Opposiition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is waiting for the decision on his appeal against his sodomy conviction. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 14, 2014. Jail for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim if the Federal Court upholds his sodomy conviction would only serve to hurt the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, perhaps more so now than when former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad first turned him into an arch nemesis, The Edge Review said in a report today.
Jailing Anwar could cost the BN more votes as Malaysians grow tired of the government's treatment of the opposition leader after 16 years, with his latest sodomy appeal taking place against the backdrop of an on-going blitz against opposition politicians and others critical of the establishment by using the colonial-era Sedition Act.
"In the immediate term, a guilty verdict against Anwar will turn the opposition leader into a political martyr on the international stage and further dent Malaysia's image abroad, which has suffered in recent months over attacks on the government for using draconian laws to cow opposition politicians," The Edge Review said in an article, "Hounding of Anwar Ibrahim takes a toll on Malaysia".
Anwar is awaiting a Federal Court decision on his appeal to overturn the conviction of sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008.
The trial court acquitted him but the Court of Appeal in March this year found him guilty and sentenced him to five years' jail. In his appeal to the apex court, the prosecution had also filed a cross-appeal to enhance the length of his jail sentence.
The weekly digital magazine said it appeared "likely" that Anwar would be jailed, and said that this might boost Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's support from within Umno, the party he leads.
It would also cause new problems for the Pakatan Rakyat which the Edge Review said had been struggling to maintain a united front over religious and racial issues.
However, citing analysts, it said that having Anwar in jail "would do nothing for Najib's tattered political prestige among ordinary Malaysians and could even hurt him more than it did Dr Mahathir".
This was because Najib was also dealing with withering internal support from Umno, which meets for its annual general assembly later this month.
Najib has come under attack from party veterans, most visibly by Dr Mahathir and former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin, both of whom have blamed him for Umno's decline. Dr Mahathir has also become increasingly vocal about some of the government's policies under Najib.
The Edge Review said that Umno was now in a fight for its survival, having hit its lowest point in electoral support ever in the 13th general election last year. Though it maintained a parliamentary majority, it lost the popular vote to Pakatan.
Malays first began abandoning Umno from 1998 onwards, when Dr Mahathir sacked Anwar as deputy prime minister and finance minister, and slapped him with the first sodomy charge.
Since then – almost two decades later – analysts have looked back on Anwar's persecution as a "serious and costly misadventure" for Malaysia, the Edge Review said.
"Too much damage has been inflicted on the system because of this campaign," it quoted commentator and political researcher Bridget Welsh as saying.
Even as the Umno-led BN lashes out at its critics using the Sedition Act, its focal point remains Anwar because Umno feared him as "the biggest threat to their hold on power", it added.The Federal Court verdict will be watched closely by international investors because of the current climate of concern over governance and democracy in the Southeast Asian economies of Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, besides Malaysia. – November 14, 2014