinion,” said Ibrahim Suffian, the director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling agency in Malaysia.

The accuser, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, is in his early 20s and was a former campaign worker for Mr. Anwar.

The trial is being greeted with wariness by many of those who remember the first one, a decade ago, when a stained mattress was introduced as evidence and newspapers were filled with debates and testimony about the exact details of the sexual relationship. The largest newspapers and television stations are controlled by the governing coalition and were cheerleaders for a guilty verdict.

This time, the trial is likely to divert attention from the country’s communal tensions and economic weakness. Churches and mosques have been attacked in recent weeks over the issue of whether non-Muslims should be allowed to use the word “Allah” for God.

Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is modern, and the country’s globe-trotting elite is cosmopolitan, but the question of whether the ban on sodomy should be repealed has never gained traction beyond a small circle of activists. In India, which shares many laws from its British colonial heritage, a similar ban was overturned last year by a court on the grounds that it was discriminatory.Read more.

No comments: