Malaysia’s embattled Anwar comes out swinging

Malaysia’s embattled Anwar comes out swinging
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First Published: Tue, Jul 01 2008. 01 07 PM IST
Updated: Tue, Jul 01 2008. 01 07 PM IST
Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was to stage a public rally Tuesday to fight back over allegations of sodomy that he says were orchestrated by the government to keep its grip on power.
Anwar, who spent six years in prison before a stunning return to politics in elections in March, has lodged a defamation suit over the allegations—the same charge that put him behind bars in this Muslim-majority nation in 1999.
Now after a dramatic interlude holed up in the Turkish embassy, where he took refuge at the weekend saying his life was in danger, Anwar is coming out swinging at the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
“We are now going on an offensive,” said Saiful Izham Ramli, a member of the policy board of Anwar’s Keadilan party, which leads a three-member opposition alliance.
“Now we have a game plan,” Saiful said.
He said there would be police reports made as well as a rally Tuesday night, part of a campaign to fight back against what Anwar and his party insist is a government campaign to keep him from challenging Abdullah to lead the nation.
Prime Minister Abdullah’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) helms a national coalition that has ruled the country since the former British colony won independence after World War II.
But Anwar’s opposition alliance made a surprisingly strong showing in March, grabbing one-third of the seats in parliament and undermining the coalition’s longtime hold on power in this nation of 25 million.
Now that a ban on public office after his earlier conviction has expired, Anwar says he was poised to enter parliament in a by-election when the government concocted the latest allegations by a 23-year-old male aide.
Analysts say the allegations could hurt the prime minister and actually help Anwar, a charismatic figure whose colourful political career has nevertheless long been accompanied by the tinge of scandal.
“A large number of people do not believe the allegations, and this whole episode may have benefited Anwar more than it has damaged his reputation,” said Ibrahim Suffian, a pollster from the Merdeka Centre.
Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998 in the midst of the Asian financial crisis which heightened his power struggle with then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Shortly after, he was charged with sodomy and corruption, and appeared in court with a black eye after a beating from the police chief.
The trial heard lurid allegations linking him with his driver, speech-writer and adopted brother, and a soiled mattress was hauled into court as evidence.
He spent six years in jail until the nation’s highest court overturned the sex conviction, and he emerged in poor health and spent several years recuperating and working as an academic.
Now the 60-year-old has been planning a political comeback, looking to win a parliament seat in the by-election and gather enough defectors from the ruling coalition to be able to take over as prime minister.
The US said Monday it would oppose any politically motivated investigation or prosecution of Anwar and hoped there was no “pattern” in the new accusations against him.
“The main point for us is that the rule of law needs to stand above politics,” said US State Department spokesman Tom Casey.
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First Published: Tue, Jul 01 2008. 01 07 PM IST