Most Malaysians believe Anwar is innocent

3 July 2008

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elEconomista.es

By Jalil Hamid

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Opinion polls show most peoplebelieve Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim did not commit sodomy against an aide after he was jailed on a similarcharge seen as politically motivated before it was overturned.

A small survey by the independent Merdeka Centre research firm found just 6 percent of respondents believed the allegations, and nearly 60 percent viewed it as politically motivated.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle for the government because you are facing a more cynical public,” said the firm’s pollster, Ibrahim Suffian. The survey polled 225 ethnic Malaysia aged 20 and above.

A separate survey by the independent news website,Malaysiakini (www.malaysiakini.com), showed that 94.4 percent of its respondents believed the allegation was part of apolitical conspiracy against Anwar.

The political uncertainty dragged the stock market lower again, with the benchmark Kuala Lumpur Composite Index down 1.7percent at the midday break. The index has lost about 3 percent so far this week.

Ratings agency Fitch, which has a positive outlook for Malaysia’s foreign currency rating and a stable outlook for the local currency, said it was monitoring the impact of the political situation on economic policies.

“The concern that we have would be that the political situation begins to affect the policy outlook. There is not eally much evidence of that just yet,” James McCormack, headof Asia sovereign ratings at Fitch, told Reuters.

“It appears to us there is a political transition of sorts under way in Malaysia. The question is how fast does that move and how significant is it. And I think some of those answers are still unclear,” he said.

SHOW OF SUPPORT

More than 7,000 people turned up at an impromptu rally lateon Tuesday night in the biggest show of support for Anwar since the aide complained to police at the weekend about an alleged assault at a luxury Kuala Lumpur apartment last Thursday.

Police have yet to question Anwar, who has dismissed the allegation as a top-level political conspiracy to keep him from standing for parliament, and to stymie his campaign aimed at wooing defectors from the ruling National Front coalition.

Winning a seat in parliament would be the first step on the road to Anwar’s wider ambition of leading the opposition top ower for the first time in Malaysian history.

The sodomy case emerged at a time when Abdullah’s UMNO party has been riven by dissent and the loose opposition alliance was making a bid to take power. The three-party alliance made historic gains in a March 8 general election,winning five of 13 state governments and coming within 30 seats of taking control of the 222-member parliament.

Anwar was jailed for six years on a charge of committing sodomy with an aide and a family driver after he broke with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over the handling of the 1998 Asian financial crisis. The Federal Court overturned the conviction in 2004. Sodomy is a crime punishable by up to 20years in prison in mainly Muslim Malaysia.

Anwar has said he planned to file a legal deposition soon demonstrating that his accuser, Saiful Bukhari, had close ties with Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his staff.

At the rally, Anwar said he would not sit quietly and allow a repeat of what happened to him 10 years ago. The crowd, who had gathered at the indoor stadium in Shah Alam just outside the capital two hours before he turned up late at night,chanted “Reformasi”, the battle cry of his reform movement.

“We will fight. When we take over the country, the first thing we will do is to bring down the price of fuel,” Anwar said.

(Additional reporting by Faisal Aziz; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Ben Tan)

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