Anwar Announces for Malaysia’s Parliament

Apparently unfazed by the danger that he might be arrested at any time on sexual perversion charges, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim announced he would stand in a by-election for the Penang state parliamentary seat being vacated on his behalf by his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail.

Anwar made the statement today at a press conference, The election must be called within 60 days.

There is widespread skepticism over the charge of forcible sodomy, made by a 23-year-old aide who has been tied to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, Anwar’s rival for primacy as Malaysia’s leader. Najib first denied knowing the youth, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan. Then, after reports surfaced that he had his picture taken with Najib, the deputy prime minister said he had only spoken with him for “career counseling.” A further report surfaced from an eyewitness that Saiful had been discussing the sodomy charge with Najib, however.

Anwar spent 10 years in the political wilderness, six of them in prison after being convicted of charges of sodomy and political corruption in a case that human rights organizations widely viewed as trumped up.

The complaint by Saiful came under considerable fire when Raja Petra Kamaruddin, an influential blogger, produced a copy of a medical report indicating that a doctor’s examination of the youth had turned up no evidence of scarring or tearing that would indicate he had had anal intercourse.

Although a Kuala Lumpur web site closely aligned with Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi declared that “police have completed their investigations” and will soon charge the opposition leader. The attorney general, Abdul Ghani Patail, said he would decide whether to go forward amid signs that the Barisan Nasional, led by the United Malays National Organisation, is increasingly uncertain as to what to do. The case has been handed over to the solicitor general, Idris Harun, who will decide whether to go forward. One lawyer with close ties to UMNO said, however, that the government is likely to charge him.

There have been some attempts on blogs to discredit the physician, Mohamed Osman Abdul Hamid of Hospital Pusrawi, an Islamic Treatment Center, saying he was linked to Anwar. The hospital's general manager Wan Mahmood Wan Yaacob said the physician had actually checked Saiful for indigestion and stomach pain and not for sodomy, although the report itself clearly states that the youth wanted to file a police report – hardly something he would do for a stomach ache. According to Raja Petra, the police detained Mohamed and held him for three days in an attempt to get him to change his medical report. The police acknowledged that they had questioned Mohamed, but denied they had held him. The physician is now in hiding with his family.

With Anwar in the midst of a political comeback, many see the sodomy charges as a desperate attempt by the government to cling to power. He was arrested on July 15 and kept overnight but no charges were filed over the accusations, made by Saiful two weeks earlier. At the time, Anwar refused to provide a DNA sample, claiming that it could be misused to fake evidence against him. Police told Anwar to report back to them within 30 days.

With charges and counter charges flying back and forth, the crisis for Malaysia seems set to deepen as UMNO and it allies face the strongest challenge yet to their supremacy. The national ruling coalition lost its two-third majority in parliament for the first time since Malaysia became a country in March elections and faces an increasingly uncertain future, with the three-party opposition coalition predicting it could take power as soon as September. If Anwar wins a seat in the parliament, which seems likely, the opposition would need just 30 seats to gain a simple majority and overturn the Barisan’s 50-year reign.

If the opposition does take over, it is almost certain that opposition leaders will turn the power of the state to investigate long-standing corruption charges against UMNO leaders, particularly Najib. Anwar himself has filed a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Agency charging police chief Musa Hassan, who was the lead investigating officer, and Abdul Ghani Patail, who was the lead prosecutor, of fabricating evidence against him in 1998. A Royal Commission in March also exposed corrupt judiciary practices, alleging that the system has been manipulated by politicians, including Mahathir Mohamad.