Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will return to the courts on July 8 to go on trial on sodomy charges for the second time in his political career.
Anwar, whose first conviction for sodomy came in August 2000 and resulted in a nine-year jail sentence -- he was released after the Federal Court reversed the conviction in 2004 -- insists that the current charges are politically motivated. The charges come at a time when his opposition party is suffering from increased infighting and internal disagreement despite the party’s recent gains in the 2008 election and subsequent by-elections.
The trial is also set to begin amidst new Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ongoing efforts to introduce controversial economic reforms at a time when Malaysia’s export-driven growth model seems to have run out of gas.
“The trial will be bad for Malaysia and seriously discredit Najib,” predicts Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia expert at Johns Hopkins University.
The Southeast Asian country of 27 million people currently runs one of the largest budget deficits in Asia, projected at 7.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2009. Its stock has also consistently underperformed many of its peer economies in Asia this year, with investors withdrawing 12.2 billion ringgit in the first quarter of 2009.
Anwar’s conviction and incarceration would deal a considerable blow to the opposition party, which frequently relies on Anwar as a unifying figure to hold together a mixed alliance of Islamists, a predominantly ethnic Chinese party, and political reformers.