Monday, 11 August 2008

Anwar's trials and tribulations

So, Anwar Ibrahim finds himself in a re-run of his previous persecution by the Malaysian state elite.

The decision to charge Anwar over spurious sodomy allegations comes as he prepares to contest the Permatang Pauh by-election (the seat now vacated by his wife Wan Azizah), which will likely secure Anwar's return to parliament.

Following the Pakatan Rakyat (People's Alliance) opposition's recent electoral surge, the prospect of Anwar back in such a formal political role has raised the Barisan danger level to critical. Emergency measures, it seems, have been actioned at the highest level to halt this imminent 'catastrophe'.

The sodomy charge also comes after Anwar produced damning evidence against the present Attorney General and Inspector General of police showing that they perverted the course of justice during Anwar's 1998-99 arrest and trial. Anwar has further called for a Royal Inquiry into claims that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak was involved in the cover-up of a murder. Anwar, as ever, has some seething and powerful enemies to contend with.

The capacity for ruthless reaction to such challenges should never surprise us. Yet, this latest demonisation of Anwar illustrates the more sordid depths to which those in power will stoop in a desperate effort to protect their interests.

Yet, it's a strategy very likely to backfire. Do those behind this prosecution consider the Malaysian public so gullible as to support yet another such show trial after Anwar was cleared of the previous sodomy conviction?

This central question of popular credibility is elaborated by Khoo Boo Teik:

"How, then, can a prosecution of Anwar on new sodomy charges bring anything save domestic and international ridicule?

"How will Saiful's [Anwar's aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the person alleging the sexual assault] allegations find currency among dissident voters who have psyched themselves to resist a campaign of anti-PR psychological warfare?

"Won't charging Anwar with sodomy again revive on a larger scale the collective Malay disgust with his aib (shame) in 1998-99?"

As reported by Anil Netto, only a small percentage of Malaysians, some 11 percent, place any credence in these charges. Even a servile Malaysian media will have trouble changing that consensus.

Of course, that's not the immediate point of this shameful purge. The primary purpose is to prevent Anwar, as far as possible, from campaigning and forging a prime ministerial profile. Anwar is also confident he can persuade 30 BN parliamentarians to support a no-confidence vote on 16 September, thereby overturning five decades of Barisan rule. Hopes that the stigma of these latest claims will register somewhere in the public consciousness may remain. But that seems of secondary consideration to Anwar's detractors at this panic-driven time. For Anwar's accusers, this latest sodomy allegation is the last throw of the dice. These are people on the point of political oblivion, fearing not just the end of a BN-dominated era, but the collapse of an entire network of power. While the charge seems transparently fabricated, the stakes are immensely high.

I recall being in the KL court room during Anwar's first trial in 1999 (on associated corruption charges - the subsequent sodomy trial followed in 2000). It felt like a monumental occasion, one that might even have precipitated Mahathir's own demise. Yet, while one sensed much sympathy for Anwar, at large, and a hopeful coalescing of new opposition forces, there was no doubting the enterprise of the Mahathir-led conspirators in seeing Anwar put safely out of circulation. At the time, there seemed little prospect of him ever returning to political prominence. How the tables have turned. The question now is whether the same methods can be used to turn them back again on Anwar.

I've always held key reservations about Anwar's political and economic credentials - not just with regard to his past UMNO/BN life, but in his too-close association with Western neoliberal institutions like the IMF and World Bank. However, Anwar's market leanings have to be viewed within the more immediate context of his iconic place within the Pakatan Rakyat and the very real prospects of it sweeping away the Barisan's power-obsessed network.

How any incoming PR government may fare in challenging both Malaysia's authoritarian and neoliberal afflictions remains to be seen. A more collective leadership with real progressive alternatives is a minimum requirement. One also hopes for a project dedicated to building a more thoughtful leftist-Islamic alignment. Like most other countries, Malaysia ultimately has to choose between the familiar 'imperatives' of market-driven 'growth' and sustainable people-led policies.

Whatever the unfolding case for meaningful reform and participatory democracy, there's the urgent removal of a tired and corrupt order to consider. Hopefully this latest malevolent action will prove to be the critical catalyst for long-awaited change. Then the more difficult work of reformasi can begin.


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