Sodomy verdict evens out playing field in BN-Pakatan rivalry

(The Malaysian Insider) – Malaysia’s political middle ground is now up for grabs following Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal on a sodomy charge that divided voters and was a major distraction for both Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

Political analysts told The Malaysian Insider today that with the end of the sodomy trial, the two political rivals could now focus their attention on the economy and reforms needed to ensure Malaysia remains competitive.

“The next election will now be fought on policy issues, on alternatives of how the country can be further governed and developed, and on quality instead of sensational issues.

“The positive outcome of the case evens out the playing field,” Ibrahim Suffian (picture) from the Merdeka Center told The Malaysian Insider.

Ibrahim and other analysts believe that today’s verdict gives Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak a chance to reclaim the middle ground of Malaysian politics, after major inroads were made by PR parties in Election 2008.

Earlier today, Information Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim made the case for the government that today’s verdict not only showed the courts were free from manipulation but was also an extension of Najib’s reforms push.

Rais had said in a statement issued immediately after the sodomy verdict that “the current wave of bold democratic reforms introduced by Prime Minister Najib Razak will help extend this transparency to all areas of Malaysian life.”

Ibrahim appeared to agree with Rais’s point, pointing out that “for Najib it allows him to continue speaking as a reformer.”

“He (Najib) has not interfered in the court process and the judiciary was independent in this case,” he said.

The High Court today acquitted Anwar of a charge of sodomising his former male aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

Judge Mohd Zabidin Mohd Diah ruled that the prosecution had not done enough to prove Anwar had committed sodomy against Saiful.

“It’s a significant moment,” Bridget Welsh, a professor at Singapore Management University and a long-term observer of Malaysian politics who was on hand to attend the verdict, was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

“It shows that Mr Najib is willing to step away from interfering in the judiciary.”