Almost 10 years after he was driven out of office by a bizarre series of corruption and sodomy charges, Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim returned to politics this week with a big rally and big plans.
Anwar, who like many Malaysians goes by his given name, celebrated the expiration of a five-year ban on political activity with a midnight rally in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital.
According to the New Straits Times, 10,000 people showed up to the unauthorized rally Monday night before it was shut down by police.
According to Australia’s ABC online, Anwar dispersed the crowd by saying, “The police chief has asked us to stop so we are stopping, but remain peaceful, because soon we will be running this country.”
Anwar also officially requested that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi open an investigation into alleged abuses of power by the former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Mahathir, Anwar’s political enemy, ruled Malaysia for 22 years before stepping down in 2003.
Anwar served as deputy prime minister under Mahathir before being forced from office in 1998 by charges Amnesty International labeled as politically motivated.
In lurid trials that international organizations called unfair, Anwar was convicted of corruption and sodomy charges and sentenced to nine years in jail.
The sodomy conviction was later overturned, but Anwar was banned from politics for five years due to the corruption charges. That ban ended at midnight on April 15.
Anwar’s return comes at a fateful time for the Southeast Asian nation, where the ruling Basiran Nasional coalition suffered humiliating losses in recent elections.
Anwar has said he has the votes to form a new ruling coalition with his People’s Pact group of opposition parties, but will wait to make sure he has “a comfortable majority” before acting, according to India’s Hindu Times.
Critics say that Anwar is trying to get members of parliament to switch parties, a move which, according to the Star newspaper, one Malaysian politician calls “destabilizing the government.”
At least one Malaysian political figure was skeptical of Anwar’s renewed power. Former Prime Minister Mahathir told the New Straits Times, “Well, Haaretz (Israeli newspaper) thinks he is going to be the prime minister. It is the only paper in the world which thinks he is going to be the prime minister … he is the prime minister that the Israelis will vote for.”
Mahathir appeared to be referring to the Jerusalem Post. Last month the newspaper published an op-ed calling Anwar “an icon for political progress, justice and equality,” and praising his pursuit of religious and cultural tolerance in a nation that is often beset with ethnic and religious tensions.
“Anwar is back”
Bangkok Post, April 14, 2008
“Anwar Ibrahim returns to Malaysian politics”
ABC Online, April 14, 2008
“Big crowd welcomes Anwar’s return to electoral politics”
New Straits Times (Malaysia), April 14
“Anwar as PM? Only if the Israelis vote him”
New Straits Times (Malaysia), April 14, 2008
“Time not on Anwar’s side”
The Star (Malaysia), April 14, 2008
“Ongkili: Anwar wants to destabilise Govt”
The Star (Malaysia), April 15, 2008
“Anwar ‘ready’ to form government”
The Hindu (India), April 15, 2008
“Malaysia: Double injustice heaped on Anwar Ibrahim”
Amnesty International, April 18, 2003