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Malay dissident in India for democratic recharge

world Updated: Jan 13, 2012 01:41 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Just days after a court overturned sodomy charges against him, Malaysian opposition leader Dato Seri Anwar bin Ibrahim has scheduled a meeting of his political coalition on Saturday to hammer out an election charter.

Anwar says he is "very optimistic" about his party's chances in next year's polls.

Anwar has been an international cause celebre because of his 12-year-old struggle with Malaysia's grey eminence, Mahathir bin Mohammad. During this struggle Anwar has in and out of jail on charges of corruption and sodomy. He still walks stiffly from a back injury that he says came from a beating he received in jail.

With the recent court judgment, Anwar foresees a wave of political change - if the electoral process is fair. The wiry 75-year-old politician notes that in the last poll, his coalition won half the seats and only lost because of an unusually large number of postal ballots. "You know postal ballots are not electronic," he smiles and shrugs.

Anwar is in Mumbai to fulfil a promise to attend a conference organised by Rajmohan Gandhi. He was in Malaysia the day of the judgment but flew to India right after. And he flies out Friday to begin preparations at home.

But coming to India gives him an opportunity to get some media play. "I have to use the international media because the Malaysian media is silent about me." He laughs at the irony of being "interviewed by everyone except Malays."

Anwar, like all Asian democracy dissidents, has a mild bone to pick with New Delhi. "India has not done enough to promote itself" as an example of democracy. He cites the greatness of India's independent judiciary, free press and transparent electoral process.

When he was a minister under Mahathir he promoted seminars on Mahatma Gandhi and other Asian reformers to show up the alternative to Mahathir's "Asian values" philosophy - an intellectual rationalisation of one-party rule.

Though Malaysian media downplays him, Anwar says, even the likes of Anna Hazare has had an impact in the country thanks to new media. He would almost certainly like it to have more: the mega-corruption at the highest levels in Kuala Lumpur is going to an essential part of his campaign platform.