Jul 17th 2008 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition
The opposition leader and another critic arrested
SO FAR, the case against Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s main opposition leader, has stayed pretty close to the script from 1998. Now, as then, he poses a threat to the prime minister of the day. Also as then, he faces accusations of “sodomy” (ie, homosexual sex, a crime in Malaysia) from an aide. And on July 16th, in another flashback to 1998, armed police in balaclavas pounced on Mr Anwar and took him for questioning.
Last time Mr Anwar was beaten during interrogation and appeared in court with a black eye. He was jailed for 15 years but freed in 2004 after the appeal court overturned his conviction. This time Mr Anwar, who had briefly sought refuge in the Turkish embassy when the accusations surfaced, was released on bail after one night in custody. No charges have yet been filed. The prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, promised there would be no repeat of the “black-eye incident”.
Mr Badawi is fighting for survival after his coalition’s poor showing against the opposition in elections in March. He promises to hand over to his deputy, Najib Razak, in 2010—but he may not last that long. Before the latest sodomy allegation, Mr Anwar claimed he was close to getting enough defections from the government benches to achieve a parliamentary majority. He says the accusations are a plot to stop him taking power and prevent him from presenting new evidence that Malaysia’s current police chief and attorney-general helped fabricate evidence against him in 1998. Then, the accusations against Mr Anwar surfaced after he was sacked as deputy to the then prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, and made claims of corruption in the government. Evidence has recently emerged that seems to support Mr Anwar’s claims of political interference in the judiciary, both under Mr Badawi and Dr Mahathir.
Embarrassingly for the government, the opposition has produced photographs of Mr Anwar’s accuser, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, meeting various government ministers, lending weight to the claim that it is all a political plot. Mr Najib has admitted to meeting Mr Saiful shortly before he went to the police with his accusation, but denies being behind the allegations. [more]