Monday, June 30, 2008

From The Times UK: "Government 'smear' in Malaysia causes crisis for opposition"

Government 'smear' in Malaysia causes crisis for opposition
Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor

Malaysia was facing its gravest political crisis in a decade last night after Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, was accused of sodomy — a charge that led to rioting when it was first made against him ten years ago.

Mr Anwar, the leader of the People's Justice Party (PKR), fled to the Turkish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur yesterday because of death threats, which he received after the fresh allegations. He indignantly denied the claim, made to police over the weekend, that he sodomised a 23-year-old party aide last week in a Kuala Lumpur flat.

Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, and in 1999 Mr Anwar was sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted of having sexual relations with his male driver.

He insisted that the charge was trumped up for political reasons by the ruling United Malay National Organisation (Umno), because of the challenge that Mr Anwar, then Deputy Prime Minister, was planning to make against his boss, Mahathir Mohamad, then the Prime Minister.

In 2004 the conviction was overturned by Malaysia's top court, although Mr Anwar, who was also convicted of corruption, was barred from standing for parliament until April this year. In March, however, the opposition coalition that he leads achieved its greatest electoral success, coming close to toppling Umno and drastically undermining the leadership of Abdullah Badawi, the current Prime Minister.

Mr Anwar said recently that supporters of the Government were planning to change sides and that the PKR would be able to seize control of parliament in September. Among his supporters, the latest accusations will be regarded as a crude ploy to smear and foil again Malaysia's most brilliant leader in a generation.

To his enemies they will be further evidence of his unfitness for office in a Muslim majority country where homosexuality is regarded by many as abhorrent.

“The allegations that have been made against me on Saturday are nothing more than a replay of the events which transpired in 1998,” Mr Anwar, 61, said. “This charade was orchestrated by a corrupt ... leadership which made use of the entire apparatus of the state power including its control of the judiciary, the police force, and its grip on the media.”

Mr Abdullah, who has come under intense pressure to resign after his party's poor performance in the elections, said: “We had no plans to do anything to him just because he says he's made a political comeback ... [it is] common for an accused person to claim he was innocent.”

The arrest and imprisonment of Mr Anwar in 1998 was a moment of high tension for Malaysia, a confrontation between a conservative and authoritarian establishment led by Dr Mahathir and the forces of liberalism, led by Mr Anwar. About 100,000 people marched in protest at his arrest.

When Mr Anwar appeared in court with bruises over his face, worldwide public opinion was outraged.

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