KUALA LUMPUR – A not-guilty verdict in a sex scandal case against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim could prove a game-changer in the run-up to elections due by 2013 but thought by many analysts to be held this year. After months of railing against what he deemed trumped-up and politicized charges, Anwar cut an understandably cheerful and relieved dash on Monday morning when speaking to perhaps 3,000 supporters outside the Kuala Lumpur court where he was acquitted of charges of sodomizing a male party aide in 2008. Sodomy is a criminal offense punishable by 20 years in prison in Malaysia, where Muslim citizens are subject to sharia law. The case, which has hung over the country’s political scene for over three years, represented the second time Anwar faced such charges. He was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. Anwar thanked God for the not-guilty verdict, telling reporters, “We must focus on the next general elections and the reform agenda. We hope for an independent judiciary and free media.”
KUALA LUMPUR — Monday’s surprise acquittal of Malaysia’s opposition leader in a sodomy trial that many viewed as politically motivated eases the prospect of unrest in the multi-ethnic country, one of southeast Asia’s largest tourist draws The potential for trouble was highlighted by three small explosions near the courthouse on Monday morning, injuring several people, while a jubilant Anwar Ibrahim mingled with a raucous, fist-pumping crowd of several thousand supporters. Mr. Anwar, a former government insider who has been hounded by legal actions over alleged sodomy since he broke with Malaysia’s ruling party in the 1990s said, “I thank God for this great news, I am finally vindicated.” The ruling benefits not only Anwar, who’s planning to run for prime minister in upcoming elections, but it may also help the current government burnish democratic credentials dimmed by trials like Anwar’s and the detention of other political opponents.
KUALA LUMPUR — More than a week after Malaysian police fired teargas and water cannons at thousands of demonstrators seeking reform of the country’s electoral system, a Facebook petition calling on Prime Minister Najib Razak to quit has drawn over 200,000 backers, highlighting the role of social and new media in Malaysia’s restrictive free speech environment. One contributor to the page wrote: “The world is full of multimedia and electronics; the things we so call camera and videocam … And photos and videos were already being uploaded on the Internet but ‘it’ still denies the truth and makes stories and lies until today.” Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have played a major role in mobilising some of the demonstrators in the run-up to the rally, which went ahead despite a police ban and lockdown imposed on sprawling Kuala Lumpur on the eve of the July 9 protest. The demonstration organizer, Bersih 2.0 — a coalition of 63 NGOs (non-government organizations) that wants changes such as updated electoral rolls and a longer election campaign period — has its own Facebook page, attracting a similar number of “likes” as the page urging Najib to step down, with 190,000+ fans at the time of this posting.
KUALA LUMPUR — After seven years as an undocumented migrant worker in Malaysia, waiter Ko Saw knows well the tough grind facing his compatriots in one of Southeast Asia’s more advanced economies. “In my seven years here I have only been caught once by the police,” he recalls over a dish of deep-fried Burmese snacks at an open-air row of Asian street restaurants in the Puchong 12 district of Kuala Lumpur. The signs around are in Burmese, Chinese, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia — as well as in English and Bahasa Malaysia — and the staff at the restaurants are all immigrant workers. “I was taken to Semenya detention center,” he says, half-smiling through a slow, rueful shake of the head. “However, I was lucky. It was not so crowded then, so we did not have such a bad time of it.” “I still have to watch for police, and try to avoid them,” he says. “I cannot afford not to work, as my parents are over 70 and need whatever money I can send back to them in Rangoon each month.”
KUALA LUMPUR – Saturday’s electoral reform rally has raised political stakes in advance of elections in Malaysia, with the Government threatening to continue its crackdown on the opposition-linked protest movement. In a defiant speech made on Sunday, PM Najib Razak said that the Government would implement electoral reform on its “own terms,” adding that “we want Malaysia and UMNO (the United National Malays Organisation, the main governing party) to be respected by the world.” In the meantime, amid speculation that more protests are being planned, Home Affairs Minister Hisham Hussein said that protestors bank accounts will be investigated by police, with the Government alleging that some of the protestors sought to bring weapons to what the authorities deemed “an illegal rally.” But there was little sign of unrest or attempted violence by protestors in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday — based on what this correspondent witnessed in a separate locations around the centre of the city — which had become a ghost town by Friday evening due to police roadblocks.
KUALA LUMPUR – Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government is on the defensive after Malaysia’s biggest opposition-aligned protest in almost four years was put down forcefully on Saturday by riot police, water-cannons and teargas in the national capital. Over 1,600 people were arrested in the crackdown, including opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and the leadership of the protest organizers, Bersih 2.0, a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking reform of the country’s electoral system. As the dust settled and Malaysians assessed the longer-term impact of the rally, Najib praised the police’s firm response to what he deemed an “illegal” gathering, while Anwar warned of a “hibiscus revolution” – referring to Malaysia’s national flower – unless the electoral system is overhauled and broader reforms undertaken. Protesters said that one man died from a heart attack after fleeing teargas, a claim disputed by police who say the fatality was unrelated to the protest.
GEORGE TOWN — Church burnings, pigs’ heads left outside mosques, cows’ heads paraded in protest at a Hindu temple relocation site, canings for Malay Muslims caught drinking alcohol and having extramarital sex — these are some of the lurid headline-grabbers to come out of Malaysia in recent months. Elections in 2008 saw the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), lose its dominant two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time since Malaysian independence. An opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party made significant gains, and in September 2008 seemed to be on the brink of persuading government MPs from Sabah and Sarawak to cross the house and vote against the BN. That did not happen, however, and while the opposition has won a number of significant by-election victories at national and local levels, it has not been able to launch a final push to dethrone the UMNO-led BN.
PENANG STATE — In the tourist draw of George Town in Penang in northern Malaysia, the Burmese Buddhist temple has become the locus of social and economic support for migrants from Myanmar. “l was a contractor at home, but left Burma [Myanmar] 19 years ago, arriving in Malaysia after crossing from Thailand,” said Aung Tin, a foreman on the construction site of a new pagoda, as Buddhist temples are called in Myanmar. At the construction site, all 14 staff supervised by Aung Tin – who would only talk to IRIN using a pseudonym – are Burmese migrants. “I left as soon as I could after the 1990 elections,” said Aung Tin. “The economic situation in the country was bad for years before then, and I had not been able to generate enough work. When I saw that the army was going to keep things the same, it became clear that I could not make a living,”
GEORGE TOWN — Two years after canceling her last scheduled concert in the country, US pop star Beyoncé announced earlier this month that she would perform in the Malaysian capital in late October. Her 2007 gig was cancelled after PAS – an Islamist party that forms part of the opposition coalition – threatened protests. “We are against Western sexy performances. We don’t think our people need that,” said PAS spokesman Sabki Yusof. Beyoncé’s about-turn comes despite a raft of piety-tinged controversies in recent weeks, including the shariah law sentencing of a 32 year old woman and an Indonesian national to six lashes for drinking in public. The government did a u-turn of its own, rescinding a ban on Muslims – who make up around 60% of the population – from attending a Black Eyed Peas concert in Kuala Lumpur on September 26. That gig was part of a series of events held around the world to mark the 250 year anniversary of the founding of Irish beer giant Guinness.