Shifting opinion post-verdict

SOON after he was acquitted and discharged of his sodomy charge, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim told the French news agency AFP that his surprise acquittal was linked to government fears that a guilty verdict would tarnish its image overseas.

Despite Anwar and his opposition colleagues claiming a moral victory over the non-guilty verdict, public opinion over the verdict seemed to favour the Malaysian government and the judiciary.  

A Jalil Hamid, New Straits Times

He did not stop at that. Touting himself as a hero who would “free the people”, he told reporters gathered at the Jalan Duta courthouse that the opposition’s “final stand” would be in Putrajaya.
Later that night, he flew to Mumbai where he gave more interviews to foreign and domestic media.
It was totally not unexpected of the opposition leader, who had an old habit of “spinning” for his political survival.
I remember how his first sodomy trial in 1999 was briefly halted after allegations surfaced that he suffered arsenic poisoning while in prison. His defence lawyer then, Karpal Singh, was quick to point an accusing finger at “some government leaders” whom he said could be responsible for putting Anwar’s life in jeopardy.
And in 2008, Anwar took refuge at the compound of the Turkish embassy after he said his life could be in danger immediately after his former male aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, accused him of sodomy.  
As Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, commenting on Anwar’s spinning overdrive, puts it: “Now that he is freed, he is saying that we are afraid of him. Their style of politics is just to spin everything.”
Najib said it was the same person who had failed to give positive inputs when the country faced a crisis.
Despite Anwar and his opposition colleagues claiming a moral victory over the non-guilty verdict, public opinion over the verdict seemed to favour the Malaysian government and the judiciary.  
Western governments, from Australia to the United States, even applauded the acquittal. Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd noted: “I think it does say something for the evolution of the Malaysian legal system.”   
United States State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the ruling reflected favourably on the independence of  Malaysia’s judiciary.
Among the main news items and commentaries on the verdict from around the world, the respected London-based news magazine, The Economist, in its Jan 14 issue, was surprisingly quite vocal against Anwar.
Saying his reputation is “tarnished” and casting doubts whether the acquittal would help the opposition in the coming general election at all, the magazine said Anwar still remained a “distant and untrustworthy figure”.
It wrote: “In the longer term, however, things are less clear-cut. Although Mr Anwar remains a charismatic figure and a forceful speaker, his reputation has been tarnished. That won’t matter to his acolytes, but at 64 he also seems a distant and untrustworthy figure to many younger Malaysians.”
In fact, The Economist even suggested that given a choice, his political allies would have preferred him jailed.  
“In prison, some political operators say, he could have served as a useful martyr figure to rally the opposition. Now, they are stuck with him indefinitely as a leader. Mr Anwar may still be popular enough to land a few blows on the government. But he may also be too weakened to deliver the knockout punch.”
The Economist story aside, there is increasing pressure from the public on Anwar and the opposition to apologise, especially to the sitting judge and the prosecution, for the various allegations levelled against them throughout the trial.
Inevitably, High Court Judge Datuk Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah was the main target of Anwar and his team of lawyers during the more than two-year proceedings.
Anwar thanked his legal team led by Karpal following the verdict, but made no apology to the judge.
Barisan Nasional politicians found this appalling.
 “It is only fair they apologise… because over the past three years, they have made wild, spurious and unfounded allegations against the judiciary and government of manipulating the judicial process, manufacturing these charges and seeking to end Anwar’s career,” said Gerakan deputy president Datuk Chang Ko Youn.
Added Datuk Rahman Dahlan, the Kota Belud MP: “I know they are celebrating, but could someone remind Pakatan to send a little note of apology to Justice Zabidin? I think he deserves it.”