One of the most well-known politicians in Malaysia is the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. A former student radical and author a book on philosophy called “The Asian Renaissance”, he was anointed by Mahathir as his successor. Mahathir had originally planned to step down in 1998 paving the way for Anwar to succeed him but things started to go wrong after the Asian economic crisis in 1997-98.

Paul Wolfowitz wrote in Time, “During the 1990s, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and a group of U.S. Senators organized a forum to exchange views among East Asians and Americans. Asked at one session about the role of Islam in politics, Anwar replied, "I have no use for governments which call themselves Islamic and then deny basic rights to half their population." This devout Muslim leader was an impressive and eloquent advocate of tolerance, democracy and human rights. So we were shocked by his arrest and trial in 1998 on charges of corruption and sodomy. I felt his real "crime" had been to challenge Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, whose impressive record will be forever stained by his treatment of Anwar. When he was finally released from prison in 2004, U.S. policy on Iraq was unpopular in Malaysia, and Anwar was harshly critical. It would have been easy for him to disown our friendship, but he is not that kind of person. He kept the channels of dialogue open, even while making clear our disagreements. [Source: Paul Wolfowitz, Time, May 12, 2008, Wolfowitz is a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense /-/]

“Anwar, 60, is back in the center of Malaysian politics. The coalition led by his wife Wan Azizah has become the main opposition bloc. His future role can be determined only by Malaysians. One can hope that they will embrace his brand of tolerance, valuing dialogue across political differences, and that this courageous leader will continue to play a leading role on the world stage. /-/

Anwar's Early Life

The son of rubber plantation workers and rice farmers, Anwar was born on August 10, 1947 and brought up in a village house without running water and electricity. He was known as studious child who never missed his prayers. Anwar attend Malay College in the northern town of Kuala Kangsar, one of Malaysia's top schools, where was exposed to Western learning and he earned a reputation as a firebrand Islamic youth leader. He said he war inspired by John F. Kennedy, Che Guevara, and Zhou Enlai. Anwar was married in 1979 to Wan Azizah, an opthamologist trained in Ireland, as part of an arranged marriage set up in part by their parents. Anwar and Azizah have six children, aged 6 to 19 in 1999.

Anwar has a reputation of being suave and articulate. Regarded as both an Islamic activist and a Western-influenced liberal, he doesn't drink alcohol and prays five times but is well versed in Western literature and political thought. He is just as comfortable quoting from Confucius, de Tocqueville, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Shakespeare as his he is from the Koran. He doesn't advocate that women wear veils or limbs be chopped off as punishment.

Anwar was president of the Malaysian Muslim Students Union in university. Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, in the 1970s, Anwar and Dr Mahathir steadily gained influence. By 1981, Dr Mahathir was prime minister. A year later, Anwar, who could easily have joined PAS, was brought into the government to help put Dr Mahathir’s ethnic theories into practice through the so-called New Economic Policy. He continued to do so until the late 1990s, when the consequences had become too blatant to ignore.”

Anwar's Early Political Career

At Malaya University in Kuala Lumpur, Anwar pushed for road signs to be changed from English to Bahasa and founded the pro-Islamic Malaysian Youth Movement. He was jailed without a trial for 22 months in 1974 under the Internal Security Act for leading anti-government demonstration intended to bring attention to poverty in the north. In 1979, Anwar was one of the first foreigners to visit Iran and congratulate the Ayatollah Khomeini. Anwar later said the Ayatollah was "very polite though you couldn't engage him."

Mahathir was Anwar's mentor. Anwar visited Mahathir in 1970s when he was exiled. Anwar sort of bullied his way into the HMNO by making moves to join the Islamic PAS party. Mahathir put Anwar on the fast track. Anwar served as the ministers of Culture, Youth and Sports in 1983, Agriculture un 1968, Education and finally Finance in 1991. In 1993, Anwar was made Deputy Prime Minister after organizing his supporters within the HMNO in such as way that Mahathir had little choice but to appoint him. Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “He was poised to succeed Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. And then he got overconfident.”

Mahathir and Anwar lived side by side. Mahathir had such faith in Anwar’s ability that he let him lead the country for two months in 1997 while he took a two-month extended vacation. During those two months, Anwar passes tough anti-corruption legislation, raised questions about the $6 billion Bakun dam project and created Peace Corps-like organization. Anwar was in office when the Thai currency crisis happened. When Mahathir returned he reversed many of Anwar’s policies.

Falling Out Between Anwar and Mahathir

After the Asian economic crisis in 1997-98 Anwar and Mahathir had a falling out over how the country should deal with the crisis. Anwar was friendly with international financiers and he promoted the International Monetary Fund’s prescription of reducing government spending and eneacting tight monetary policies. Mahathir accused him selling out to foreign interests and chose to blame foreign currency traders for the crisis.

At that time it seemed as if the two men differed on almost very issue, especially economic ones.. After a coup in Cambodia, for example, Mahathir criticized efforts by Western human rights advocates while Anwar said it was time for Southeast Asia to create a sort of peace keeping force there. The fall of Suharto in May 1998 gave Anwar and his supporters courage to speak out more openly and brazenly against the government. Anwar accused Mahathir of cronyism.

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “Starting in the summer of 1997, when the Malaysian currency and stock market lost more than half of their value in the Asian financial meltdown, Anwar did something that Dr Mahathir found unforgivable. Even as the prime minister was imposing capital controls and blaming “rogue speculators,” such as George Soros, for the crisis, Anwar launched an attack on “nepotism” and “cronyism” in his own party, UMNO, which had been in power since independence. The “cronies” included members of Dr Mahathir’s family. While Dr Mahathir tried to bail out banks and corporations run by his allies, Anwar talked about transparency and accepting some of the International Monetary Fund’s recommendations for liberalising the economy. Dr Mahathir does not like to be contradicted. In 1998, Anwar was removed from the Cabinet and from UMNO. [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009]

On September 2, 1998, Anwar was asked to resign deputy prime minister. He refused and was sacked. Hours after he was dismissed, Anwar railed the Mahathir government, saying, "I was not ready to resign because I had repeatedly said that there was a conspiracy at the highest level to see my downfall."

Arrest and Trial Anwar Ibrahim

On September 20, 1998, Anwar was arrested after leading an anti-government demonstration with 30,000 people and charged with sodomy and corruption. Mahathir said, "I cannot accept a man who is a sodomist to become the leader of this country."

Shortly after he was arrested, Anwar showed up at court with a black eye and bruises. This caught the attention of the international media and all of a sudden the Anwar story was front page news. Anwar said that he was arrested by police in ski masks who broke into his home and handcuffed and blindfolded him and taken to a police station, where he was beaten until he fell unconscious. Anwar sustained a serious back injury during the beating and showed up at court in neck brace. In February, police chief Abdul Rahim Noor admitted punching and slapping Anwar during questioning.

The trial was the longest on Malaysian history. In what was dubbed as Malaysia's "Trial of the Century," Anwar was accused of committing sodomy and portrayed as being a promiscuous bisexual. He denied the charges and pleaded innocent. Rumors about Anwar’s sex life had been circulating for years. Publicly humiliating someone in Malaysian culture is considered unforgivable bad manners. For many Malaysians, Mahathir’s dragging Anwar's name through the mud was considered the ultimate violation of Malaysia ethics.

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, Anwar “was charged with corruption, and with sodomising his speechwriter and his wife’s chauffeur, and convicted. Under Malaysian law, “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Anwar denied everything and took to the road, addressing crowds all over the country. When he was barred from speaking in halls, he spoke in mosques or parking lots, standing on top of trucks or cars. “The government is trying to keep the people away from me,” he declared. “I am not afraid. No matter what happens, whether in prison . . . I will still strive, I will still fight, I will not step down.” While awaiting trial, Anwar...says that attempts were made to poison him...The 1998 trial was a humiliating spectacle, with elements of dark comedy: a mattress with semen stains produced as evidence in court; police claims that Anwar had beaten himself up by pressing a glass onto his own face. [Source: Ian Buruma,The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 ]

“After his arrest, Anwar says, Dr Mahathir gave a slide show for his Cabinet colleagues, to justify the purge of his former heir apparent. There were photographs of current and former US officials “” Robert Rubin, William Cohen and Paul Wolfowitz “” along with the World Bank president James Wolfensohn. “These are the people behind Anwar,” Dr Mahathir explained. (Dr Mahathir denies showing any pictures but allows, “I informed the Cabinet about Anwar’s associates.” ) Nobody was likely to miss the implication; Dr Mahathir has clearly stated his conviction that “Jews rule this world by proxy.” At the Hilton, Anwar, who started his career as the president of the Malaysian Muslim Students Union, and is a devout Muslim, shrugged. “They say I’m a Jewish agent, because of my friendship with Paul,” he said. “They also accuse me of being a lackey of the Chinese.” His eyebrows twitched in a gesture of disbelief, and he emitted a dry, barking laugh.”

Corruption and Sodomy Charges and Flimsy Evidence Against Anwar

The corruption charges against Anwar stemmed from alleged attempt by Anwar to tell police to obtain retractions from two people who had accused him of sex crimes. One of the policeman who had allegedly been coerced had written earlier that charges against Anwar were "baseless" and "made of mere belief and suspicion" by a "a certain group" with their own agenda. He also said the he might lie under oath if Mahathir told him to.

Anwar and his brother Sukma Darmawan were charged with having homosexual sex with Anwar’s former driver Azizan Abu Bakar. Anwar called the charges “trumped up.” After the charges were made Mahathir told the press. “They had not only performed anal intercourse, but during the process...I don’t know how you call it...he was masturbating the man.”

Bakar said Anwar forced him to commit homosexual acts against his will. He gave a sworn written statement that said he had been Anwar's "homosexual slave" and a "victim of homosexual acts by Anwar Ibrahim" several times and then testified in court that the statements were true and he observed Anwar on several occasion "wearing a wig."

The prosecution tried to be as lurid and graphic as possible in the presentation of evidence against Anwar. As part of the evidence that he indeed had sex, a mattress allegedly stained with Anwar’s semen was brought in as evidence. People in the courtroom saw a mattress with 13 pieces of clothe sniped off and taken to labs for DNA and blood testing. Parallels with Monica Lewinsky's stained dress were made. The mattress was later discredited as evidence.

The sexual misconduct charges were especially flimsy. Government prosecutors switched the dates of the supposed offense three times and the driver had been asked by police to testify to a new date. The first date change was blamed on a typographical error. The third was brought up after Anwar gave solid alibis for the previous two dates. He had an alibi for the third date switch too. In a tactic legal under Malaysian law the prosecution said the sexual event occurred “one night between the month of January an March 1993 at about 7:45.”

Anwar’s adopted brother initially implicated Anwar in the sex scandal but then later said that the police had forced him to lie about the affair. He said the police had threatened him with a 20 year prison sentence if he didn’t cooperate. Anwar's former private secretary testified that he was detained by police, stripped naked and told to say that he had been sodomized by Anwar. "They also wanted me to say that he is a sodomist, womanizer and corrupt...That’s all rubbish." Two other accusers recanted their confessions.

Anwar Ibrahim in Prison

In April 1999, Anwar was found guilty of four corruption charges and sentenced to six years in prison for corruption. Each of the corruption charges that had been brought against him carried a maximum 14-year jail term which could have been added for a total of 56 years. "I have been dealt a judgment that stinks to high heaven," Anwar said.

In August 2000, Anwar was found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to nine years in prison. The judge announced that Anwar committed “despicable acts” in our society” and deserved the “utmost condemnation.” Anwar’s brother Sukma Darmawan was also found guilt of sodomy and sentenced to six years in prison and four strokes with a cane.

Anwar was sentenced to serve the nine year sentence with the six year sentence, bringing the total to 15 years. After he was released he was restricted from political office for 5 years. The imprisonment was largely seem as the end of a promising political career. During part of his stay in jail Anwar was kept in solitary confinement and was allowed to see his wife only once a month. Once he was hospitalized with high arsenic levels and claimed he was poisoned.

While Anwar was in prison his wife Azizah kept the fire burning. She told the New York Times, "There are times when the stress is unbearable. I have to head this party. My husband is behind bars. I have children at home. But there is this tremendous, overwhelming support from the people, and I think, I can't let them down."

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “Years of solitary confinement provided much time for thought. “Prison life is such that you have to impose a punishing discipline on yourself,” Anwar told me. “Otherwise, you become lethargic, or a psycho.” Deprived of books for the first six months, Anwar was eventually allowed to read Tocqueville, Shakespeare, Confucius, the Indian and Arabic classics. He also received a subscription to The New Yorker. But there were times when he would have given anything to hear a human voice, even to be scolded by a guard. Family visits were always brief. His children would sing old pop songs to him. Anwar looked wistfully out the window as he sang the first bars of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” The experience seems to have made him a humbler man. In an interview given three months after his release from prison, he told writer Eddin Khoo, “To be frank and honest, I cannot absolve myself entirely of the excesses of (Dr Mahathir’s) administration. There were some things that were beyond our control, other things we simply did not have the courage to address at that time.” [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009]

Support for Anwar and the Launching of the Reformasi Movement

The arrest of Anwar triggers demonstrations for “Reformasi” (“Reform”) by Anwar's supporters, mostly students and young people. While Queen Elizabeth was visiting Malaysia in September 1998, demonstrations were broken up with water cannons that fired a fluid that "stung the eyes, choked the throat and hung in the air for half-an-hour," according to the Independent.

After the verdict was read riots broke out in Kuala Lumpur in which angry demonstrators called for Mahathir’s ouster. hurled rocks at police, set bonfires, smashed car windows and overturned garbage cans. Police fired tea gas, used water cannons and doused demonstrators with a smelly yellow liquid. One activist, who was beaten badly by police, told AP, "They kicked my head and body and whacked stomach. They just went crazy." In other demonstration that followed, the police cracked down equally hard.

Amnesty International and 14 other human rights organizations issued a statements that read: "The unsubstantiated affidavits, vague insinuations of treason and other nebulous accusations that have been presented through the media without right of reply are unacceptable...The total lack of transparency in this episode is a reflection of the utter contempt and disregard that the Prime Minister has for the people of his country."

The Reformasi movement brought together student liberals and members of the Islamic PAS party. The demonstrators have included housewives and professionals as well as students. With Anwar in prison, his wife, Azizah Ismail was thrust into the position as the leader of the reform movement. She became the leader of a new multiracial Keadilan (National Justice Party), which later became linked with the Islamic PAS party. Although many saw the trial as unfair it failed to hurt Mahathir as much as the opposition had hoped.

Although Mahathir hold on power was never in question, the Anwar incident did raise eyebrows about his governing style and seemed to showcase all his excesses. Most Malaysian it seemed believed that Anwar was no saint but thought it was unlikely that he committed sodomy and his long prison sentence was unfair and unjustified. It was only because Mahathir has done so much for Malaysia’s development that he maintained his grip on power.

After the 1999 elections Keadilan formed a coalition with the Chinese-supported Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the PAS known as the Alternative Front (Barisan Alternatif). The result of this was that the PAS won a number of Malay seats from UMNO, but many Chinese voters disapproved of this unnatural alliance with the Islamist PAS, causing the DAP to lose many of its seats to the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), including that of its veteran leader, Lim Kit Siang. Wan Azizah won her husband’s former constituency in Penang but otherwise Keadilan made little impact.

Anwar Released from Prison

In September 2004, Anwar was released for prison after spending six years there when his sodomy charge was overturned on appeal and his corruption sentence had expired. Because of his back problem he was taken out of the prison in a wheelchair. A few weeks after his release he flew to Munich for surgery on his back for injuries he claims he sustained while in detention. Around the same time Anwar announced that he was going to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca and said he was not interested in rejoining the ruling UMNO party.

The high court ruling came within a year of Mahathir retiring in 2003. Malaysia’s highest court threw out the sodomy charges against him but not the corruption charges. Anwar denied all the charges, saying they were contrived to end his career after he led anti-government protests after falling out with Mahathir Mohamad, the then prime minister, over Mahathir's handling of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. After his release, Anwar said, “"It's been a terrible time. It's been almost nine years, so at last I have freedom." The corruption conviction means he cannot hold a public post until 2008 although he has been named special adviser to the opposition People's Justice Party that Anwar's wife started when he was in jail.

On changes to Anwar after his arrest in late 1990s, Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “Almost up to the time of his arrest he was still regarded as a rather arrogant UMNO man. I tried to picture the haughty technocrat as he smiled at me in his daughter’s sparsely furnished office at the PKR headquarters. All I saw was a charmer, whose fine dark hair, snappy spectacles, and black goatee gave him the air of a jazz-loving hipster of the 1950s. Even at his own party headquarters, he spoke softly, sometimes in a whisper, aware that anything he said was likely to be overheard. A retired Indian civil servant told me about hearing Anwar speak in the district contested by his daughter in 2008. It was near midnight and pouring down rain, yet more than 1,000 people waited until Anwar arrived, on the back of a motorcycle, drenched. When he spoke, the crowd fell silent, listening to every word. Then, suddenly, a number of Indians began to shout, in Tamil, “Makkal Sakti!” “” “People Power! People Power!” And the Malays and Chinese repeated it after them, louder and louder “” an unusual demonstration of multi-ethnic solidarity. [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009]

Anwar’s Political Activities After His Release from Prison

Anwar emerged from prison in poor health and spent several years recuperating and working as an academic, spending part of his tim in Washington and at Oxford. After his release Anwar called for reforms, a freer news media, fair elections and an independent judiciary but failed in a final court bid to have his criminal record erased so he could run for political office. Under Malaysian he not able to run for a party office or a parliament seat until April 2008. The government was expected to call a poll before then. Only a rare royal pardon could override the ban. The UMNO announced that there was o chance that Anwar would be let back into the party. Prime Minister Abdullah said. “I have no intention of bringing him back into the party. Why should I be planning to make a deal with Anwar? He has been going against us and he is an opposition member.”

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “When Anwar was released from prison, in 2004, after six years in solitary confinement, he announced that he would return to politics.” In 2008 “Dr Mahathir was asked by a reporter whether he thought Anwar would ever be the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Dr Mahathir replied that “he would make a good Prime Minister of Israel.”He is still under constant surveillance, he said. Sensitive political business has to be handled in other capitals, Jakarta, Bangkok or Hong Kong. Security is a constant worry. Intelligence sources from three countries have warned him to be careful. “I’m taking a big risk just walking into this hotel to see you, but what can I do?” he murmured. “It’s all too exhausting. But, you know, sometimes you just have to take risks.” [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 ]

In October 2004, after returning to Malaysia after receiving medical care in Germany and going on the Hajj in Mecca, Associated Press reported: “In a sign that the government was tightening the noose on his political comeback, police set up road blocks on all major roads to prevent Anwar supporters from going to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport where he arrived. The government also refused to permit a welcome rally at a soccer stadium. But an estimated 1,000 followers who managed to sneak past the blockade cheered loudly and chanted "Reformasi," the slogan of his political reform movement, as he slowly walked out of the terminal, holding the hand of his wife, Azizah Ismail."I am very happy to be back home. I will push forward my agenda for reform and work hard for the people," Anwar, 57, said, smiling broadly and wearing a garland of flowers someone had thrown around his neck. "We want to create a Malaysia that truly stands for justice and goes beyond the interests of just one race or party. We will need the support of everyone," Anwar said, referring to the government's policy of giving special privileges to the Malays over Chinese and Indians. He said his main concerns were the large gap between the rich and the poor, race relations and corruption. He also made it clear that he has no intention of joining UMNO. [Source: AP, November 1, 2004]

Thomas Fuller wrote in the International Herald Tribune in 2005, “When Anwar Ibrahim travels through the heartland of Malaysia, past the oil palm plantations and durian groves, he says, his supporters greet him with signs saying, "Welcome Anwar Ibrahim, the sixth prime minister of Malaysia." The current prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, is the country's fifth since independence in 1957, so the message is clear: Anwar... is their hope as Abdullah's successor. [Source: Thomas Fuller, International Herald Tribune, August 19, 2005 \=/]

“For several months Malaysia has shown signs of remaking itself as a nation with a more open political ethos. And it would be tempting to conclude that Anwar's gradual rehabilitation as a political figure is part of this trend. But even Anwar acknowledges that it is too early to draw any such conclusion. Among supporters, at least, an aide to Anwar, Adlin Zabri, summed up the feeling of relief well. "Vindication is an understatement," Adlin said. "It's part of the slow process to clean up his name, to prove to the people that all these allegations are actually trumped up." \=/

“Since his release from prison almost a year ago, Anwar has been described as a potential threat to the current ruling elite - but the emphasis has been on potential. Anwar remains firmly outside of the political machinery that has had a lock on Malaysian politics for the nearly 50 years of Malaysia's independence, a system where each major race has its own political party represented in a grand coalition. Instead, Anwar influences Malaysian politics more as a combination of statesman and dissident. In recent weeks, Anwar has suggested what no major Malay politician has dared in the past: that the system of affirmative action for Malays and other ethnic groups be abolished."Affirmative action is no longer relevant. It is obsolete," Anwar said in the interview. "This was a vehicle to enrich a few families and cronies." \=/

In December 2004, Anwar said that Malaysia must scrap the Internal security Law, a repressive law that allows the government to jail people with trial. He said the law “is meant to protect excesses and corruption and instill fear in citizens to prevent them from expressing their views.”

In August 2005, Anwar won an apology from a former chief of police for beating him in custody in 1998 and giving him a black eye. Associated Press reported: “In return for the apology and an unspecified sum of money, Mr Anwar dropped his lawsuit against the former police chief, Rahim Noor. Mr Rahim had hit Mr Anwar on the night he was arrested on criminal charges that were widely viewed as being politically motivated. "I appeal to my friends in the police force to take heed of this and conduct themselves professionally for the sake of the country," Mr Anwar said after Mr Rahim's lawyer read out the apology in court. Mr Rahim was given a brief jail sentence and fined by a court in 2000 after pleading guilty to hitting Mr Anwar. He has been out of the public eye since.Mr Anwar dropped demands for a similar apology from Dr Mahathir and the present government of Abdullah Badawi. "Naturally, the other parties have not shown the same sort of remorse," Mr Anwar said, "but it's to my mind a satisfactory solution." [Source: AP, August 4, 2005]

Anwar Urges End to Pro-Malay Affirmative Action and Cozies Up with Islamists

In August 2005, Anwar said the affirmative action policy that favors Malays should be scrapped. Associated Press reported: Anwar “called for ending the long-standing privileges of the majority Malays — a bold attack on a racially sensitive affirmative action policy that few Malaysians had dared to question before. Anwar said the program is obsolete and corrupt as only a few well-connected Malays have benefited from it at the expense of other Malays, Chinese and Indians. "The policy should be scrapped. Meritocracy should be the flavor," Anwar told a news conference at his house. The policy, considered by most Malays as their birthright, was instituted in 1970 in a bid to improve their economic lot. No notable politician of any race has ever suggested scrapping it for fear of alienating Malays, and Anwar was taking a huge political gamble with his call. "What we need to do is to improve the standard of living of all the races," said Anwar. [Source: Associated Press, August 6, 2005]

“At an annual congress of the ruling party of Malays a month before, delegates called for strengthening the affirmative-action policy. Anwar said party leaders should understand that Malays are ready to stand on their feet. "It is time we build a new consensus — a Malaysian consensus to have a determined effort to combat poverty among rural Malays, estate Indians who are still living in deplorable conditions and Chinese squatters in urban areas," Anwar said.

A few months earlier Anwar was invited by Islamic politicians to form a coalition. Jalil Hamid of Reuters reported: Malaysia’s Islamic party invited Anwar to galvanize opposition parties into an alliance to challenge the ruling party. Malaysia’s disparate opposition parties see Anwar as their best hope yet to mount a serious challenge to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s multiracial coalition, which has ruled since independence in 1957. Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), an opposition force until it was crushed in 2004 polls, is ready to accept Anwar into the opposition fold, party chief Hadi Awang told the PAS faithful. “He has charisma and credibility that can strengthen us,” Hadi said at the PAS annual assembly in the party’s stronghold, the northern state of Kelantan. “We accept him as a leader.” The blunt-speaking bearded cleric also dismissed the government’s anti-corruption drive as mere rhetoric and called on Badawi to immediately lift a political ban on Anwar. [Source: Jalil Hamid, Reuters, June 4, 2005]

“Hadi, 57, also told the assembly that PAS would not compromise on its struggle to turn Malaysia into a strict Islamic state. “PAS is at a critical crossroads. I would like to remind you that our struggle is based on the Qur’an,” he told about 3,000 party members. PAS in theory wants Malaysia to be an Islamic state based on Shariah law. Anwar, who skipped the assembly, has said PAS is misunderstood in the West as an extremist party.Hadi agreed. “We don’t go about and bomb discos unlike in other countries,” Hadi said, in an apparent reference to attacks by suspected militants in Indonesia and Thailand.

Anwar Forms an Alliance with Islamists and Pro-Chinese Parties

Anwar helped form an alliance made up of the PAS, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan, led by Anwar’s wife. Anwar's opposition alliance is the only significant rival to the government coalition that has been in power since independence in 1957.

Associated Press reported: “Of the opposition parties, PAS appeals most to Malaysia’s majority ethnic Malays, Muslim by state definition. The DAP, backed mainly by ethnic Chinese, has more parliamentary seats but it is PAS that worries the government. PAS became aligned with Keadilan before Anwar was released from prison in 2004. Both parties both received a drubbing at the 2004 election, making them eager to talk about alliances with DAP, although DAP supporters have deep misgivings about PAS’s Islamic agenda.

Anwar, Race, the Internet and the Malaysian Opposition

On the concurrence of Anwar’s rise as opposition leader and the rise of the Internet and debate on racial issues, Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “His arrest in 1998 was probably the making of him as an opposition leader. It came at a time when Malaysian society was beginning to open up, especially on the Internet. Steven Gan is one of the founders of Inspired by Anwar’s call for reformasi, political change, he launched the site with his partner, Premesh Chandran, in November of 1999. On the night of Anwar’s arrest, 10,000 people had turned out to listen to his speech against bribery, ethnic discrimination, and rule by decree. Reformasi became the rallying cry of all those who felt disaffected by the corrupt autocracy that Malaysia had become. Every Malaysian able to go online knew what Anwar said when he was sentenced at his trial: “I have been dealt a judgment that stinks to high heaven. . . . The corrupt and despicable conspirators are like worms wriggling in the hot sun. A new dawn is breaking in Malaysia. Let us cleanse our beloved nation of the filth and garbage left behind by the conspirators. Let us rebuild a bright new Malaysia for our children.” [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 ]

“When we launched Malaysiakini, we had 500 readers,” Gan told The New Yorker. “By the time the decision went against Anwar in the sodomy trial, we had 300,000.” Malaysiakini, which has paid subscribers, actually makes a profit. One of the effects of Malaysiakini “” and of a number of immensely popular bloggers, such as Raja Petra Kamarudin and Haris Ibrahim “” is the emergence of a genuinely multi-ethnic debate. Raja Petra is the aristocrat, related to the Sultan of Selangor. Haris is a half-Malay lawyer. Another influential figure is Jeff Ooi Chuan Aun, a Chinese IT consultant turned politician. Divisions that exist in daily life seem to fade away online. Malaysiakini is published in English, Malay, Tamil, and Chinese. “Malaysiakini has provided a platform for different communities to express themselves on sensitive issues, like NEP, Islam, human rights,” Gan says. “More non-Malays are finding their voice. They no longer feel they need to leave their country.”

The demonstration on the night of Anwar’s arrest was largely a Malay affair; it took a little longer for the minorities to stir in public. Indians had largely supported the ruling Barisan Nasional, which was led by UMNO and backed by the MIC. This changed in November of 2007, when thousands of Indians marched in the streets to deliver a petition to the British High Commission, insisting that the British take responsibility for the treatment of Indians under colonial rule. It was really a stunt to protest against ethnic discrimination. But the petition never reached the High Commissioner: soldiers and riot police with water cannons and tear gas cracked down on the protesters with maximum force.

“I shall never forget that day,” Charles Santiago, an MP who took part in the protests, told me. “There was pent-up frustration there before, but that day something snapped.” The frustration had many sources: blocked job prospects, discrimination in education and property ownership, destruction of Hindu temples, young Indian men dying mysteriously in police stations and prisons. “The point of the petition was to raise consciousness among Indians about their rights, to embarrass the government,” Santiago explained. “But the crackdown was so heavy-handed that even the Chinese became sympathetic to our cause.” It was the first time, Santiago said, that “people of all stripes, rich and poor, went into the streets to make a point “” this is what broke the back of UMNO.” The MIC lost heavily in the March 2008 elections, as did the MCA. Many Indians and Chinese voted for Anwar’s PKR.

Anwar’s Alliance Does Surprisingly Well in 2008 Elections

In March 2008, Anwar led a three-party opposition alliance—made up of the Islamic party PAS, the pro-Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan, led by Anwar’s wife— to unprecedented gains against the ruling UMNO party in general elections Anwar's three-party opposition alliance won an unprecedented 82 of Parliament's 222 seats — 30 short of a majority — as well as control of five states. Among the seats won by the opposition was Permatang Pauh by Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Anwar could not contest the March elections because of a ban on holding political office stemming from his previous corruption conviction. Anwar’s future was thrown into jeopardy some months later when a handsome 26-year-old former aide, accused Anwar of forcing him to have sex in an apartment.

On the election victory AFP reported: “Opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim hailed "a new dawn for Malaysia" after stunning election results that cemented his political comeback after being sacked and jailed a decade ago. The performance has even revived talk of the charismatic 60-year-old as a future prime minister. Anwar delivered a crushing blow to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition by rallying the opposition parties to their best performance in Malaysian history, seizing four states and more than a third of parliamentary seats. He weathered blistering personal attacks during the campaign from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's ruling party, which was clearly rattled as he criss-crossed the nation delivering barn-storming speeches. [Source: AFP, March 9, 2008 ==]

“A jubilant Anwar said the opposition now had to prove it was a credible alternative to the coalition which has completely dominated Malaysian politics for half a century. "It is a new dawn for Malaysia," he told AFP. "People want to see justice." Anwar's Keadilan party won 31 seats for the biggest opposition presence in the new 222-seat parliament, from just one in the outgoing parliament. The Chinese-based Democratic Action Party won 28 and the Islamic party PAS won 23. ==

“Anwar said the results exploded Malaysia's race-based political structure, under which parties have traditionally represented individual ethnic groups. "The opposition that has been voted in is a truly multi-racial party. It is a fantastic setup," he said. "I will help the Malays, but it will be done justly, and in the same breath I will help the Indians and the Chinese." Political observers said Anwar could rule the country if he managed to consolidate the successes of the disparate opposition parties. "He played a major role in the opposition's success. Anwar remains very influential. He delivered a powerful blow to the ruling party," Mohamad Agus Yusoff from the National University of Malaysia told AFP. "Anwar has denied the Barisan its two-third majority. He could one day become the prime minister. If the Barisan remains weak, we could see it being toppled in the next polls," he added. In further victories for Anwar's family, his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail extended her majority in her constituency in the island state of Penang, while his daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar won her first election fight. ==

At the time of the election inflation rates and unease over economic issues were high while Prime Minister was accused of literally sleeping on the job. “Bread and butter issues have been essential in all the constituencies,” said Bridget Welsh, a specialist in Malaysian politics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, told the New York Times. See Separate Article ABDULLAH AHMAD BADAWI

Mohamad Agus said the coalition's rhetoric that Anwar was no longer relevant had sowed the seeds for its defeat. "They adopted a denial syndrome. They failed to realise that Anwar represented the symbol of justice and had the capacity to woo voters across any age-group," he said. Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a political analyst and UMNO watcher, said the opposition would have to forge an alliance and create a two-party system in order to build a future for itself. "Only then will Anwar have a chance to become a prime minister and maybe he could be a prime minister in the next 10 years," he told AFP. Anwar said he felt "truly vindicated" by the massive vote of support. "Going forward, Malays, Indians and Chinese all have to work together and make us a formidable force," he said. ==

Anwar Win a Seat in Parliament

In August 2008, Anwar won a parliament seat of Permatang Pauh in the northern state of Penang in by-elections. Anwar was pitted against Arif Shah Omar Shah of the governing National Front coalition in a semi-rural district in the industrial heartland of Penang state. The seat of Permatang Pauh in the Dewan Rakyat, fell vacant after the resignation of the incumbent, Anwar’s wife Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Anwar held the Permatang Pauh seat between 1982 and 1999, when he was ousted. His wife held the seat since 1999. The election was dubbed "the mother of all by-elections" by the media due to its implication for Anwar. "This is not just any by-election. It is about the next Malaysian leader," Lim Guan Eng, a top leader of the Democratic Action Party, told Associated Press. "Permatang Pauh voters have a heavy burden. They are deciding the destiny of the country."

Anwar won the election with two thirds of the vote. He won 31,195 of the estimated 47,000 votes cast in the district while rival Arif Shah Omar Shah got only 15,524 votes and a third candidate had 92 votes.The counting centre was surrounded by 30,000 of Mr Anwar supporters this evening as the result was announced. They chanted "Anwar PM", "Freedom!" and "Reforms". "This is the people's victory," Mr Anwar, 61, proclaimed in his victory speech. "We demand change. We want freedom. We don't want to live with corruption and oppression." Analysts said the winning margin was all the more remarkable because at the time Anwar was again facing allegations of sodomy.

On the campaigning before the election, Associated Press reported: “After 10 days of racist insults, accusations of sodomy and oblique references to murder, campaigning drew to a close in a key by-election to Malaysia's Parliament. Anwar alleged that there were irregularities in the electoral roll. His party said more than 700 names included on the last official roll approved in June were missing from the new list. The Election Commission has insisted the roll is valid.

Ibrahim Suffian, director of the independent Merdeka Center, which conducted a telephone poll of 544 voters, said 57 percent of those polled believe Anwar is "capable of bringing change that will benefit the people, regardless of race." Anwar won of most votes of the minority Chinese and Indians. The Malay voters, who form 69 percent of the constituency's 58,459 electorate were split between Anwar and Arif Shah. "I think it's a test of who protects the Malay interests the most, to which party will they entrust the political future," said Ibrahim.[Source: Associated Press, August 25, 2008 /*]

Associated Press reported: “Anwar’s campaign received an early setback when his accuser, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, swore on the Quran at a Kuala Lumpur mosque on Aug. 15 — a day before Anwar filed his candidacy papers for the election — that he was raped by Anwar. Anwar said the ruling party "orchestrated the entire malicious, dirty campaign in time for this election."Pollster Ibrahim said 57 percent of the Permatang Pauh voters do not believe in the sodomy allegation and 59 percent said it was politically motivated. Sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in jail in Malaysia. But that has not prevented the National Front from using the sodomy case during the campaign. The oath-taking — recorded with professional audio and video equipment — has been played at Arif Shah's campaign centers. In response, Anwar on Sunday campaigned with Ramlang Porigi, the Muslim cleric who witnessed the aide's oath. The cleric cast doubt on the oath's validity, saying he thought it could be part of a political conspiracy. /*\

“The ruling coalition's campaign posters have also described Anwar as an Israeli agent who would allow American military bases in the country the minute he becomes prime minister. Fliers have depicted him as leading a Cabinet of pigs, which are considered unclean animals in Islam. The opposition has delivered a few punches under the belt too. Anwar has called ruling party leaders stupid, idiots, scoundrels and damned. His party posters have shown images of slain Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu with the word "Justice" stamped on her forehead in red. Shaariibuu, 28, was shot in October 2006 and blown up with explosives in a jungle. Abdul Razak Baginda, a close friend of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, is on trial for abetting the murder. Najib also has been linked to the woman with allegations that he had an affair with her. Najib denies this vehemently, and recently took an oath in a mosque that he never knew the woman. /*\

After Anwar’s victory, Malaysia's biggest Islamic party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), said would back Anwar as parlimentary opposition leader. For a while it was remored that Mahathir might won't stand against Anwar in vote but the former Malaysian premier denied speculation he would run against his arch-foe, Anwar. "No way, I have resigned in 2003 and I have said that I'm not coming back," Mahathir said, according to the state Bernama news agency. Mahathir, who has also had a serious falling out with his successor, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, said the ruling party has no one who can beat Anwar in the by-election. [Source: AFP]

Anwar After His 2008 Election Successes

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “Anwar has not entirely shed his tendency towards arrogance. Weeks after the opposition won its victory in March 2008, he announced that he was ready to take over the government that year. This was premature. It’s true that the Barisan Nasional government no longer commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament, but there are many problems to overcome before Anwar’s coalition of opposition parties is ready to rule the country. It could be another year or two before the next general election. And the current prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, has the image of being a more ruthless operator than his predecessor, the ineffectual Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 ]

In September 2008, Anwar said he has pledges of support from more ruling coalition lawmakers than he needs to topple the government, and urged the prime minister to give up power voluntarily and peacefully. Associated Press reported: “Anwar’s claims, which were the strongest he has made yet and went beyond the likelihood of a bluff, signaled he could be on the verge of taking over as the head of Malaysia’s first opposition-led government since independence in 1957.Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi brushed off Anwar’s claims. “This is Anwar’s mirage. It is nothing. It is merely a dream,” he said. [Source: AP, September 17, 2008]

“In the months following the March 2008 general election Anwar wooed disgruntled lawmakers from the ruling National Front coalition. “We have received firm commitments from MPs [members of parliament] in excess of the number required to form a new government,” Anwar told reporters. “It is increasing by the hour … I am not joking.”Anwar refused to give an exact number or to name the lawmakers, saying they will be subject to harassment by the government or even detention.He said the opposition alliance is now seeking a meeting with Abdullah to stake claim to the government and to give him the opportunity to exit gracefully. “We want the transition to be peaceful. That’s why we are not giving an ultimatum” to Abdullah, he said. Anwar told a massive rally of supporters that he is willing to give Abdullah one or two weeks to accept defeat and resign. But “there is a limit to one’s patience, particularly when we have the numbers,” Anwar said yesterday. He also warned the National Front not to invoke security laws to arrest the defecting lawmakers.

In May 2012, Anwar and two allies were charged with breaking various laws during a massive street rally to demand electoral fairness. Eileen Ng of Associated Press wrote: The charges filed against Anwar Ibrahim come just four months after he was acquitted of sodomy charges that he claims were an attempt to damage him politically. He said the new accusations, ahead of national elections that many speculate will be held by September, have the same motive. "It is clearly a politically motivated charge. Elections are around the corner," Anwar told reporters. [Source: Eileen Ng, Associated Press, May 22, 2012]

“Anwar and the two allies were charged in a Kuala Lumpur court with defying a court ban against assembling at a public square in Kuala Lumpur last month and inciting other demonstrators to breach a police barricade. They pleaded innocent and face a maximum jail sentence of six months and fines totaling 12,000 ringgit ($3,800) if convicted. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the charges against the opposition leaders "don't inspire confidence that the Malaysian government is committed to protecting basic free expression rights." The prime minister's office rejected Anwar's claims of a political plot, saying in a statement that the charges were based on police investigations. It noted that two policemen and other people were charged previously in connection with violence during the rally.

“Two others charged were Azmin Ali, the deputy president of Anwar's opposition People's Justice Party, and party youth official Baharul Hisham Shaharin. They were among tens of thousands of Malaysians who joined an April 28 rally calling for an overhaul in electoral policies. Police used tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators after some of them breached a barrier at a public square that had been declared off-limits. Prime Minister Najib Razak and other officials have accused the opposition of trying to create chaos at the rally, which was organized by opposition-backed civic groups. Some people claimed Anwar and Azmin goaded peaceful demonstrators into charging at police.”

Anwar Ibrahim Fails to Defeat the Ruling Party in 2013 Elections

In May 2013, Anwar retained his Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat in Penang but his coaliton failed to win the election. Anwar secured 37,090 votes against Mazlan Ismail of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front), who took 25,369 votes. The BN won 133 seats (60 percent) in the 222-member parliament. Anwar’s Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) took 89 seats (40 percent). [Source: AFP, May 5, 2013]

AFP reported: “Supporters of the three-party Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) opposition alliance were left bitter and despondent after an election which they hoped would bring a historic change of government. Barisan won 133 seats in the 222-member parliament, two fewer than in the last parliament. The opposition alliance won 89 seats, an increase of 14, largely at the expense of non-aligned candidates. But the ruling bloc won just 48 percent of the popular vote compared to nearly 52 percent for the opposition This makes Najib the first leader in four decades to win with a minority of the ballots according to Malaysian media. Critics said the figure proved the electoral system was skewed in the government's favour. Outraged voters took to the Internet in droves to complain that indelible ink which Najib touted as a guarantee against multiple voting was found to easily wash off. Videos, pictures and first-hand accounts of angry citizens confronting purportedly foreign "voters" at polling centres also went viral online. Anwar has alleged there was a scheme to fly tens of thousands of "dubious" and possibly foreign voters to sway the outcome in key constituencies. [Source: AFP, May 6, 2013]

Reuters reported: “The three-party opposition alliance led by Anwar had been optimistic of a historic victory, buoyed by huge crowds at recent rallies. But as counting went late into the night, it became clear that the fractious opposition would be unable to unseat one of the world's longest-serving governments and pull off what would have been the biggest election upset in Malaysia's history. [Source: Stuart Grudgings and Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah, Reuters, May 5, 2013 ////]

“After claiming an improbable early victory, Anwar later said that he rejected the result because the country's Election Commission (EC) had failed to investigate evidence of widespread voter fraud. "It is an election we consider fraudulent and the EC has failed," he said. The National Front has heavy advantages, including its deep pockets, control of mainstream media, and an electoral system skewed in its favor. Anwar had accused the coalition of flying up to 40,000 "dubious" voters, including foreigners, across the country to vote in close races. The government says it was merely helping voters get to home towns. ////

“The opposition also lost control of the northern state of Kedah, one of four it had taken over in the 2008 success. The 2008 result signaled a breakdown in traditional politics as minority ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians, as well as many majority Malays, rejected the National Front's brand of race-based patronage that has ensured stability but led to corruption and widening inequality. Ethnic Chinese parties affiliated with the National Front suffered heavy losses in 2008 and were punished by voters again on Sunday. The National Front's ethnic Chinese MCA party won just five seats, down from 15 in 2008, according to the latest count. ///

The result leaves the National Front dominated more than ever by ethnic Malays, who make up about 60 percent of the population, increasing a trend of racial polarization in the country. "There needs to be an effort to look back at racial harmony," said Khairy Jamaluddin, the head of UMNO's youth wing and a member of parliament. "We don't want the results to be looked at through a racial lens."

Anwar’s Daughter

Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah, was elected as a member of Parliament for PKR in 2008. Before she won her seat Reuters reported: Nurul Izzah Anwar, a 27-year-old who has just given birth, has joined her mother to fight the government in the March 8 poll. U.S.-educated Nurul, trying to make her own mark in politics, was quick to deny suggestions that she was contesting as a hedge for her 60-year-old father. "I'm offering myself for the people of Lembah Pantai," she said, referring to the economically mixed urban constituency in the heart of Kuala Lumpur where she is contesting. "If they are voting, they are voting for me. I want to win this election for myself and for my party," she told Reuters. [Source: Ahmad Pathoni, Reuters, February 28, 2008]

“Some ordinary voters think Nurul, still breast-feeding her baby, could make it in politics. "She is promising. She is well-educated and religious. She can win if the election is held fairly," said Faridah Mat Jais, a 44-year-old woman selling snacks under a highway bridge. Others have some reservations. "I think the prospect is not too bright because she is contesting against a formidable woman figure," said political analyst Shamsul Amri Baharuddin. In the interview, Nurul said the multiracial Keadilan would fight to end Malaysia's deep-rooted racial politics. "If we are going toward this (racial) road, we are doomed," she said. "We need a future devoid of racial politics, that's why it's very important for young Malaysians — Indians, Chinese, Malays — to stand up and work together."

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah, then entered the hall. The sports complex happened to be in her constituency. Izzah had not been especially eager to be a politician, having just given birth that year. But when Anwar was imprisoned, and his wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, took his place as an opposition leader, politics became something of a family enterprise. [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 ]

“Nurul Izzah is popular, especially among the young. She has her father’s gift for public speaking, and is remarkably beautiful. She got up on the stage and shouted slogans in English about Israel being founded on bloodshed. When she sat down, she whispered to me, “Did you notice how they took away the microphone?” Referring to the official media, she said, “That’s how much they love me.” The vigorous government campaign against Israel had taken the opposition by surprise, and she felt that she had to make a statement. But the government evidently did not wish to share its Muslim solidarity with the opposition.

“I asked Izzah when she started wearing a tudung. “Since I was 18,” she replied. Later that year, her father was jailed. “In the darkest hours, you turn to God. We were never forced into wearing the tudung. It was my decision. My father was alarmed.” In fact, Izzah was sent to a Catholic convent school outside Kuala Lumpur, and studied international relations at Johns Hopkins. Her best friend is a half-Welsh Catholic. “I can’t remember many verses of the Quran,” she said, with a polite giggle, “but I felt it was my duty as a Muslim to wear the tudung. I did face some challenges.” As a student, she told me, “My crowd was mostly liberal. So friends sometimes felt uncomfortable. Couldn’t go clubbing and that sort of thing.”

“Nurul Izzah was asked to run for office, she explained, “because it was important for the PKR to have a young generation that supports multiracial politics. But, you know, to run for the opposition is suicidal for a future career in this country.” Despite what must have been a very difficult childhood, she had a refreshing lack of bitterness, and spoke with a sense of humour, even a guarded optimism. I had noticed this quality in others of her age, including Chinese and Indians, who were working for NGOs, writing blogs, or organising local communities. Some have backgrounds in the community: I met Indian and Chinese politicians who started in labour unions. Others have studied abroad and decided to return, as activists or journalists. The most popular blogger is the half-Welsh, half-Malay scion of a royal family. The two founders of Malaysiakini, the country’s best online news site, met as students in Australia. Some are religious; many are not. But everyone, even Lim Teck Ghee, a staunch atheist, seems to agree that the chances of Malaysia’s becoming a more democratic, less racialist society depend almost entirely on the former Muslim student leader who helped institutionalise Malay nationalism: Anwar Ibrahim.

More Court Cases Involving Anwar

In November 2006, Malaysian prosecutors dropped a sodomy charge against the adopted brother of Anwar Ibrahim. Al-Jazeera reported: “Sukma Darmawan was to have stood trial for a second time, charged with "allowing" Anwar to sodomise him, but the judge acquitted and discharged him after the prosecutor told the court there was no evidence to support the charge. Sukma was jailed in 1998 for sodomy after making what he said was a forced confession. Prosecutors later used Sukma's admission to convict Anwar. Sukma said he made a false confession after police sexually abused him and threatened to have him shot. He said the authorities offered him leniency if he falsely accused Anwar. Gobind said the prosecution had told the court it was dropping the charge partly because of the age of the case and the fact that Sukma had already spent time in jail. [Source: Al-Jazeera, November 6, 2006]

In August 2005, Anwar won libel damages totalling 4.5 million ringgit ($1.2 million, an unusually large amount by Malaysian standards) from the author of a book accusing him of sexual misconduct. The book was circulated at a political convention in 1998 and led to a police investigation and his imprisonment. Associated Press reported: “Mr Anwar had sued Khalid Jafri for writing 50 Reasons Why Anwar Ibrahim Cannot Become Prime Minister, which was published in mid-1998 while Mr Anwar was serving as deputy to then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and helped lead to his sacking in September that year. High Court Judge Hishamuddin Yunus ordered Mr Khalid to pay Mr Anwar damages for making a "vicious and venomous public attack" against him in the book, which was widely circulated among members of the ruling United Malays National Organisation, of which Mr Anwar was then deputy leader. [Source: AP, August 19, 2005 ***]

Mr Anwar stressed that the money was "never an issue" for him, noting that this was the first legal verdict that backed his claims that he had been the victim of a political conspiracy."I am happy I am vindicated completely in this judgement," Mr Anwar said. Mr Hishamuddin indicated that he agreed with Mr Anwar's claim that Mr Khalid had been paid to write the book by Mr Anwar's enemies in the ruling party. ***

In November 2010, Malaysia's highest court rejected Anwar final bid to sue former premier Mahathir Mohamad for calling him gay. AFP reported: “Anwar lodged the defamation case in 2006, demanding nearly 30 million dollars in damages after Mahathir said he could not have allowed his former deputy to become prime minister because he was a homosexual. Anwar has said the comment was "false and malicious". The case was rejected by the High Court in 2007 and in 2009 an appeal was struck out. Anwar filed another appeal saying the judgment should have been made in the official Malay language, and not English."It is a disappointing decision," Anwar's counsel Sankara Nair told AFP after the Federal Court ruled that the judge has the discretion to use either language. The court also ordered Anwar to pay 70,000 ringgit (22,320 dollars) in legal costs, a decision the counsel described as "worrying". "This is definitely a setback (for Anwar to clear his name) and the punitive decision to impose the costs would be a deterrent on him to proceed with his 10 other defamation suits against ruling figures," said Sankara. [Source: AFP, November 23, 2010]

Anwar Arrested Again on Sodomy Charges in 2008

Anwar was arrested again, in the summer of 2008 on sodomy charges for the “sexual assault” of a male aide Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, the arrest made no difference to his popularity. Allegations of sexual misconduct had become so clearly political that few people believed them, and the legal proceedings were farcical. Anwar was seized near his home by 20 commandos in balaclavas. The putative victim, who remains under “police protection,” is rather strong to be overwhelmed by the much less physically imposing Anwar. The aide swore in a mosque, over the Quran, that he was speaking the truth. When an imam later claimed that he had been forced by superiors to witness these proceedings, he was dismissed. The offence was then changed from “sexual assault” to “consensual sex against the order of nature,” even though the aide has yet to be charged. Anwar is not worried. “They just used it to embarrass me, but it did no good,” he said. “They lost the elections anyway.” [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009]

Ibrahim said he was the victim of a "vendetta" after spending a night in custody and was treated like a “major criminal” and subjected to an examination of his genitals. After being freed on police bail, he said he needed medical attention for an old back injury that flared up during a night in a bare cell at Kuala Lumpur police headquarters.“Dumped in a cell to sleep on a cold cement floor with nothing ... that has exacerbated the pain,” he told a press conference. “I don’t deserve this — no Malaysian deserves this. Why treat me like a major criminal?” “They have seen all my private parts. Of course I refused to be photographed, it could be on YouTube very soon!” Anwar said. [Source: AFP, June 18, 2008 **]

“Anwar rejected the allegations leveled by 23-year-old aide Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who said the opposition leader sexually assaulted him at a luxury condo, as a conspiracy. “It appears that the events of the last few days, the nature of my unwarranted arrest, my overnight incarceration which was actually absolutely unnecessary, were an act of personal vengeance against me,” he said.He said he was being targeted because of allegations he has made against Malaysia’s attorney-general and chief of police over his treatment during his trial a decade ago. “They should not use this as a personal vendetta against me,” Anwar said. **

“The 60-year-old opposition leader defended his decision not to give a DNA sample during the examination, saying he had no faith in the system after fabricated DNA evidence was used against him at his earlier trial. And he criticized the decision to send police commandos to arrest him on Wednesday, even though he had agreed to appear for interrogation at a meeting scheduled just an hour later. Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar defended the authorities’ actions and rejected allegations the government was trying to derail Anwar’s plans of forming a new administration with the help of government defectors. Anwar’s opposition alliance made stunning gains in March elections, winning a third of parliamentary seats and control of five states in a result that has redrawn Malaysia’s political landscape. **

Saiful lodged a police complaint two days after the alleged sodomy occurred. Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times, Saiful. “a 23-year-old former campaign volunteer, went to a hospital in Kuala Lumpur hours before lodging a police report charging that Anwar had sodomised him. But the medical report, which circulated widely on the Internet, says he complained of a piece of plastic being inserted into his anus. The doctor who wrote the report, Dr Mohamed Osman, said he found "no active bleeding, no pus, tear or scar." Although Malaysians enthusiastically share the latest developments... some have grown tired of the graphic details. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, August 2, 2008]

Ibrahim responded to the sodomy charges by saying they were orchestrated by the government to keep its grip on power and lodging a defamation suit over the allegations. AFP reported: “After a dramatic interlude holed up in the Turkish embassy, where he took refuge at the weekend saying his life was in danger, Anwar is coming out swinging at the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Analysts say the allegations could hurt the prime minister and actually help Anwar, a charismatic figure whose colourful political career has nevertheless long been accompanied by the tinge of scandal. "A large number of people do not believe the allegations, and this whole episode may have benefited Anwar more than it has damaged his reputation," said Ibrahim Suffian, a pollster from the Merdeka Centre.[Source: AFP, June 30, 2008]

Reuters reported: “Opinion polls show most people believe Malaysian Anwar did not commit sodomy against an aide...A small survey by the independent Merdeka Center research firm found just 6 percent of respondents believed the allegations, and nearly 60 percent viewed it as politically motivated. A separate survey by the independent news website, Malaysiakini (, showed that 94.4 percent of its respondents believed the allegation was part of a political conspiracy against Anwar. More than 7,000 people turned up at an impromptu rally in the biggest show of support for Anwar since the aide complained to police about an alleged assault at a luxury Kuala Lumpur apartment. [Source: Reuters, July 2008]

“The sodomy case emerged at a time when Abdullah's UMNO party has been riven by dissent and the loose opposition alliance was making a bid to take power. The three-party alliance made historic gains in a March 8 general election, winning five of 13 state governments and coming within 30 seats of taking control of the 222-member parliament. At the rally, Anwar said he would not sit quietly and allow a repeat of what happened to him 10 years ago. The crowd, who had gathered at the indoor stadium in Shah Alam just outside the capital two hours before he turned up late at night, chanted "Reformasi", the battle cry of his reform movement. "We will fight. When we take over the country, the first thing we will do is to bring down the price of fuel," Anwar said.

Anwar’s Second Sodomy Trial

In February 2010, Anwar went on trial on charges of sodomy for the second time in a decade. The trial was seen as the biggest political challenge to Prime Minister Najib Razak as he attempted to rebuild the UMNO coalition. “These are the machinations of a dirty, corrupt few,” Anwar said of the trial as he entered the court in Kuala Lumpur accompanied by two of his daughters and his wife. “The evidence will have to be overwhelming in order to move beyond the perception that Najib Razak is using the judiciary to remove a political rival in a desperate and mistaken move to shore up his own position,” Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia specialist as Singapore Management University, told Reuters. [Source: Reuters, February 2, 2010]

After the second day of the trial Eileen Ng of Associated Press wrote: “More lurid sex allegations were heard behind closed doors at Anwar’s sodomy trial. The Kuala Lumpur High Court closed the trial to the media and public after Anwar's accuser gave explicit details of the alleged sodomy. Malaysian newspapers reported on the first day of the trial on their front pages, some printing suggestive headlines. Saiful testified he went to the condominium to discuss Anwar's work schedule, but Anwar instead used English profanity to ask him whether he wanted to have sex. When he refused, Anwar ordered him to go to the master bedroom, Saiful said. Anwar then drew the curtains and turned the lights off before telling Saiful to go into the bathroom to wash himself, he said. Saiful said he obeyed and then came out wearing only a towel. Anwar, who was standing by the bed and also wearing a towel, asked Saiful to come over and hugged him, Saiful said.At that stage of the testimony, Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah agreed to record the rest of Saiful's testimony behind closed doors. [Source: Eileen Ng, Associated Press, February 4 2010]

The trial went on for almost two years. The case hinged mainly on Saiful's testimony and semen samples found on his body that investigators said matched Anwar's DNA. The defense insisted Saiful's claims were full of inconsistencies and that the DNA samples were mishandled. In March 2011, Julia Zappei of Associated Press wrote: “Ibrahim won a key victory in his sodomy trial, with a court ruling that crucial DNA evidence linking him to semen found on his accuser was illegally obtained. Government lawyers sought to submit a toothbrush, towel and water bottle that Anwar used during police detention as evidence in the trial. A chemist testified that DNA found on those items matched that of a semen sample found on Anwar's accuser.The High Court ruled that authorities had illegally obtained the items when they arrested Anwar in July 2008. Anwar had left them in a police cell and was not informed that they could be used against him. The prosecution's case now hinges mainly on testimony by the aide that Anwar pressured him into having, said Anwar's lawyer, Sankara Nair.

Sex, Lies and Videotape During Anwar’s Second Sodomy Trial

In May 2010, Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “Defence lawyers in the sodomy trial of Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim have sought to have the case thrown out, saying his accuser's story is tainted with lies and contradictory statements. Anwar's lawyer Karpal Singh argued the specific charge against Anwar contradicts the alleged victim's own testimony in court. Anwar is charged under a subsection of Malaysian law that outlaws consensual anal sex. However, Saiful testified in court that Anwar sodomised him without his consent. Singh said the discrepancy indicates that Saiful has been inconsistent in his statements and has made up his story."If the evidence falls, it is the end of the case," Singh told the court. Defence lawyers demanded that police hand over a transcript of the statement Saiful recorded after he was allegedly sodomised. Singh said that the transcript might show that Saiful originally said that he had consensual sex with Anwar.He said that statement was most probably the reason why Anwar was charged with consensual sodomy even though he could have been charged under another section of the law that provides for a charge of nonconsensual sodomy, Singh said.[Source: Sean Yoong, Associated Press, May 11, 2010]

“Saiful has maintained in court that he was an unwilling partner in the alleged crime in a condominium where he went to meet Anwar. Saiful has given graphic description of the alleged act including the use of lubricant and vulgar language. The prosecution has refused to submit the transcript of Saiful's recorded statement, saying it is not obliged to do so. Singh said that if the transcript shows Saiful lied, his entire testimony would have to be deemed prejudiced and the case thrown out. Saiful testified briefly on Tuesday to reiterate that he was under duress during the alleged sodomy.”

In March 2011, Julia Zappei of Associated Press wrote: Mahathir “released a high-profile memoir containing new accusations of sexual misconduct against Anwar. Mahathir wrote in his book that he met two girls who claimed in 1998 that Anwar had arranged to have sex with them. Mahathir said that during talks with ruling party leaders, Anwar acknowledged having affairs but "declared that he had done nothing unusual." Mahathir added that he fired Anwar because "his actions and hypocrisy in masquerading as a highly religious individual were unacceptable." Anwar dismissed Mahathir's writing as "a blatant lie," saying it showed "his very vicious personal bitterness." [Source: Julia Zappei, Associated Press, March 8, 2011]

In April, 2011, a clip from a sex tape said to feature Anwar was posted on YouTube. Associated Press reported: “ The one minute and 47 second excerpt uploaded on Sunday is not explicit in itself but is part of a longer video showing a man having sex with a woman in a hotel room, local media have reported. The man in the YouTube clip is said to closely resemble Anwar, although Anwar denied any involvement. YouTube removed the clip but by then it had spread to pro-government blogs and websites, according to the Star daily newspaper. The Star said the YouTube clip showed a man in a towel with another man dressed in a shirt and trousers while a woman with Chinese features is seen sitting on a bed. In the longer video, the man in the towel reportedly has sex with the woman after the other man leaves the room.“The face of the towel-clad, pudgy-looking man in short hair can be seen several times. He, however, does not stand in place long enough for his face to be clearly identified,” the Star reported.

Anwar told online news portal Malaysiakini that it he was not the man in the video.“Now, the video has been distributed. And whether the person looks like me or not, I don’t care. It wasn’t me,” he was quoted as saying by the website. Three men have claimed they obtained the tape, but two of them said they handed it over to police and were not responsible for the clip posted on YouTube, according to Malaysiakini. Police spokesmen were unavailable for comment. Police chief Ismail Omar said experts had decided the tape was not doctored and a police investigation was in its closing stages. The three have claimed that the incident took place at a hotel “that offered sex services and spa facilities” in the Malaysian capital on February 21 but a subtitle in Thai gives a Bangkok address.

Anwar Acquitted Then Found Guilty in His Second Sodomy Trial

Malaysia opposition leader Anwar was initially acquitted of sodomy charge with a verdict that took only two minutes to deliver. Eileen Ng and Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: Anwar’s “surprising acquittal from sodomy charges is good news not just for him. It is a court-sent gift for the very government he wants to topple.The verdict will pre-empt public outrage that a conviction would have sparked in a likely election year and it also buttresses Prime Minister Najib Razak's claims that he does not interfere with the judiciary and that his promises of ensuring civil liberties are serious. After a two-year trial filled with explicit sexual allegations that captivated and polarized the country, a High Court judge ruled that the prosecution's DNA evidence was not enough to convict the 64-year-old Anwar of sodomizing a male former aide. [Source: Eileen Ng and Sean Yoong, Associated Press, January 9, 2012 ^]

The judgment is "a win-win situation" for both sides, James Chin, a political science lecturer at Monash University in Malaysia told Associated Press. "It has removed a hot spot for the government. Anwar is also free to concentrate on the elections," Chin said. "I hope this brings closure to the scandal. Everyone I know is sick and tired of this case. It hasn't been healthy for our country to be obsessed about this," said Lim Hon Choong, a project manager for a consumer goods company. ^

Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah said he "could not with 100 percent certainty exclude the possibility that the (DNA) sample is not compromised." "The court is always reluctant to convict on sexual offenses without corroborative evidence," he said. Chief prosecutor Yusof Zainal Abiden said he had not decided whether to appeal. A government lawmaker, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, urged prosecutors not to appeal, warning that prolonging the case would further divide the country. ^

Within 20 minutes of the verdict, the government issued a written statement trumpeting Anwar's acquittal as a demonstration of the judiciary's independence. Information Minister Rais Yatim said in the statement that the acquittal "proves that the government does not hold sway over judges' decisions." But Anwar said he saw it as just another government strategy to avoid having a mess on its hands, similar to the one after his 2000 conviction, which attracted widespread international opprobrium. There was international pressure on the government this time too, Anwar said. "They can ill-afford another case of Anwar being sent to prison ... To assume the judiciary is independent is a bit far-fetched," Anwar told The Associated Press. Still, he said he was "pleasantly shocked" by the verdict, which upended his worst-case scenario of a 20-year prison sentence. Thousands of opposition supporters outside the court building cheered when they heard news of his aquittal. Inside, Anwar's wife and children wept and hugged him, while his friends burst into shouts of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great." The government appealed against the decision. ^

In March 2014, the acquittal was overturned and Anwar was sentenced to five years in prison on sodomy charges. Associated Press reported: “The court said Anwar could remain free on bail while he appeals against the verdict to the country's highest court.Human rights groups criticised the verdict, calling the legal moves against Anwar politically motivated. The appeals court judge Balia Yusof Wahi ruled Friday that the lower court's decision to acquit Anwar was wrong. He said: "We unanimously allow this appeal and set aside the decision of the high court." The guilty verdict meant Anwar was unable to run for a seat in opposition-ruled Selangor, the country's richest state, this month. Anwar had been expected to take over as Selangor's chief minister if he had won. "This trial was all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics, pure and simple, and the government was prepared to jump through whatever hoops were necessary to make that happen," Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch told Associated Press. "It's a dark day for the Malaysia judiciary, which has shown how hard it is to get a free and fair trial when political issues are in play." [Source: Associated Press, March 7, 2014]

Anwar Today

The relatively disappointing performance of Anwar’s coalition in the 2013 election, according to the New York Times, “raised the spectre of an end to the remarkable career of the charismatic Anwar.” He has vowed to step aside as opposition leader if Pakatan fails to unseat the government. [Source: Joe Cochrane, New York Times, May 10, 2013 |*|]

On the relationship between Mahathir and Anwar in the 2010s, Lim Teck Ghee, head of the Center for Policy Initiatives in Kuala Lumpur, told the New York Times.“Certainly the level of dislike, disdain, of lack of respect for each other has gone up considerably in the last 10 years or so, especially since after 2008,” In 2012 Mr. Anwar said he was “willing to forgive but not necessarily forget” his dismissal and imprisonment. Still, Mr. Lim said there remained widespread concern within UMNO that Mr. Anwar would open legal inquiries against Mr. Mahathir, Mr. Najib and other senior party officials should he ever become prime minister. |*|

“It’s not simply concern about who is the next prime minister,” Mr. Lim said. “Mahathir’s very afraid that if Anwar and the opposition come to power, Mahathir’s place in history is going to be smeared, and I think he is fighting that very, very strongly, and this feeds into the politics of hate in the country.” |*|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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