Analysis: 'Anwar factor' lives on


There were demonstrations following Anwar's arrest

By BBC News Online's Mangai Balasegaram

The crowds outside Malaysia's High Court may have dispersed, but the Anwar Ibrahim case is far from over.

The repercussions stemming from one of Malaysia's longest and most sensational trials, which ended on Tuesday with a nine-year sentence for sodomy handed down to the former deputy prime minister, will continue to be felt for some time.

Anwar faces life in jail until the year 2014 as his sentence has been added to one he is already serving for abuse of power.

But even from behind bars Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's nemesis may well continue to be a thorn in his side.

Rallying point

"The issue is going to remain as long as Anwar is inside [jail]," said Lim Guan Eng, national vice-chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party and a former MP who was himself jailed for sedition.

"Out of sight doesn't mean out of mind."


Anwar: A rallying point for the reform movement

"[Nelson] Mandela was in jail for 27 years, but that did not diminish his status," he told BBC News Online.

Mr Lim, who spent 18 months in jail for criticising the government's handling of a rape case involving a 15-year-old girl and a leading politician, said he saw the reformasi (reform) movement continuing.

Anwar has been a rallying point for the protest movement.

"It may quieten down but it could spark up again" with a new crisis, Mr Lim said.

M Nasir, chairman of the opposition Socialist Party, which is fighting to be officially registered, said the case had changed public perception of the government irrevocably.

"The blind support for the government is now gone. People have lost confidence now in our courts, our democracy," he said.

Islamic fundamentalism

But some observers say the reformasi movement is already running out of steam.

They point out that the number of protesters on the streets has dwindled from tens of thousands to a few hundred. Anger at Anwar's conviction is still largely limited to his and Dr Mahathir's own Malay community - and to the premier's United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the key party in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Muslims praying

Religion plays a key role in politics

Many non-Malays associate Anwar with rising Islamic fundamentalism.

Dr Mahathir's government retained its two-thirds majority in elections last year - a win largely attributed to non-Malay votes.

Moreover, Keadilan, the party led by Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, won only a handful of seats.

It was the opposition Islamic party, Pas, which benefited most from the anger seen on the streets.

"Non-Muslims naturally feel very threatened. They fear Islam will grow under this issue," says Mr Lim. "The policies of Pas, which are quite archaic, of course don't help."

Pas has since banned most forms of entertainment and severely limited the sale of alcohol in the two states that it controls.

Umno's position

Mr Lim believes Umno will be particularly hard hit by the Anwar factor.

"I don't see [Umno] regaining support among the Malays as long as Mahathir is there - particularly among the young.


The PM may be haunted by Anwar

"But if Mahathir leaves, then the whole scenario will change."

However, Mr Nur Jaslan, a member of Umno's Youth Central Committee, doubted whether strong public feeling could translate into votes for the opposition.

He pointed out that several Keadilan members had recently rejoined Umno, and that the relationship between the various opposition parties was breaking up.

"The dissatisfaction among Malays will continue - people perceive the system as unfair. But whether that can be amalgamated into a united opposition is doubtful," he said