Yesterday the Federal Court postponed its decision on the Anwar Ibrahim appeal for additional discovery by nine days to January 29th. This forces a one-week delay in the start of the sodomy trial to February 2.The Federal Court’s decision came as a surprise given its Monday morning rejection of a defense request to postpone today’s hearing.
It has also led some observers to the conclusion that the Federal government, seen to be the unseen hand behind the prosecution of Anwar, has flinched.
Since early December the Court has been seen to be on a fast track to start the trial on January 25th. Due process in the final appeal for discovery was almost cast aside in the interests of expediency and the scheduling today’s hearing was also regarded as fast tracking an appeals process which has favoured the prosecution at every stage.
Some are asking why reject the defense’s request for postponement on Monday and then postpone the case two days later?
Behind the scenes there is still little consensus on whether or not this trial will end badly for BN. Some in the ruling coalition believe a repeat of the 1998 Reformasi demonstrations is unlikely and a swift and clean conviction would elicit minimal public outrage. Others are not so sure, and are fearful that Anwar Ibrahim’s ability to mobilize huge mass demonstrations from behind bars is even greater today.
Given the negative publicity that nation has endured since Najib’s premiership began, the country can hardly afford another major international fiasco.
First was the blitzkrieg on Najib and his alleged ties to the Altantuya murder and submarine scandal. Subsequently there have been a number of embarrassing headlines including the women sentenced to caning for alcohol consumption, the cow head incident, and most recently the attacks on Churches and the quarrelling over the prohibition of non-Muslims using the world Allah.
The United States issued a travel advisory to citizens traveling in Sabah, following the Church attacks. Its criticism of some Malaysian policies has been harsh in the recent past.
Splayed across the headlines of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Financial Times, these images are wholly inconsistent with PM Najib’s 1Malaysia slogan and offer bad publicity for a nation whose economic livelihood depends on the continuous flow of foreign direct investment.
With Anwar’s trial looming, it is accepted that there will be a heavy price to pay in the international community given Anwar Ibrahim’s impeccable networking with world leaders and the international media, the legacy of his botched 1998 trials and the dark cloud still hanging over Malaysia’s troubled judiciary since the Lingam tape controversy demonstrated pervasive corruption in the Malaysian courts.
It is also believed that Prime Minister Najib has come under intense international pressure during his current road trip to end what is perceived as the ongoing judicial persecution of Anwar Ibrahim. Efforts by Malaysian ambassadors to justify the case have been largely rebuffed and some world leaders have made personal calls on the Prime Minister to urge him to change course.
The postponement can therefore be seen in the broader context of the UMNO’s inability to commit fully to the political risk of Sodomy II.