Anwar Ibrahim out of jail

Published : Sep 24, 2004 00:00 IST

THE decision by Malaysia's Federal Court to set former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim free from prison by overturning his conviction in the "sodomy case" has indeed set a new benchmark for politics in that country and the rest of South-East Asia. When Anwar was released on September 2 he was serving a nine-year jail term. The release was ordered on the ground that the charge had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Anwar has lost much of his political standing and is not considered a force in Malaysia's politics, judged by the results of the last parliamentary elections. However, his image as a one-time dissident, especially during previous Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's long reign, has not lost its lustre all together. The latest 2-1 majority judgment, while not being related to the political ground realities in Malaysia, has, therefore, caught the imagination of the people in neighbouring countries.

The verdict is widely seen as a new beginning for a "healing process" in Malaysia, where Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is praised, by Anwar himself among others, for having let the law take its course in a politically sensitive case of "crime and punishment".

However, under Malaysia's current electoral laws, Anwar, who had consistently denied all the charges against him in the "sodomy case" as also in a "corruption case", can again compete for public office only after the end of a mandatory period of political disqualification, according to lawyer-commentator Karim Raslan and others.

The latest ruling is applicable only to the "sodomy case". Anwar had already spent time in prison in the "corruption case", in which he lost all appeals. As a result, the exact length of his post-release period of disqualification for elective positions will still have to be worked out. A factor to be considered is the prison term that he has already served in respect of the "sodomy case".

Soon after being sacked by Mahathir in 1998, Anwar found himself being tried on the charges that he had indulged in "corrupt practices while in office in a bid to cover his alleged sexual misconduct. Convicted and sentenced in April 1999 to a six-year prison term in that case, Anwar was thereafter tried and sentenced in the "sodomy case" too.

The eventual outcome, though, has prompted observers to portray the Malaysian system of governance as a "resilient and robust" dispensation. The moot point now is whether Anwar would eventually gravitate towards the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), his parent political party, or to the fundamentalist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which was founded to keep his followers enthused while he was in prison.

P.S. Suryanarayana
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