Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted yesterday in a stunning climax to a two-year sodomy trial and quickly set his sights on ousting the long-ruling coalition in upcoming polls.
The unexpected decision set off pandemonium at the Kuala Lumpur High Court where Anwar — a former deputy prime minster who was sacked in 1998 and jailed on earlier sodomy charges — was mobbed by jubilant family and friends.
“Thank God, justice has been served,” Anwar told reporters in the courtroom after being cleared of sexual misconduct with a young male aide, charges he said were a conspiracy to cripple his resurgent opposition alliance.
An elated Anwar later said he was now clear to focus on the prize he has sought since his shock ouster from the ruling party in 1998: Consigning the governing Barisan Nasional coalition to history.
“Now that I am vindicated and freed, naturally I will work with my friends and ... the coalition of opposition parties to ensure we can wrest control of Putrajaya [Malaysia’s administrative capital],” he said.
Thousands of supporters who had massed at the court under heavy security erupted into cheers and celebrated in the streets, shouting the opposition’s battle cry of “reformasi [reform].”
In a brief statement, Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah said controversial DNA evidence submitted by the prosecution in the case was unreliable.
“The court is always reluctant to convict on sexual offenses without corroborative evidence. Therefore, the accused is acquitted and discharged,” he said.
The ruling came as a surprise to many, including Anwar, who had said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had fixed the verdict to remove him as a political threat and shore up the coalition’s five-decade grip on power.
Najib faces a deadline of early next year to hold new polls in the ethnically diverse and resource-rich nation, in which he hopes to reverse unprecedented gains made by the opposition in the 2008 elections.
However, Anwar is now free to campaign at the helm of his opposition alliance — an unlikely marriage spanning Malaysia’s dominant Malay community, conservative Muslim forces and the ethnic-Chinese and Indian minorities.