Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian opposition leader disgraced and humiliated by accusations of corruption and sexual misconduct, was set to be restored to office today, in an election victory that brings to an end eleven years of political exile.
Incomplete results showed that Mr Anwar had easily won a by-election which will enable him to take full control of the opposition coalition and puts him a position to attempt an unprecedented take over of Malaysia’s parliament.
It also raises the stakes in his latest round of legal troubles – a new accusation of homosexuality, one of the charges which ruined his career in 1998. This evening’s expected victory in a constituency in the state of Penang demonstrates that many Malaysians believe what Mr Anwar has insisted all along – that the charges are a crude government plot to disgrace the politician with the biggest chance of bringing change to Malaysian politics.
With most votes counted, Mr Anwar had an unassailable lead of at least 15,000 votes. “This vote means Malaysians want the truth,” Mr Anwar said after the close of voting. “It is Anwar versus the entire government. God willing, I am confident of winning.”
Homosexuality, or sodomy, is illegal in Malaysia, and in 1999 Mr Anwar was sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted of sex with his male driver. He always insisted that the charge had been trumped up the year before by the ruling United Malay National Organisation (Umno), because of the challenge which Mr Anwar, the deputy prime minister, was planning against his boss, the then prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad.
In 2004, the conviction was overturned by Malaysia’s top court, although Mr Anwar, who was also convicted of corruption, was barred from standing for parliament until April this year. In March, however, the opposition coalition, of which was de facto leader, achieved its greatest ever electoral success, coming close to toppling Umno and drastically undermining the leadership of the current prime minister, Abdullah Badawi.
Mr Anwar was negotiating with government supporters in the hope that they would change sides and claimed that the opposition would be able to seize control of parliament in September. Then, in June, a 23-year old aide to Mr Anwar filed a police report alleging that he had had sex with him in an apartment in Kuala Lumpur. Mr Anwar indignantly denied the claim.
To his enemies, the sodomy allegations are further evidence of his unfitness for office in a Muslim majority country where homosexuality is regarded by many as abhorrent. Among his supporters, they are regarded as a crude and transparent ploy to smear and foil once again Malaysia’s most brilliant leader in a generation.
A telephone poll by the independent Merdeka Centre think-tank suggested that the latter are in the majority, at least in the by-election constituency, Permatang Pauh – 59 percent of respondents said that the sodomy allegations were politically motivated.
But Mr Anwar’s victory also owes much to the failings of Umno under its current leader, the prime minister, Abdullah Badawi.
Mr Anwar has promised to deal with record inflation and to reduce the cost of fuel, which went up by 41 percent in June. He also proposes doing away with a system of institutionalised racial discrimination which gives education and business advantages to members of the Malay majority, of which he is one, at the expense of the Chinese and Indian minorities.