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A grave injustice avoided

By Ooi Kee Beng

For TODAY, Singapore│10 January 2012

The High Court verdict on Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial must be seen as a big triumph for the three-member opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

One of the biggest challenges that it has in trying to win federal power is to convince voters that it has the leaders needed for such a change in paradigm.

And whatever the ideology of its component parties, they have to deal with the reality that a PR Prime Minister must come from the Malay community. Whether or not Democratic Action Party stalwart Lim Kit Siang can be accepted as Deputy Prime Minister is one thing, but a non-Malay as top leader is still not thinkable in this time and age.

That is why so much energy had over the last few years been put by opinion makers supportive of the ruling Barisan Nasional into questioning the suitability of Mr Anwar to become Prime Minister. The latest to join this choir was surprisingly blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, a one-time Anwar supporter.

Premier Najib Razak must now try more than ever to overcome the right wing within his party. He needs to project the only image of himself that can win him a substantial number of votes – that of a reformist Prime Minister. The speed of his reforms must go up a couple of gears if he is to turn the political arena into one that is about policy competition, and prevail at that.

Mr Anwar’s acquittal also brings hope to all those who have been worrying for the health of the Judiciary. The prosecution had managed a rather weak case against him, and the judge’s decision should have been expected. The fact that most people were nevertheless certain that Mr Anwar would be convicted was a measure of the low esteem in which the courts are held.

Simply put, justice was respected yesterday in Malaysia. But whoever should take credit for it is not the vital thing. What is important is that a grave injustice was avoided

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About Ooi Kee Beng

Dr OOI KEE BENG is the Executive Director of Penang Institute (George Town, Penang, Malaysia). He was born and raised in Penang, and was the Deputy Director of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS). He is the founder-editor of the Penang Monthly (published by Penang Institute), ISEAS Perspective (published by ISEAS) and ISSUES (published by Penang Institute). He is also editor of Trends in Southeast Asia, and a columnist for The Edge, Malaysia.

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