Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was summoned to court on Tuesday to face charges over his alleged role in inciting the violence which took place during the April 28 Bersih 3.0 rally.
The Bersih 3.0 rally and the previous Bersih 2.0 rally in July 2011 have been organised by a coalition of non-governmental (NGOs) and civil rights organisations to call for free and fair elections, and to demand for electoral reform of a system which historically favours the ruling party.
Mr. Anwar, alongside two of his colleagues – Mr. Azmin Ali and Mr. Badrul Hisham Shaharin – are to be charged with violating a new, and contentious, law under the Peaceful Assembly Bill governing public gatherings. Prime Minister Najib Razak has defended the Bill, saying it allows for public assembly, but not public protests.
If charged, Mr. Anwar would be ineligible for the upcoming elections. Mr. Anwar and Mr. Azmin have also been charged with violating a court order barring the April 28 rally from Merdeka Square. They face jail time if deemed guilty.
Mr. Anwar has dismissed the charges, saying, “We will fight. This is political intimidation”.
The Malaysian government’s actions have been viewed by some, and not least Mr. Anwar, as a calculated and politically-motivated move to remove him as a political threat. This is especially in light of the political gains Mr. Anwar and his opposition party made during the 2008 elections which witnessed the worst showing for the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN).
So what exactly will this mean for the upcoming elections? The elections are expected to be a tight race, and the charges against Mr. Anwar and his colleagues could influence more voters to vote for the opposition party, giving them their first victory since 1957. The ruling Barisan Nasional have been in power since independence from Britain in 1957, and a loss in the upcoming elections would be monumental, signalling a loss of public satisfaction and confidence in the incumbent government.
The result of the upcoming elections could hinge upon the court’s ruling regarding this matter.
Report: Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim faces charges over rally [CNA, 21 May 2012]
Report: Anwar, two allies first to face charges over Bersih rally [TODAY, 22 May 2012]
Report: Fresh charges threaten election for Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim [The Australian, 22 May 2012]
Analysis: Protest in Malaysia: It’s that time of year [The Economist, 1 May 2012]