‘Malaysia’s biggest challenge is democracy’

During his one-day visit to Mumbai (India) Anwar Ibrahim speaks about the ordeal of being charged for sexual harassment, along with the serious economic crisis and authoritarian government in Malaysia. Excerpts of the interview with Shubhangi Khapre.

By Shubhangi Khapre, Daily News Analysis

On January 9, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted of charges of sodomy after a two and half year court trial. In 2008, going to prison for sodomy sealed his political career at a time when he was a front runner for the seat of prime minister.

After a relentless battle against his political rivals at home, Ibrahim has now embarked on a mission to bring about democratic reforms in Malaysia.

As the leader of the opposition he is steering Parti Keadilan Rakayat (PKR) against the ruling coalition, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), headed by prime minister Najib Tun Razak.

During his one-day visit to Mumbai (India) he speaks about the ordeal of being charged for sexual harassment, along with the serious economic crisis and authoritarian government in Malaysia. Excerpts of the interview with Shubhangi Khapre.

Why were you sceptical about getting a fair trial?
My apprehensions about getting a fair trial were based on the fact that I was framed on flimsy charges without any evidence and I was punished. The prime minister Najib (Tun Razak) had personally met the complainant. The case was being tried by a single judge and anybody who dares to stand as a witness was being intimidated by police. The prosecutor was not being allowed any access to the medical report of the doctors of the complainant. There was no way to corroborate what was being presented to the court was correct or not. My defence was kept in dark.

At the end, the courts pronounced you not guilty. Is this a sign of judiciary moving towards reforms independent of government pressure?
One swallow does not make a spring. I am not sure if this can be construed as a move towards reforms in judicial system as yet. I am not sure. All I can state is that the court had to give this verdict because of international defence expert who demolished the evidence produced in the court.

The DNA submitted by the prosecution was unreliable. The going for the government was getting tough because of public opinion against the trial where it was clear that I was being wrongly accused out of political vengeance. The international pressure might have forced the government to rethink it’s decision.

Can you throw some light on the time between 2008 and 2012 when you underwent trial?
I sarcastically told some of my close friends how much the government ‘cared for me’ during the trial. They deployed the senior inspector general of police to physically torture me in prison. At least they cared about the stature. The job was not left to ordinary police constables. What could I have expected of them? Whether it was media, judiciary, police or politicians everybody was under government control. Can you imagine how this whole ordeal must have affected my wife and children? The charges tarnished my image internationally. The government-controlled media wrote malicious reports about me and my family. In one report they even questioned as to why my wife (Dr Wan Azizah) was not seeking a divorce. Throughout the trial I was being maligned. Sometimes people say I have a Hindu agenda, and other times they call me a Christian agent. My views on reforms are construed as anti-Islam. I have always been an advocate for multi-culture and multi-ethnicity. I went through terrible agony as my honour and self-respect were targetted.

Why do you think you were framed?
During Prime Minister Mohammad bin Mahathir’s term, I had questioned the corruption in the government.

As the deputy prime minister I had tabled an anti-corruption bill in the parliament which was not appreciated. There was a lot of resentment as cabinet colleagues did not approve of the bill.

Mahathir and others were afraid of being penalised for wrong doings. The proposed bill had provisions that allowed for probe and punishment to anyone found guilty even ten years after quitting the highest office of the prime minister or of a cabinet minister.

The bill would have ushered in a change in the entire system, including the police, judges and politicians. Today everything is being traded for holding on to power.

Earlier, as the finance minister I was expected to give a 700-million-dollar bail out package for a company associated with Mahathir’s son. I turned down the decision. Since then my relations with Mahathir were tense. I was sacked. And the opposition has stayed on with present government being headed by Najib.