Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim warned today his country was being left behind as a wave of democratization sweeps the world.
“The entire world, including the most conservative Muslim heartland, the Middle East has now transformed and is clamouring for change and reform. Why must Malaysia be lagging so far behind?” he asked.
“We are lagging far behind the Philippines and Indonesia in terms of building credible (democratic) institutions,” he said at a forum hosted by his friend, former Philippine president Joseph Estrada.
Anwar also fretted that the Malaysian economy was even starting to slip behind Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam in areas like competitiveness.
Anwar said that unlike in Arab countries, he did not expect violence in Malaysia, which has been hit by pro-democracy protests in recent weeks.
But he said Malaysians now wanted more political freedom and fair elections.
Anwar said he did not want Malaysia’s leaders to suffer the same fate as former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, who has been put on trial by the new government, but warned that they could not ignore the people’s will.
He dismissed the high-profile sodomy case against him as “trumped-up charges” and assailed the government for violently cracking down on street protests.
On July 9 riot police fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of protesters who were demanding electoral reform in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Anwar, once heir-apparent to ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and found guilty of corruption and sodomy. He was imprisoned until 2004 when the sodomy conviction was overturned.
He then revived the opposition, forming a coalition that made major inroads during the last general elections in 2008, threatening the Barisan Nasional’s five-decade grip on power.
He remains on trial over allegations that he sodomised a 25-year-old former aide at an upmarket apartment in June 2008. He has said these charges are politically-motivated.
The 63-year-old opposition leader is expected to take the stand for the first time Monday when the defence is called in his trial.