Permatang Pauh Hero: Mr. Anwar Returns


Mr. Anwar Ibrahim, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, has completed his rehabilitation with a stunning by-election win. Mr. Anwar won a landslide victory over his rival despite heavy campaigning by the government, including the prime minister and his deputy. He now promises to forge a coalition to wrest power from the Berisan Nasional, which has governed Malaysia since it won independence.

Mr. Anwar has had a remarkable career. He first gained public attention as a Muslim youth leader and went on to become a star in the United Malay National Organization, the biggest of the groups in the ruling coalition. Then, in a stunning development, he was fired as deputy prime minister in 1998 and jailed for six years after being convicted on charges of corruption and sodomizing his driver. Mr. Anwar has maintained that the charges were unfounded and the result of a power struggle with then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The conviction was overturned by Malaysia's Supreme Court in 2004, after Mr. Mahathir stepped down.

Mr. Anwar has since then fought for his rehabilitation and against the government. His wife formed an opposition party while he was jailed to support his personal and political causes. This week's by-election was called when she vacated her parliamentary seat to permit Mr. Anwar to re-enter Parliament. Her move was prompted by two developments. The first was gains by the opposition party in March elections: A three-party coalition led by Mr. Anwar won 82 of 222 parliamentary seats, 30 short of a majority. The second was a new allegation that he had sodomized another aide. Mr. Anwar again says the charges are unfounded and politically motivated. The election result suggests voters believe him. Opposition parties' readiness to name him their parliamentary leader suggests they do too.

That does not mean he will not be convicted, however, which would likely end his political career. Nor does his win mean that the government is his to claim. Mr. Anwar wants to end the racial preferences that have protected Malays and — some assert — helped create a culture of corruption in Malaysia. That is easy to support in theory, but the government's ability to hand out benefits — which it has done for years to support its rule — can overwhelm such abstract concerns. Mr. Anwar's appeal will be tested against the government's budget. That is just one of the tools that it will roll out as it tries to roll over its nemesis.

The Japan Times
30/08/08

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