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10 year anniversary celebrated with new sodomy charges – Badawi learning from his master? August 7, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia , trackback

Today, BBC reported that Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was once again charged with sodomy (gay sex), a very serious offense in Malaysia.

It’s been 10 years since the great power struggle between Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, then Prime Minister and deputy in Malaysia. In 1998 it ended with Anwar being accused of sodomy, arrested, expelled from the party and the parliament. He was cleared of those charges by the court, but convicted for corruption after trying to pressure the police to drop the investigation. I live in Malaysia at the time, and like everyone else around me, didn’t believe much in the charges. At least the part about sodomy.

Anwar was released from prison in 2004, and earlier this year had his ban from political activity lifted. Then he went on to lead his party to their best election ever, for the first time breaking the 2/3 majority of the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia since the country’s independence from Great Britain.

Mahathir Mohamad resigned after 22 years as Malaysia’s Prime minister in 2003, at age 78, and finally handed the reins over to his successor, Mohammad Badawi. Although few expected drastic changes in Malaysia, there was at least a hope that Badawi might gradually move Malaysia in a less authoritarian direction.

In this previous post I presented a paper I wrote on the struggle between Mahathir and Anwar and how the interplay between domestic politics and international economy forced Mahathir to desperate action. Is what we’re seing now, 10 years after the events described there, a case of history repeating itself in a slightly less dramatic way? Is this Badawi’s counter-move to the serious threat posed by an Anwar that once again has the winds of politics in his sails?

Politically, it is at least very convenient. As several sources (for example this one) have reported, there are rumours of neotiations between UMNO (Badawi’s ruling party) and the islamist PAS party. It certainly seems to be suited to strengthen ties between UMNO and PAS if the main figure of the more secular opposition is once again accused of something an islamist party could never allow itself to be associated with. What other options than cooperation with UMNO does PAS have now?

I don’t know if the allegations against Anwar are true or not. And as a morally liberal non-muslim, I wouldn’t really mind if they were. But in a throughly muslim country like Malaysia this is no minor accusation. He could face 20 years of imprisonment, and certainly once again being ostracised from the political community. But whether or not the allegations against Anwar are true, they are certainly publicised in a very convenient manner at a very convenient time for Badawi. And we’ve seen this pattern before in Malaysia.

I’ll be following the news with interest…

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UPDATE: Related articles from the web

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