DSAI Trial resumes today 3 Feb. 2.00pm KL High Court, Jalan Duta
Malaysia’s courts in dock on Anwar trial
Published Date: February 02, 2010
By Razak Ahmad
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim heads for trial today on a charge of sodomy, placing the country’s courts under scrutiny again after his doubtful conviction for the same offence almost a decade ago. Anwar was tried first on corruption charges and then for sodomy after his sacking as Deputy Prime Minister in 1998 amid a political feud with then premier Mahathir Mohamad. His case drew a chorus of international criticism with then-US Vice President Al Gore saying at the time that the trial “mocked i
nternational standards of justice”.
Although Malaysia’s top court ultimately overturned the conviction, doubts remain as to whether the 62-year-old Anwar, who represents the biggest political threat to the government that has run Malaysia for 52 years, will get a fair trial. This time, he is charged with sodomising a male aide in a trial that has been dubbed “Sodomy 2” by the Malaysian media. “For political cases, the public has grave concerns about the independence of the judiciary,” said Lim Chee Wee, vice president of the Bar Council of M
alaysia. “There is also the upcoming Anwar ‘Sodomy 2’ trial where the presently available evidence suggests selective prosecution.
Malaysia’s government has a long history of curbing the power of the judiciary, starting in 1988 when Mahathir sacked the country’s top judge amid a political row that could have seen the man who became the country’s longest serving premier removed. The Anwar trials further undermined trust in the courts and public confidence in the judiciary ebbed further after a judicial appointments fixing scandal in 2007, prompting the government to initiate a judicial reform effort.
Court rulings against the government in recent months have provided a glimmer of hope the judiciary has not been completely emasculated. One on Dec 31 supported the rights of Christians to use the word “Allah” for God. But with the National Front government battling to reassert its control over this Southeast Asian country, Anwar’s trial may be too politically sensitive for a fair hearing, said Zaid Ibrahim, a former law minister who was tasked with judicial reform but who quit the government in 2008.
Well, I don’t think much has changed (since Anwar’s last trial),” said Zaid, now a member of the opposition. “When we talk about judicial independence we are talking about politically sensitive cases involving ministers and the government.” The government has denied any interference and has promised that Anwar would receive a fair trial.
Mahathir’s attack on the judiciary in the 1980s came after he narrowly survived a challenge to his leadership. While there is no leadership challenge to current Prime Minister Najib Razak, he is struggling to rebuild confidence in his own political party. Najib’s United Malays National Organisation, and the 13-party National Front coalition that it leads conceded control of five states and lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority in national and state elections in 2008, their worst ever showing.
Voters, upset over rising corruption, failed reform pledges and increasing complaints of minority marginalisation, have since handed the opposition victories in seven out of nine by-elections held since the national polls. Promises by Najib to end corruption and to rebuild the multi- ethnic nature of the ruling coalition that relied in the past on support from ethnic Chinese and Indian voters have been damaged by a multi-billion dollar graft scandal at a port and by attacks on churches over the “Allah” row
Data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report show Malaysia’s judicial independence global rankings fell to 53rd place in 2009 from 47th place in 2008. Its scores are well below regional leaders Hong Kong and Singapore which ranked 14th and 19th respectively, undermining Najib’s bid to woo new foreign investment to help diversify the country’s export-dependent economy.
Foreign bondholders in the scandal-plagued Port Klang Free Zone have sought a government guarantee for the bonds, fearing a Malaysian court could invalidate their claims due to the issue of fake guarantees for the bonds. Malaysia has made some progress in cleaning up its commercial courts, dogged by complaints of delays and inefficiency, said the Bar Council’s Lim, who noted that trial disposal rates had shot up to 597 in 2009 from 87 in 2008.
Efforts to reduce trial times drew praise from Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry Executive President Stewart Forbes whose body represents 1,000 members with over 110 billion ringgit ($32.23 billion) of investments here. “Certainly, it’s fair to say that over the last 18 to 24 months, there has been a marked improvement in that aspect of the judiciary,” he said.
However, businesses remain concerned by poor perceptions of the overall quality of the judiciary. “It may not simply be because one or other particular case, but unfortunately at the moment and over the last few years in Malaysia, the judiciary has been pulled into a large number of elements of debate vis-a-vis a whole range of court cases and issues,” Forbes noted.
As well as the improved trial times for commercial cases, some lower courts have recently exercised their independence and ruled against the government in politically sensitive cases. The recent ruling on the “Allah” case that allowed a Catholic newspaper to use the word in its Malay language editions has been hailed by critics, including Anwar, as a sign of judicial independence.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court recently reversed a ban on a book of essays on Islam and women’s rights which the government contended contradicted official teachings on Islam and in May last year, it ruled a government takeover of the opposition-ruled north eastern state of Perak was illegal. Critics say such rulings are rare and at times get overturned by the higher courts, as was the case in the Perak verdict which is now before the country’s highest court, the Federal Court. “At the lower level courts, the
re are independent minded judges but at the higher level courts, we’ll have to wait and see because there are lots of issues still not resolved,” said Zaid, the former law minister. – Reuters
Feb 2, 2010
Anwar to call PM as witness
THE current trial had been scheduled to start in July but was delayed due to appeals by Anwar’s lawyers. If found guilty, Anwar could be jailed for 20 years, ending his political career.
WHAT HAS CHANGED SINCE JULY?
Anwar has been on the stump recently, holding rallies, some of which have attracted thousands of supporters, but still a far cry from the tens of thousands of people that attended his rallies in 1998. Since July, a row has erupted over whether Christians have the right to use the word ‘Allah’ or whether it is unique to the Muslim Malay population. While the case may inflame passions, it is unlikely to lead to major riots.
But it has drawn a line between the opposition, which supports the Christians, and a government unable to take a firm stand.
SHOULD INVESTORS BE CONCERNED BY ANWAR’S TRIAL?
Yes, after the Allah row, a caning sentence handed down to a young woman caught drinking beer and continued worries about corruption, Malaysia has been getting its share of bad publicity.
This was the year in which Prime Minister Najib Razak was to enact substantial economic reforms before putting his coalition government on an election footing in 2011. Although elections do not have to be held until 2013, they are likely to come in 2012.
Faced with the row over ‘Allah’, and the prospect that ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian voters will not return to the government fold, Mr Najib may seek to avoid unpopular reforms.
Mr Najib is to review fuel subsidies and any radical reform could add to the government’s unpopularity if it hits poorer Malays. Last year, the government backed off price hikes for electricity and natural gas. Without spending and subsidy reform, efforts to rein in the budget deficit which hit a 20-year high of 7.4 per cent of gross domestic product in 2009 could be in danger.
Reforms so far have drawn praise but little cash from funds.
Malaysia saw the third-biggest drop in foreign exchange reserves of any emerging market country in 2009, according to research from investment bank UBS.
Scared by the global financial crisis and uncertain politics after the 2008 election, foreign investors withdrew US$35 billion (S$49 billion) between Q2 2008 and Q2 2009 .
Foreign ownership of Malaysia’s stock market stood at 20.8 per cent at the end of 2009, according to data from Bursa Malaysia, less than the 21 percent in March before Najib took over the failing leadership of the National Front coalition.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE OPPOSITION IF ANWAR IS JAILED?
Malaysia’s three-party opposition alliance, despite its election successes in 2008 and in recent by-elections, is prone to bickering and indecision. Anwar is the glue that holds the sometimes uneasy alliance of Islamists, a mainly ethnic Chinese party and reformers together. If he is sidelined, the government might be able to prise the opposition apart, winning over the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party.
There is no obvious successor to Anwar and there have been rumblings over the quality of his leadership as well as signs some opposition legislators may shift to the government.
WHAT WILL BE THE IMPACT ON THE GOVERNMENT AND NAJIB?
The government is obsessed with Anwar at every level. The trial could harden opposition to Najib and if Anwar is found guilty with dubious evidence or procedure, it will certainly tarnish the reputation of Malaysia and its prime minister.
The row over religious rights could see the government’s vote banks in the states of Sabah and Sarawak, where there are large Christian minorities, come under threat.
Sarawak has 31 MPs and Sabah 25 and between then they are home to just two opposition MPs. The government has 137 seats in a 222-member parliament.
To get the mandate he needs to push through reforms, Mr Najib needs to improve on the 2008 election showing in which the government lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority. Without it, the government cannot change the constitution. — REUTERS
KUALA LUMPUR – MALAYSIAN opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he would call Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife as witnesses in his sodomy trial due to begin on Tuesday, accusing them of conspiring against him.
Anwar, who was sacked as deputy premier and jailed on similar charges a decade ago, criticised the case as ‘the machinations of the dirty, corrupt few’ as he arrived at court accompanied by his wife and daughters.
Anwar said he had evidence that his accuser, 24-year-old former aide Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, had met with Mr Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor at their home shortly before he lodged a police report.
‘We want to subpoena Najib and Rosmah as witnesses because they were personally involved in the conspiracy and frame-up,’ he told reporters. ‘It is politically motivated,’ he said of the trial which he maintains is a plot to end his political career and neutralise the threat he poses to the Barisan Nasional coalition government.
After a brief hearing the court adjourned until 0630 GMT to allow defence lawyers to attempt to delay the trial while they pursue manoeuvres including a bid to obtain prosecution evidence such as medical reports and CCTV footage.
‘They should not proceed with the matter. Anwar should be allowed to exhaust all appeals,’ defence lawyer Sankara Nair told reporters. ‘Everything should be disposed of, to ensure a fair trial.’ Anwar’s lawyers will now meet with Malaysia’s chief justice to seek his support for another postponement in the trial, which was originally due to begin last July. — AFP