Friday, June 19, 2015

Sham(e) of Malaysian Democracy

On May 7th, Malaysia held a by-election for a parliamentary seat previously held by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who was forced to vacate his seat after being sentenced to five years in jail on what many believe are trumped-up charges of sodomy.

Anwar is the founding member and leader of the People's Justice Party of the Parti Rakyat (PR) coalition, the main opposition coalition in Malaysia. The advances made by PR in a 2013 general election presented a genuine challenge to the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia since 1957. Anwar's conviction, however, disqualifies him from holding office and Malaysian law prevents him from holding office for five years following his release.

Anwar, who was initially acquitted of the charges, told the judges overseeing the case that they were "partners in crime in the murder of judicial independence." The trial has drawn international condemnation with the United States calling it a politically motivated prosecution. Human Rights watch also chimed in claiming that the "abusive and archaic law is a major setback for human rights in Malaysia."

Anwar is seen by many as a legitimate challenger to Prime Minister Najib Razak. He previously faced sodomy charges in 1998 after being ousted as Deputy Prime Minister following a falling-out with former premier Mahathir. Anwar led a nationwide reform movement against nepotism and corruption. Malaysia's top court dismissed those charges in 2004. In an Economist podcast from May 4th titled "The week ahead: The year of the Scots," Richard Cockett, former Southeast Asia correspondent, explains premier Razak was "desperate" to lock Anwar up because he became "perilously close" to gaining a majority of seats in the 2013 general election. While the PR won a popular majority of votes, they lost to the government regarding the number of seats in parliament.

Anwar's seat was won by his wife, Wan Aziza Wan Ismail. On June 15th, however, the coalition disbanded, further undermining opposition unity and gains made against the Barisan Nasional coalition. How this effects the future of Aziza and Anwar's political careers remain to be seen. What is clear, however, is that sodomy should not be a crime.

Charges, if any, that should have been brought against Anwar are those of rape or sexual assault. The political aid who accused Anwar claims the sexual contact was unwanted. Yet, the bigger issue is that the Malaysian state is attempting to legislate morality, an affair neither it nor any other government holds the right to do. While it can be argued that murder, rape, theft, and corruption are all acts that are immoral and as such outlawed by most states, they also contain the element of harm against another person, whereas consenting acts of sodomy, oral sex... harm nobody. Several components of Sharia law are present in Malaysian law and among those are laws outlawing homosexuality. This bifurcated attack on democracy should not be overlooked as not only does the Malaysian state seeks to over-zealously adjudicate morality against its perceived enemies, but also attempts to impose religion on its citizens, leaving them without the option to worship as they please. This is not an attempt to undermine rape allegations, but how a person chooses to love and worship is of no consequence to the state.

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