Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/AFP) Anwar Ibrahim's full exoneration seems to be near. The Federal Court, Malaysia's highest court, agreed to review the former deputy prime minister's conviction on corruption charges for which he has already spent nearly six years in prison.
The judges will review their own 2002 decision to refuse Mr Anwar's appeal against the conviction. In their motion to the court, Anwar's lawyers argued that the accusations on which the conviction was made were "baseless" and that the trial was a "violation of fundamental legal principles". Last Thursday, the same Court had overturned Anwar's sodomy conviction and ordered his release.
Government lawyers opposed the ruling arguing that, as the highest court, the Federal Court's decisions should be final and not open to endless review. However, "[w]e have considered arguments and authorities," Federal Court judge Malek Ahmad said, "and we are of the unanimous view that we have the jurisdiction to hear the motion."
Following her father's release, Anwar's oldest daughter, Nurul Izzah, said: "It's not just a question of politics. [My father] has maintained his innocence from these charges all along."
Unless the corruption conviction is overturned, under Malaysian law Anwar is ineligible to lead a political party or stand for election until 2008. Should the Court reverse itself and overturn the conviction, he could run again.
In the meantime, Mr Anwar flew to Germany on Saturday for an operation to his spine, which he says was injured in a police beating after his arrest in 1998. The doctors who performed the two-hour operation said all went well without any complications.
In the second half of the 1990s, Mr Anwar was deputy prime minister and a supporter of reforms. He sought to modernise Malaysia whilst keeping close ties to Malaysia's Muslim population, including its more fundamentalist segments.
To this day, many Malaysian and foreign observers consider Anwar's convictions as a manoeuvre by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed to remove a challenger from the political scene. Anwar is thus a victim of human rights abuse.
Yet, in spite of the general elation, not all voices are as sanguine about Anwar's reformist and liberal credentials. For Far East expert Philip Bowring Anwar's chequered past raises questions about his future role in the country.
"As finance minister, Anwar practiced the politics of patronage [. . .] creating new business groupings linked to his UMNO (United Malays National Organization) party." Browning further writes that "as deputy prime minister he faithfully defended the use of detention without trial under the Internal Security Act." Furthermore, "his charisma and eloquence [. . .] obscured his willingness to use religion and a pious face more effectively than any Malay politician."
What route will Anwar take if he makes a political comeback? Bowring wonders. Will he truly fight for the reforms and human rights which he now stands for? Time will tell. (MA)