Malaysia's high-stakes political standoff just had the ante upped. With the resignation of his wife from Parliament yesterday, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim declared he's running for office in the by-election to fill her seat. The question now is whether the government will allow him to do so. The stakes are high for the ruling National Front. Mr. Anwar's three-party opposition coalition controls 82 of 222 parliamentary seats. If Mr. Anwar wins office -- which seems likely, given he's running for the seat he held for 17 years -- the opposition says 30 MPs would defect to their side, giving them a majority and likely felling the government. Mr. Anwar would be on his way to becoming Prime Minister.
One way to prevent this from happening would be if Mr. Anwar were convicted of a crime, thereby disqualifying him from office. Remember what happened in 1998, the last time Mr. Anwar was riding a wave of popular support across Malaysia's varied ethnic voting blocs. He was convicted of corruption and sodomy in 1999 and 2000, respectively; the sodomy conviction was overturned in 2004.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar told a press conference yesterday that the police have wrapped up their investigation into a new sodomy allegation against Mr. Anwar. But like the 1998 case, the circumstances are questionable. Mr. Anwar's accuser, a 23-year-old aide, is under police protection and the police report he filed remains under wraps. A medical report by a doctor who examined the aide surfaced on Monday that purportedly found no evidence of sodomy.
That puts the spotlight on the Attorney General's office, which will decide whether to charge Mr. Anwar. The AG, Abdul Gani Patail, was a lower-level official in 1998, and Mr. Anwar recently filed a police complaint accusing him of fabricating evidence in that case. A spokesman for the Prime Minister's office says the Attorney General has been recused from the current case. He says, too, that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi won't be involved in the decision.
In an interview with the Associated Press yesterday, Mr. Abdullah suggested that Mr. Anwar had been engaged in other questionable practices. The Prime Minister told the AP that had heard "stories" of Mr. Anwar "tempting" MPs "with monetary offers to cross over to the opposition." "If it were true that money were being offered, to me it would be the worst form of corruption," he said.
So much for reforming Malaysia's democracy, or giving Mr. Anwar a fair chance at the political game.