Justice prevails

Justice prevails

The acquittal of Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s former prime minister, on charges of sodomy is a triumph of justice.

Anwar had been accused of sodomising an aide in 2008. The charges were levelled a few months after his party, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat made unprecedented gains, leaving the ruling coalition licking the wounds of its worst performance in 50 years. It was widely believed that Anwar was framed by the government’s dirty tricks department for posing a threat to the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) stranglehold over power.

He has suffered similar smear campaigns in the past. Back in 1998, when he fell out with Malaysia’s strongman, the then prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, he ended up in jail on charges of misuse of power. He was subsequently convicted on sodomy charges but a federal court overturned that decision. It is hard to ignore the political motivations behind the smear campaigns against him. He is the only mass leader capable of uniting Malaysia’s disparate opposition groups. That makes him a serious threat to the UMNO.

Hence its adoption of tactics that paints him out to be a morally reprehensible person.
Anwar’s acquittal will provide a boost to the opposition People’s Alliance. Since the formation of the People’s Alliance in 2008, Anwar has had little time to spare for coalition building. With his acquittal now, he will be able to devote his full energies to rallying mass support. In a year from now Malaysia will go to the polls.

Anwar has so far focused on the unjust treatment meted out to him to win support. He needs to move beyond victimhood to defeat the ruling coalition. Young Malaysians are expecting to hear how he intends reforming the country, freeing it from the many controls imposed during the Mahathir years.

There is the question of how he will ensure distributive justice to the ethnic minorities. Anwar will need to place before the people a forward looking programme of action. Harping on past grievances alone will not topple the ruling coalition. The court acquittal will mean he cannot play martyr any more.

Prime minister Najib Razaq can be expected to claw some advantage out of the court verdict. He is likely to showcase the acquittal as evidence of the freedom that the judiciary enjoys under his leadership.  Elections may be over a year away but the Najib-Anwar battle for people’s votes has already begun.

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