The sex trial of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has become a bore-fest for a worn-out audience, despite having all the makings of a highly charged scandal, full of sordid details of illicit dalliances, accusations of lies and conspiracies.
When Anwar, 63, was initially charged with sodomizing his 25-year-old male aide in 2008, local and international media were clamouring to get the details as an eager public soaked in what one paper called the scandal of the decade.
What heightened the interest was that it wasn’t the first time fingers were being pointed at Anwar, a married father of six and grandfather to two.
In 1998, Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister and subsequently found guilty of sodomizing his former driver and using his position to cover it up. Even if consensual this sexual act is illegal in Malaysia.
He was jailed, but released six years later after a higher court overturned his convictions.
Ten years on and having become the leader of a strong opposition movement, Anwar now finds himself facing similar accusations.
He has maintained his innocence in both cases, and insists he is a victim of a political conspiracy. The government has denied any involvement.
But that’s where the similarities end.
While the highly publicized hearings in 1998 were filled with sordid, sometimes embarrassing details and one memorable day when the mattress on which the incident allegedly occurred was hauled into court, the recent case has long worn out the public.
One major reason are the almost unending deferrals and trial postponements that have plagued the hearing since it began in February last year.
‘The trial has gone on for too long, with too many technical delays that it’s turned stale,’ said software engineer Nanthini Retnam.
‘I make it a point to skip articles on the trial and the entire scandal when I’m reading the news,’ she said.
And despite the government’s continuous denial of any hand in the charges, public opinion has unavoidably veered towards a conspiracy, prompting a backlash against what many see as ‘gutter politics’.
‘This isn’t so much a normal trial, than a political drama,’ said school teacher Noorhayati Ahmad, 31.
One political analyst said the public view of Anwar’s case has shifted from interest to disgust at the ‘degeneration of politics’ from being based on ideology and important problems to sexual issues and controversies.
‘I think in one sense, the case has been so long-drawn that it’s become an overkill,’ said Denison Jayasooria, a political observer and expert of social studies at the National University of Malaysia.
‘People believe this whole thing has been orchestrated, and they will not want to have any part in it,’ he said. ‘It’s sad that certain leaders are still unable to move away from such gutter politics.’
If Anwar is found guilty he stands to be jailed for 20 years and barred from politics for at least five years.
While a conviction would surely hit the opposition, observers say Anwar’s role as position head is fast becoming dispensable with the emergence of other leaders, thus further explaining the dwindling of interest.
Anwar’s alliance, consists of his National Justice Party, the hardline Parti Islam SeMalaysia and the Democratic Action Party, made major gains in the 2008 general elections, capturing five states and denying the ruling National Front a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
His partners have been quick to downplay the trial’s importance in their struggle to take power in the next general elections, which must be called by 2013 but may take place as early as this year.
‘This fresh round of allegations will have no effect on the opposition and what we are focused on accomplishing – that is bringing change to this nation,’ opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said.
Anwar has taken great pains to draw attention away from the trial and to what he calls ‘crippling issues’ affecting the nation such as rising unemployment and rampant corruption, and the general public has largely made up its mind about his criminal case.
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually did it, but it’s gone on for so long, I don’t really care anymore,’ said James Tan, head of an advertising agency in Kuala Lumpur.
‘And anyway, there’s just so much sex a person can take in the news.’
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