From The Australian
JULY 7 ─ Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has avoided a diplomatic row with Malaysia by deciding not to meet the de facto leader of the opposition, former jailed Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whose career risks being derailed a second time by sodomy allegations.
Rudd opted to stand by existing Malaysian and Australian government protocols and not meet Anwar or the leader of the opposition, Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, when he arrives in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday on his first visit as prime minister.
Anwar was sentenced to six years’ jail in 1998 after charges were laid against him alleging sodomy with his driver.
Anwar, who declared at a rally he was in a position to “seize” power through defecting government MPs joining his opposition group, sought refuge in the Turkish Embassy last week when new allegations were made by an aide.
Rudd had considered meeting Anwar as part of the preparation for his trip.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said last night that as in the practice of former Prime Minister John Howard, there would be contact between the Foreign Minister and the opposition leader in Malaysia.
Rudd will spend one day in Japan this week for the G8 meeting, and then fly directly to Malaysia for an eight-hour visit.
The prime minister sought advice last week from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on the political ramifications of meeting Anwar during his visit.
Outspoken Australian support for Anwar and his wife Dr Wan Azizah during his trial and imprisonment caused serious diplomatic rifts between the two countries, with then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad declaring Howard was not welcome at the 1998 APEC meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Howard declared the conviction of Anwar to be political, and said Malaysia’s judiciary had lost its independence.
“There is enough concern, given the long history of this, to cause me to worry that the judiciary there (in Malaysia) is not as independent as used to be the case,” Howard said in 1998.
“It does seem to be part of a series of events that represents some kind of political campaign against Anwar, and that is a matter of very great concern.”
Then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer met Anwar’s wife to offer Australian support in 1998.
Labor’s then leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, agreed with Howard’s comments, but attacked him for failing to join the strong criticism of then US Vice-President Al Gore during the 1998 APEC meeting.