Malaysia Court Reverses Anwar Sodomy Acquittal Before State Vote

A Malaysian court overturned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal in 2012 on a sodomy charge, a lawyer for his People’s Justice Party said.

The Court of Appeal judges will mitigate the case today even as Anwar’s lawyers seek more time, party lawyer Latheefa Koya told reporters outside the court in Putrajaya. The guilty verdict by the Court of Appeal casts doubt over Anwar’s ability to contest a special state election later this month.

The sodomy verdict against Anwar may escalate political tensions in Muslim-majority Malaysia at a time when the government is in a legal tussle with Catholics to prevent them using the word “Allah” to refer to God in non-Muslim texts. Anwar is standing for a vacant Selangor state seat in a special election, with candidates due to nominate on March 11 ahead of the vote on March 23.

“In the short term it means that there will be a vacuum in terms of leadership” in the People’s Justice Party and Anwar’s Pakatan Rakyat coalition, said James Chin, professor of political science at the Malaysian campus of Australia’s Monash University. “If you take Anwar out, this means that you open up a can of worms. With Anwar there, at least there’s more predictability in terms of domestic politics in Malaysia.”

The former deputy prime minister was cleared on Jan. 9, 2012 after Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah ruled that there was no evidence to corroborate claims made by a former aide of a sexual encounter in 2008. Sodomy is illegal in Malaysia and carries a maximum sentence of as long as 20 years in prison.

Selangor Vote

The People’s Justice Party announced in January that Anwar, who holds a seat in the national parliament, would stand for the vacant state seat in Selangor.

The decision to have Anwar contest reflects the party’s efforts to speed reform in the state and fend off political attacks by the United Malays National Organisation, the country’s biggest party, Rafizi Ramli, strategic director of the People’s Justice Party, said in a statement released Jan. 29.

If Anwar secures the seat it could open the way for him to later seek the post of chief minister in the state, which in 2012 was the biggest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product.

The 2012 acquittal allowed Anwar to lead the opposition in general elections that were held in May 2013. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional coalition won a parliamentary majority, even though it secured just 47 percent of the popular vote. Anwar’s own party and another made up mainly of ethnic Malays did worse than the previous election in 2008 while his ally, the mostly ethnic-Chinese Democratic Action Party, improved its fortunes.

Anwar was former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s deputy in the late 1990s during the Asian financial crisis. As finance minister he gave speeches citing Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction. In the case of Southeast Asia, that meant countries would emerge stronger from the financial downturn, Anwar said.

Mahathir disagreed. In 1998, he fired Anwar, pegged the currency and imposed capital controls. Within a month, Anwar was arrested. He spent the next six years in prison on convictions for abuse of power and sodomy, and was released in 2004 after Mahathir retired and a judge overturned the guilty verdict for having sex with a man.

To contact the reporter on this story: Manirajan Ramasamy in Kuala Lumpur at rmanirajan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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