Thu, Jul 09, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Few rally for Anwar as trial delayed

WANING INFLUENCE: The trial of the former Malaysian deputy prime minister attracted only about 100 people, as public interest in the long-running case declined

REUTERS , KUALA LUMPUR

Just a handful of people turned out to cheer Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at his latest court appearance as a new poll said government reforms were popular, which may show Anwar’s influence is waning.

Anwar denounced the trial for sodomy, which was scheduled to start yesterday, as a “despicable and desperate” move by the government to remove him from politics after the judge said he would delay it and hear applications from lawyers next Wednesday.

On an overcast day in Kuala Lumpur, around 100 black-clad opposition supporters shouting Allahu Akbar (God is great) and reformasi (reform), pushed into the court complex but there were no clashes with police, who heavily outnumbered them.

The protesters were far fewer than the thousands who thronged court appearances in 1998 at the height of the Asian financial crisis after Anwar was dismissed as deputy prime minister and charged with sodomy and corruption in a case lasting 14 months.

“It is not as tension-filled as before. It is almost as if people are used to seeing this situation and frankly, I am tired of this case,” said Mohd Amir Hamza, a shopkeeper who watched the arrival of Anwar and photographed him with his mobile phone.

The judge said yesterday that he would hear applications for dismissal of the case, discovery of evidence by the defense and set a new date for the trial next Wednesday after Anwar’s lawyers said they needed more time to prepare.

The National Front government, led by the United Malays National Organization, stumbled to its worst election losses last year, losing its two-thirds parliamentary majority and seeing five of 13 states fall to the opposition, a record haul.

Since then the National Front has lost a series of state and parliamentary by-elections forcing the government to switch prime ministers, appointing Najib Razak, the son of Malaysia’s second post-independence leader, to head the government in April.

In his first 100 days in office, Najib has announced an ambitious set of reforms aimed at boosting foreign investment in the export-dependent country, whose economy is expected by the government to contract up to 5 percent this year.

Last week he unveiled a series of measures to open up the economy, risking the ire of the majority Malay population who saw some of their economic privileges removed.

But a poll published yesterday showed Najib appeared to have gained traction for the government and his reforms had won widespread approval.

Najib’s personal popularity rating surged to 65 percent from 42 percent in the middle of May, a poll from the independent Merdeka Center said, and 60 percent of the 1,062 people questioned approved of the reforms.

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