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Saturday, December 31, 2011

January 9, 2012: A Repeat of Paulian (Augustine) Judgment?


by Terence Netto
As political theatre, Anwar Ibrahim's 18-stop campaign swing through severalstates ahead of the January 9 verdict in his sodomy trial is certain to play to overflow audiences, judging from the size of crowds that have attended his appearances on the ceramah circuit the last month or so.

And now with Police and protesters against the 'Free Anwar Campaign' at work in Kelantan and Sabah respectively, obtruding like flies at mealtimes, Anwar's campaign swing is certain to generate the publicity and crowds that should keep it in the headlines.

With the verdict in Sodomy II hanging like the proverbial sword of Damocles over Malaysia's prime minister-in-waiting, audience-size at his ceramah and their appetite for what he says are sure to be whetted by curiosity about his fate.

Few things are as potent a magnet for the curious as the specter of impending doom on someone who flaunts defiance.  As the hand of judicial fate closes in on Anwar, the opposition leader's peripatetic resort to the courtroom of public opinion resembles similar odysseys of the modern era in politics.

In these episodes, charismatic leaders seen as embodiments of causes that resonate across national boundaries, find themselves facing overwhelming state-power against which they have had only their appeal to the masses to offer as defence.

As various times in their careers, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the late Philippine oppositionist Benigno Aquino, Polish trade union leader Lech Walesa, and Czech playwright Vaclav Havel were in situations similar to Anwar's present position.

The choice each faced was either incarceration by the forces of repression or anointment by the masses as their leader-liberator of national destiny. The historical moment is electric when personal and national dilemmas are so starkly juxtaposed.

Credibility gap

In the courtroom of public opinion, the case against Anwar in Sodomy II has met with the same credibility gap that the sex video purporting to show him in a transaction with a sex worker had already encountered: A want of public belief in its authenticity.

Details like the timing of the release of the sex video and the identity of the people involved in its procurement and dissemination are more notable in retrospect than at the time of its emergence.

Sodomy II was limping along in the High Court, several months after the sensational fanfare of its opening in January 2010, when the sex video was released.
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It soon acquired the aura of a life-support machine being hooked up to a trial that had become moribund.

After its sensational start, Sodomy II entered a long interregnum in which issues of due process, specifically a stint of it to the defence – the object of several challenges by Anwar's lawyers – became the central point of the whole trial.

When a trial reaches that stage, a hitherto riveted audience may lose its concentration and its interest gradually falls away. The reason for the drifting away of interest from Sodomy II was that all of the earlier focus, particularly to a Muslim audience (towards whom this case was wholly aimed), revolved around the question of "Did he do it?"

Audiences driven by that singular focus are not unduly concerned with procedural issues. But procedural issues are what really matter in law.

Just as science became modern as an empirical process for the confirmation of truths established by scientific methods of inquiry, so law as a modern conception became legitimate when justice was seen to be the result of whatever just procedures had led to.

A want of just procedures was what Anwar's defence was vehement in protesting as Sodomy II proceeded even as public interest in the trial waned as it declined into a cockpit of procedural issues.

Symptom of the national malaise

In the interim, however, Anwar did not stay still. He campaigned on the speaking circuit, taking his case against sundry deteriorations in the body politic to the country's final arbiter: the people who will the ones who will vote and ultimately decide.
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Those deteriorations – the steady drip-drip of corruption and abuse of power, and the opacity of the electoral process – played out in the background to his sodomy trial.

Soon the trial became just another symptom of the national malaise that the opposition leader has been railing against since his travails began after his sacking from UMNO and the government in September 1998.

Thus, it is not farfetched to say the final arbiters of our national condition are no longer much concerned with the verdict to be delivered on Jan 9.

They are more curious to see how Anwar is comporting himself under threat of the Damoclean sword which is why his 18-stop campaign swing is headed for high attendance and – what is now becoming quite clear – intrusive police attention and trammels.

www.malaysiakini.com

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