MANILA, July 5 — Power tends to corrupt, and in the Philippines as in other countries it tends to corrupt especially when it comes under threat. Consider the unfortunate Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The once and future rising star of Malaysian politics, Anwar is now facing, for the second time in 10 years, politically motivated charges of sodomy — a crime in Malaysia, punishable by as much as 20 years in prison. This is the same charge which sent Anwar, once Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s deputy prime minister and now the leader of the opposition to Dr Mahathir’s chosen successor, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to jail on a nine-year term.
It has been hurled yet again at Anwar for only one reason: to derail his political career. The first case effectively shut him out of politics in the last years of Dr Mahathir’s increasingly autocratic rule; it is obvious that the second case is meant to sideline him from politics again, at a time of increased vulnerability for Abdullah.
Contrary to the ruling coalition’s fondest hopes, Anwar recovered from the ignominy of a sodomy conviction and assumed the leadership of a revitalised opposition. Last March, the opposition coalition rattled the political foundations of Malaysia, winning five of 13 state governments and almost capturing control of Parliament.
The opposition’s victories come at a time of great stress for the governing Barisan Nasional coalition and the dominant Umno party; they are weighed down by Abdullah’s unpopularity (a member of the ruling coalition had even proposed a vote of no confidence in Parliament), a sensational murder case into which the name of Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been dragged, even the investigation of Dr Mahathir on the matter of judicial appointments. Taken together with the stunning results of the March general election, the ruling coalition is in the worst shape it’s ever been in since the country was founded in 1957.
Enter the new sodomy charge. Anwar calls it “frivolous and nonsensical,” and lays the blame at Najib’s door. It may be frivolous, but we’ve seen what the Malaysian authorities have done with frivolous charges before. The police say it will investigate the charge — but this is the same police who fabricated the first charge and beat Anwar when he was in jail. We will not await the results of their investigation with bated breath.
The international community sees through this charade, and we hope the majority of Malaysians do too. The filing of the new charge is a corruption, a deliberate abuse, of the justice system — unfortunately an official crime we are all too familiar with here in the Philippines.
Indeed, it is our sorry experience with the politicisation of the administration of justice under Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno that allows us to recognise, with a dawning sense of horror, exactly what is happening to the leader of the Malaysian opposition. The authorities, unnerved by the prospect of a change in power, have Anwar in their sights.
Anwar is a friend of the Philippines, an avid student of Rizal and an articulate voice of moderate Islam. Like Ninoy Aquino, he has been given the opportunity to suffer for his political convictions. His years in jail, too, included subtle and overt forms of abuse. (He had to wear a neck brace once, because of a beating he endured in prison.) In other words, he is that unusual Asean politician: a martyr, and thus someone whom Filipinos can readily relate to. We also believe he will continue Malaysia’s policy of strongly supporting the peace process that seeks to find a resolution to the Moro secessionist struggle.
But regardless of whether he will become prime minister or not, he does not deserve the indignity of another trumped-up charge. Indeed, Malaysia itself deserves better. — Philippine Daily Inquirer