Surprise! Anwar ordered back to jail as Malaysia election looms | National Post

Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a daily round-up of quality punditry from across the globe.  Today: There seems to be no end to the Malaysian political establishment’s vindictiveness toward Anwar Ibrahim.

For the past 15 years, the former deputy prime minister and heir apparent to Mahathir Mohammed has been battling the courts on trumped-up charges of corruption and sodomy — the latter  crime is deeply shocking in the devout Muslim nation, but rarely prosecuted.

The opposition leader been in and out of jail several times; his convictions overturned, then reinstated. The latest verdict would return him to jail for five years just as general elections approach, polls in which his Pakatan Rakyat party was expected to do well.

Few doubt the prosecutions are politically inspired. After all, it beggars belief that Anwar, an intelligent and savvy operator, would be so stupid as to recklessly continue the behaviour that put him in jail once.

The continued prosecution may well blow up in the government’s face as it risks making him a martyr. As The Associated Press’s Eileen Ng reports,

“This trial was all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics, pure and simple, and the government was prepared to jump through whatever hoops were necessary to make that happen,” said Phil Robertson of the New York-based group Human Rights Watch. “It’s a dark day for the Malaysia judiciary, which has shown today how hard it is to get a free and fair trial when political issues are in play.”

A background piece prepared for the BBC explains the ruling Barisan Nasional’s problem.

Mr. Anwar is seen as the key challenger to the ruling party, which has been in power since Malaysia’s independence in 1957. The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won 133 of the 222 seats in parliament in the 2013 elections  — although it won the elections, it was the coalition’s worst-ever result. Thousands of Malaysian opposition supporters rallied against the result, alleging that the polls were fraudulent.

In the 2013 general election, Mr Anwar led the opposition into what was seen as the country’s most hotly-contested polls to date  … The Pakatan Rakyat promised bold changes, including doing away with race-based policies that it says breed corruption and hamper economic growth. It instead pushed for a more competitive system based on merit.

A contributor to The Economist’s Banyan blog has no doubt about the political motivation behind the latest verdict.

That the government’s appeal against Mr. Anwar’s acquittal has reached its climax at this moment is, to be charitable, an extraordinary coincidence. On March 23 Mr. Anwar was to contest a by-election for a seat in the legislative assembly in one of Malaysia’s states, Selangor. He was expected to win, and to take on the high-profile role of the state’s chief minister. His conviction seems to mean he will be disqualified, although he is free on bail pending an appeal.

Malaysia’s bloggers agree with this analysis, with a  contributor to The Malysian Insider ticking off the  beneficiaries. They include Mahathir Mohammed who is smarting at Anwar’s pointed questions about how his children became so rich. (No prizes for guessing.)

The former prime minister was mightily unhappy when the Federal Court released Anwar Ibrahim in 2006 …  The fact that a resurgent Anwar galvanised, nurtured and eventually, led Pakatan Rakyat (PKR) to shatter the myth of invincibility of BN at the polls in 2008 only served to turn up Dr. Mahathir’s antipathy towards Abdullah.

Since his release, Anwar has been a thorn in the side of Dr. Mahathir and in the run-up to the May 5 elections, the PKR leader hammered away at the former PM’s Achilles heel: his children’s astronomical wealth.

Apart from bare denials, Dr. Mahathir could not offer any other comeback. The thought of Anwar as menteri besar [premier], presiding over the richest state in Malaysia, would have been all too much for Dr. Mahathir.

After all, the plan was to end his political career in 1998.

C.T. Ali,  a columnist at Free Malaysia Today believes the government has finally over-reached itself.

We have need of more of these heroes and last week through the dubious office of the appeal court, we have another one – albeit he is already a familiar face to this cause – that of Anwar Ibrahim.

The first time Anwar was charged with sodomy in 1998 and subsequently acquitted. A decade later in the 2008 general election, BN lost for the first time its two-thirds majority in parliament and five states to Pakatan Rakyat. In June 2008 Anwar was again charged for sodomy and in the 2013 general election, BN again for the first time, lost it popular mandate to govern but still clung to government.

This week – March 2014 Anwar was convicted of sodomy after being acquitted of this earlier.

How long do we have to wait to see what BN will forfeit for their immediate gain of putting their political nemesis away?



compiled by Araminta Wordsworth