Malaysia: Ibrahim aquittal a boost for opposition

Opposition supporters rallying outside High Court in Kuala Lumpur. Photo by Abah Anas.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) ,was acquitted on January 9 by the country’s High Court of the second round of politically motivated “sodomy” charges. He was jailed for six years under the former Barisan Nasional (BN) government of Mohamed Mahathir on similar charges.

Police dispersed jubilant opposition supporters outside the court using the excuse that three small bombs had exploded nearby.

Green Left Weekly's Peter Boyle spoke with Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) MP Jeyakumar Devaraj about the acquittal.

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What do you think is the significance of the court’s acquittal of Anwar Ibrahim?

Politically it was the smartest thing for the government to do. Convicting Anwar would have generated more sympathy for him and deepened the antipathy against the government. The acquittal, however, will be used by the PKR and Anwar as a vindication of their claim that this was a politically motivated trial. It definitely will give a boost to the opposition.

We also think it is good thing too because we are freer to focus on the real issues affecting people. If Anwar was convicted or worse denied bail, then there would be a lot more focus on him.

Was there a big mobilisation organised in support outside the High Court?

About 8000 [people] I would say. There would have been much larger mobilisations had they convicted him and denied bail.

Who do you think is behind the three bombs that were set off and what do you think was their likely purpose?

Either right-wing racist groups or a faction of the police. The likely purpose [was] to give ammunition to the factions that would like such mobilisations to be denied permission on the excuse that they are “too dangerous”, that there is a “risk of public disorder”.

Does this reflect whether the BN government is on the front or back foot in the lead up to the next general election?

The fact that they let Anwar off is an indication they feel that the tide is turning against them. We also see the BN handing out “goodies” to the public. They are desperate because the indications are that even the Malay majority is swinging towards the opposition coalition. But they will still use every dirty trick they can if they feel they can get away with it.

So Anwar’s release should not be taken as a sign that the government is becoming more “ethical”. I think they are just being realistic and are cutting their losses on this one.