Anwar trial will not derail struggle for justice, democracy

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Whatever happens to Anwar, Malaysians will continue to demand greater democracy, accountability and socio-economic justice to ensure that the momentum towards change is not derailed, writes Anil Netto.

Anwar Ibrahim is in the dock once again.

As with the original corruption and sodomy trials and his subsequent imprisonment in 1998-2004, his fate seems intricately tied with the hopes of many for a more democratic Malaysia.

Memories of those tumultuous reformasi years a decade have now come flooding back as Anwar’s latest predicament makes global news headlines.

Once again, Anwar’s political future hangs in the balance, after many had pinned their hopes on his ability to unite disparate forces aspiring for reforms.

But much has also changed since the last sodomy trial.

Reformasi unleashed the pent-up aspirations among Malaysians for a more democratic Malaysian. A decade of political ferment has furthered the struggle for democratic change.

In March 2008, Malaysians showed how far they had come when they punished the Barisan Nasional by depriving it of its coveted two thirds parliamentary majority. That brought us closer to a viable two-coalition system.

Since then, we have seen how the BN and the reactionary forces within its sphere of influence have done all they could to contain the clamour for change using the arsenal of ‘weapons’ they are familiar with – race, religion, repression.

But this time it may not work; the democratic aspirations of Malaysians have moved beyond Anwar as a rallying point, even – to a certain extent – beyond race and religion.

Though Anwar may still have a role to play in uniting opposition political parties, Malaysians themselves have become more politically mature and discerning. Evidence of this was seen when they did not fall for the bait when severely provoked by the spate of attacks on Muslim, Christian and Sikh religious sites in the aftermath of the High Court decision on the Allah issue. It was a marvellous victory for the innate good sense of the common people.

For now, they are closely watching Anwar’s trial. Not just Malaysians but the whole world is watching.

Already, Najib’s 1Malaysia slogan sounds hollow in the light of the Allah controversy and the allegedly racist remarks made by an aide of his a couple of days ago. Such unnecessary controversies have sidelined other urgent issues such as the PKFZ scandal, the missing jet engines and the Perak fiasco and a restructuring of the economy towards more sustainable development in the light of depleting petroleum reserves.

Alas, whither Malaysia?

But if anyone is hoping that recent events will slow down the pace of democratic reforms, they would be sadly mistaken. Whatever happens to Anwar, Malaysians will continue to demand greater democracy, accountability and socio-economic justice to ensure that the momentum towards change is not derailed. Make no mistake about that.

Anil Netto is the Hon Treasurer of Aliran

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