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Malaysia's Anwar 'ready for struggle'

By Robin Brant
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia's opposition leader should find out in a few weeks' time whether he will face a trial for sodomy.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim
Mr Anwar claims the government is in no rush to see him in court

Anwar Ibrahim was accused of assaulting a male former party worker. But he has told the BBC that he doubts his day in court will come any time soon because his accusers want the case to drag on well into 2009.

"I don't honestly worry about this," Mr Anwar says of the impending court hearing, when he will find out the date of his trial for sodomy.

The official charge is that he had "carnal intercourse against the course of nature". Sex between men is illegal in Malaysia. Mr Anwar could face 20 years in jail and a whipping if he is found guilty.

The allegations were made by a 21-year-old former male party worker. After Mr Anwar faced a dramatic arrest by armed police in balaclavas and a night of questioning in a cell, the case is now making its way through the courts.

'Mud-throwing'

Mr Anwar flatly denies the charges, claiming he has an alibi for every minute of the day in question.

But he doubts he will have his day in the dock any time soon.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in December
Prime Minister Badawi was damaged by Mr Anwar's political comeback
"I think they will allow this to drag on and... cast more mud and throw serious allegations which could just cause embarrassment," he told the BBC - referring to the police, the government, and the prime minister.

"They will have something to hold [on to] in case they are really desperate" to discredit Mr Anwar, he said.

The allegations were made just after Mr Anwar steered his new opposition coalition to historic gains in a general election, raising the spectre of a possible end to 50 years of one-party dominance.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi was forced to accept an early handover to his deputy.

The government is still recovering from its near collapse.

Big gamble

Nevertheless, while 2008 was a great year for Mr Anwar - one of Asia's best-known politicians - his hopes did not match the reality.

Mr Anwar had promised to be in power by last September. Having shaken the foundations with the election success he gambled on bringing the house down.

He shouldn't have promised. He shouldn’t have said that this is the date I am going to take over the government
K Krishna
Anwar supporter
Relying on government defections, he even set a date for the downfall of the government of 16 September.

But it didn't happen.

"I think his credibility was damaged among his younger supporters," Professor James Chin from Malaysia’s Monash University said, "especially among the youth, because they were really expecting a sea change in Malaysia."

But where some saw a strategy of hope, others saw a game of brinkmanship.

"I think among the political group, those who are involved in politics, everyone knew all along that it was a game," he said.

Disappointed

K Krishna is a working woman, one of the people who helped propel Mr Anwar back to the forefront of Asian politics, and whom I first met just before the election in February 2008.

She switched sides after years of allegiance to the government. On estates across Malaysia's cities there are millions like her.

But when I went back to see her at her grocer's shop in a dingy housing estate on the western outskirts of Kuala Lumpur she was upset at Anwar's unfulfilled promise.

"He shouldn't have promised. He shouldn't have said that this is the date I am going to take over the government."

She wasn't disillusioned but she was disappointed - disappointed that after all the talk, all the apparent momentum, it did not happen.

Rollercoaster ride

Most Malaysians, polls suggest, do not believe the allegations of sodomy Mr Anwar is facing. But there are those among the majority Muslim Malays who are suspicious.

Malaysians celebrate new year in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, on 1 January 2009
Mr Anwar may be wondering whether 2009 will be as tumultuous as 2008
Krishna told me she wants to see a trial. "It's better, so he can prove that he didn't do it," she said, "then people can know who is behind everything."

Prof Chin thinks a trial will take place. But he thinks it is unlikely the court will return a guilty verdict which would risk enraging the watching population.

For Mr Anwar, despite the disappointments, 2008 has been nothing short of a resurrection. But this rollercoaster is nothing new.

He was convicted of sodomy a decade ago, but cleared after six years in jail. Back then, as now, he said he was set up in order to ruin his political career.

Mr Anwar is a charismatic leader, and it is difficult to see his new opposition coalition surviving without him at the helm.

But a supporter I met at the party congress had more faith.

"It has already begun," he told me. "It cannot stop. With or without Anwar it won't stop."



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SEE ALSO
Pressure builds on Malaysia's PM
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Malaysia PM rebuffs Anwar claim
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Malaysia's Anwar sworn in as MP
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26 Aug 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Malaysia
11 Mar 08 |  Country profiles
Profile: Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
10 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific


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