The Strange Case of Anwar Ibrahim
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th August, 2008
I left my meetings in the European Parliament this afternoon to do a live BBC World TV interview on today’s by-election in Malaysia, which sent the supposedly ‘disgraced’ opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim back into parliament with two-thirds of the vote, on a high turnout. This was not a surprise for anyone who has been following Malaysian politics closely recently, especially in the blogosphere, which has grown phenomenally, ironically partly because of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s policy of making Malaysia an ‘intelligent’ nation with a computer literate population.
Anwar Ibrahim had been Dr Mahathir’s chosen successor until a bitter falling out, which culminated in Anwar’s being sent to prison on charges of corruption (later overturned) and sodomy. The elections in March this year were deliberately timed to be just before his period of disqualification from elected office ended, but he got round that by having an arrangement with his wife, who had taken over his seat when he involuntarily left politics and which she recently resigned so he could fight a by-election. The campaign was extremely short, but vigorously fought.
The government coalition and its undercover supporters threw everything at Anwar, including more sodomy charges (seen by most Malaysians as being politically motivated, but which could result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years if proved) and accusations that he is both a Chinese agent and a friend of Israel (politically damaging in a Muslim-majority country). Most of these charges were pure calumny, and the Penang voters who elected him showed what they thought of them. But this certainly won’t be the end of the story, in what has the making of the most radical shake-up in Malaysian politics for half a century — the time that the current ruling coalition has been in power.