On January 9, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted of charges of sodomy after a two and half year court trial. In 2008, going to prison for sodomy sealed his political career at a time when he was a front runner for the seat of prime minister.
After a relentless battle against his political rivals at home, Ibrahim has now embarked on a mission to bring about democratic reforms in Malaysia.
As the leader of the opposition he is steering Parti Keadilan Rakayat (PKR) against the ruling coalition, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), headed by prime minister Najib Tun Razak.
During his one-day visit to Mumbai (India) he speaks about the ordeal of being charged for sexual harassment, along with the serious economic crisis and authoritarian government in Malaysia. Excerpts of the interview with Shubhangi Khapre.
Why were you sceptical about getting a fair trial?
My apprehensions about getting a fair trial were based on the fact that I was framed on flimsy charges without any evidence and I was punished. The prime minister Najib (Tun Razak) had personally met the complainant. The case was being tried by a single judge and anybody who dares to stand as a witness was being intimidated by police. The prosecutor was not being allowed any access to the medical report of the doctors of the complainant. There was no way to corroborate what was being presented to the court was correct or not. My defence was kept in dark.
At the end, the courts pronounced you not guilty. Is this a sign of judiciary moving towards reforms independent of government pressure?
One swallow does not make a spring. I am not sure if this can be construed as a move towards reforms in judicial system as yet. I am not sure. All I can state is that the court had to give this verdict because of international defence expert who demolished the evidence produced in the court.
The DNA submitted by the prosecution was unreliable. The going for the government was getting tough because of public opinion against the trial where it was clear that I was being wrongly accused out of political vengeance. The international pressure might have forced the government to rethink it's decision.
Can you throw some light on the time between 2008 and 2012 when you underwent trial?
I sarcastically told some of my close friends how much the government 'cared for me' during the trial. They deployed the senior inspector general of police to physically torture me in prison. At least they cared about the stature. The job was not left to ordinary police constables. What could I have expected of them? Whether it was media, judiciary, police or politicians everybody was under government control. Can you imagine how this whole ordeal must have affected my wife and children? The charges tarnished my image internationally. The government-controlled media wrote malicious reports about me and my family. In one report they even questioned as to why my wife (Dr Wan Azizah) was not seeking a divorce. Throughout the trial I was being maligned. Sometimes people say I have a Hindu agenda, and other times they call me a Christian agent. My views on reforms are construed as anti-Islam. I have always been an advocate for multi-culture and multi-ethnicity. I went through terrible agony as my honour and self-respect were targetted.
Why do you think you were framed?
During Prime Minister Mohammad bin Mahathir's term, I had questioned the corruption in the government.
As the deputy prime minister I had tabled an anti-corruption bill in the parliament which was not appreciated. There was a lot of resentment as cabinet colleagues did not approve of the bill.
Mahathir and others were afraid of being penalised for wrong doings. The proposed bill had provisions that allowed for probe and punishment to anyone found guilty even ten years after quitting the highest office of the prime minister or of a cabinet minister.
The bill would have ushered in a change in the entire system, including the police, judges and politicians. Today everything is being traded for holding on to power.
Earlier, as the finance minister I was expected to give a 700-million-dollar bail out package for a company associated with Mahathir’s son. I turned down the decision. Since then my relations with Mahathir were tense. I was sacked. And the opposition has stayed on with present government being headed by Najib.
Ahead of the 2013 elections what are the challenges?
Malaysia, I feel, is living in a state of denial. We are failing to see where the world is going. It is time we decided whether we want a democracy or a dictatorial regime which is taking our nation backwards. There are Muslim countries that have taken to democracy. Are we going to take the example of progressive Turkey or repressive Burma and Zimbabwe. The people of Malaysia want reform and a promise of better life.
Are you anticipating early polls?Elections can take place any time between March and September (2013). The biggest challenge for my country is to fight corruption, which has become an epidemic, and undertake major reforms for democracy. We all look up to India which is the second largest populated country practicing democracy. People in Malaysia want change.
Reforms in political system, are we talking of inching towards democracy?Reforms are possible if free and fair elections are allowed in Malaysia. Do you know that the leader of opposition is not allowed even a single minute on the government-controlled television?
In the backdrop of global recession, how is Malaysia faring?
Global recession has certainly affected Malaysia, which has lead to export of petroleum and palm oil to America, China and India.
There is a problem of wasteful expenditure in the government which needs to be curbed. The GDP growth during my tenure as finance minister was 9 to 10%. However, since 1998, it showed a decline. It has come down to 6.7% at present.
You had proposed reforms in the economic policy which was dismissed as anti-Malay? Do you still support that idea?
I was in favour of dismantling the National Economic Policy (NEP) which gave preferential treatment to the Malays over the ethnic Chinese and Indians in education, housing and employment. I must explain I am not against Malays. In 1971, I had strongly supported the policy whose objective was to provide better economic conditions and education for Malays that were poor. However, after 40 years I think it is pointless to continue the policy as the funds are being diverted to the rich and powerful and not the needy in Malaysia.
Will this economic reform go against you in these elections?I have always believed in multi-culture and multi-ethnicity. I shall explain to the people how in the name of locals a handful of powerful politicians are misusing their money.