KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 1 — A Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim behind bars would not doom the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) pact he leads as there is a clear line of successors to fill his spot, the Economist said.
A decision to uphold the opposition leader’s five-year sentence for sodomy would instead reinvigorate his political stardom, which has been waning in recent years, the London-based weekly added in an editorial piece published yesterday.
A free Anwar remains the most potent threat to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), it added.
“He can still raise a crowd. On October 27th Malaysia’s oldest university appeared to cut the electricity to parts of its campus in order to discourage students from attending a rally in his defence. But his story is less compelling to young Malaysians than it was to those who heeded his first calls for change in 1998.
“Another jail sentence would make a martyr of him; it would also give his party’s younger leaders a chance to shine,” it said in the editorial titled “A lousy sequel”.
Saying that Anwar has served as the proverbial glue that binds the ideologically-disparate parties of PKR, PAS, and DAP, The Economist noted that a new generation of leaders has since emerged who could amply fill the role.
PKR deputy president Azmin Ali was touted as a possible heir to the throne, after recently being made Selangor mentri besar in an acrimonious and politically costly power struggle for the state.
“In the PKR Mr Azmin is the most promising of them. He cut his teeth as Mr Anwar’s private secretary during his years in government and has proven a loyal deputy. But the capable 50-year-old can readily move out from his mentor’s shadow.
“Mr Azmin has greater experience than either Nurul Izzah Anwar, Mr Anwar’s impressive daughter, or Rafizi Ramli, a party strategist somewhat tarnished by the Selangor debacle. Healing the wounds in that state would help convince voters that Mr Azmin could run the country competently,” the weekly added.
For BN, it added that the larger threat was neither Anwar nor the person who may succeed him at the head of PR, but rather the increasingly vocal conservatives within the “thuggish” Umno, whom it said were resisting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s bid for reforms.
The Federal Court is now hearing Anwar’s challenge of the Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn a lower court’s decision to acquit him of the charge.
The High Court had in 2012 acquitted Anwar of the 2008 charge but the appellate court ruled on March 7 this year that the trial judge had erred when rejecting the DNA evidence produced in the case.
Anwar has repeatedly maintained his innocence, insisting that the charges were trumped up to kill his political career as he allegedly poses a threat to the BN coalition’s decades-long rule with the PR alliance, which he now leads.
If Anwar fails to reverse his five-year imprisonment sentence and conviction in the Federal Court, he would lose his seat as the law bars anyone fined RM2,000 or imprisoned for one year from serving as a lawmaker.