Sodomy saga grabs headlines in Malaysia election (Pressemitteilung) – Wien, Austria | KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP), 17-Aug-2008 – Sodomy. It’s not a word that pops up in everyday conversation in any society. But in Malaysia, where sodomy is a crime, it has become part of the political vocabulary, used with unabashed ease in newspaper headlines, on prime time television news and in dinner chats and smutty jokes on the Internet.

Malaysians have been transfixed by a lurid political drama that began unfolding in June when top opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was accused of sodomizing a male aide, the second time he has faced such an allegation in a decade. Anwar says both allegations were trumped up for political purposes. The first one came in 1998 when he was deputy prime minister and locked in a power struggle with then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The latest charge comes as he seeks to topple the current government. He is running for parliament in a special election Aug. 26 that he hopes will be his springboard to the premiership. «They are making a mockery of the process,» Anwar told reporters recently. «Give me a break. I’ve gone through hell already. … I’m convinced ultimately I’ll be vindicated.

The sodomy accusation is unlikely to hurt him, analysts say. They worry, though, about the aftermath of the vote. If the 61-year-old Anwar loses, his supporters will assume the elections were rigged and might take to the streets. Even if he wins, he faces the possibility of being convicted of sodomy, which likewise could prompt unrest. «It will be a landmark by-election. It will be a deciding factor for Anwar,» said political analyst Denison Jayasooriya.

Anwar held the seat in the northern state of Penang from 1982 to 1999, when he was forced to resign after the first sodomy accusation. He was convicted of sodomy and abuse of power and sentenced to 15 years in jail. He was freed in 2004 after the sodomy conviction was overturned on a technicality. His wife held the seat until recently, when she vacated it so he could run. He faces a relatively lightweight candidate from the ruling party. Many see the election as a referendum on the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

In March elections, the Anwar-led People’s Alliance made unprecedented gains against Badawi’s National Front coalition, which has ruled since Malaysia became independent in 1957. The National Front retained a majority of 140 seats in the 222-seat parliament, but the People’s Alliance boosted its numbers from 19 seats to 82 and won control of five of Malaysia’s 13 states.

Anwar says it is now a matter of time before he forms the first opposition government in Malaysia’s history. He has promised a corruption-free administration, racial equality, religious freedom, free-market reforms and an end to the stranglehold held by the ethnic Malay majority on politics, government jobs and contracts and university admissions.
«It is a historic moment for Malaysians, especially the silent majority to convey how they want the nation to move ahead,» Jayasooriya said.
An opinion poll by the independent Merdeka Center this month found that a majority of respondents thought the sodomy accusation _ leveled by Anwar’s 23-year-old former aide _ was politically motivated. Less than a third were confident that police would handle the case fairly.
Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. More importantly, many in the Malay community, which is predominantly Muslim, consider it a sin. Malays make up about 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people.

«They are using sodomy as a political weapon to defeat an opponent. It is an act of desperation. It is the only way they hope the Malay community will react against the ‘evil Anwar,»’ said Collin Abraham, a sociologist. Malaysian media, including blogs, Internet news portals and even the government-controlled mainstream media, have reported sordid minutiae of the case, including details that would be unprintable in most Western newspapers.

«It’s like a B grade soap opera. It is very embarrassing for Malaysians in the international stage,» said M.G. Sekaran, a senior business executive who said he is regularly queried by foreign business partners about the case. «I feel the country’s future is being held to ransom by a 23-year-old university dropout whose credibility is questionable at best,» he said. Media outlets have published a medical report by a private doctor who performed the first rectal examination on the former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, and found no evidence of sodomy.

Police registered a case against Anwar after the aide underwent a second examination at a government hospital. The results of that examination have not been released.
The first doctor has since gone underground, leading to speculation that he may have been forced to leave the country to keep his mouth shut. The government denies any conspiracy. The aide «needs justice,» Prime Minister Abdullah said in an interview last month with The Associated Press. «That is what he is crying for. We cannot ignore that.