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.
BANGKOK – Recently-released United States diplomatic cables from 2008-2010 shed light on Malaysia’s political scene in the aftermath of a controversial crackdown on a recent opposition-backed electoral reform demonstration in Kuala Lumpur where over 1,600 people were arrested, including opposition politicians. On July 9, Malaysia’s police fired teargas and water-cannon at thousands of protesters who defied a ban on the rally, which was organized by Bersih 2.0, a coalition of non-governmental organizations that says it wants changes to how Malaysia stages elections, including the mandatory use of indelible ink to prevent voters from casting multiple ballots. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government was widely criticized for its heavy-handed and disproportionate response to what was a peaceful demonstration by civil society groups. Putrajaya alleged that the protest was a front for the ambitions of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who says he was injured during the crackdown and faces the next stage of an unrelated and controversial sodomy trial on August 8. Hints as to why the government reacted as it did are contained in an August 2008 assessment by US ambassador James Keith, who wrote: “The ruling party wants to stay in power indefinitely, and that means Anwar and the multi-racial opposition front he is leading must fail. At least so far, there is scant evidence of a more thoughtful and forward-looking analysis within UMNO [United Malays National Organization]. In fact, the ruling party could find some common ground with the opposition if it were willing to countenance gradual development of a two-party system of checks and balances.”
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.