Malaysia is now at a crossroads, where it can either become a shining success as a developing nation, or be relegated to yet another "failing" Muslim-majority country, jailed de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has said.
"Seventeen years ago my colleagues and I took a defiant stance against autocracy: our ‘Reformasi’ (reform) movement started with a dream of multi-ethnic politics grounded on the principles of reform, inclusivity and justice.
"Fast forward to today, and the movement has evolved into a formidable and vibrant opposition.
"This has put Malaysia at a crossroads: it can either return to its rightful place as a shining political and financial star in a developing world desperate for such successes; or it can descend to the role of yet another Muslim-majority country with a failing democracy and economy," Anwar said in an opinion piece published in British newspaper The Guardian today.
Malaysia was possibly a bright spot of progress in the Muslim world two decades ago, he said.
Malaysians had believed then, Anwar said, that the combination of economic growth and improving democratic engagement would be an example for other Muslim-majority countries.
However, since then, the country has gone from bad to worse, politically and economically, due to compromised democratic institutions and years of systematic abuse by the ruling elite to maintain their grip on power, he claimed.
"I remain optimistic for our nation and about the victory of our citizens, because the current opposition coalition now even includes former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and an increasing number of his allies defecting from Umno," Anwar said.
He lamented the crackdown on pro-democracy activists and opposition leaders over the past two years, but noted that despite Umno's uninterrupted rule since the country's independence, they "dread a democratic wave sweeping them from power".
'Repressive measures of ruling elite'
The ruling elite, he said, has thus resorted to desperate and repressive measures to stem a mass revolt, resulting in forcing the country further into despotism.
This includes criminalising public debates and a exacerbation of racial and religious tensions, he said.
"The latter factor has increased religious extremism to the point that per capita, Malaysia is sending six times the number of foreign fighters to join Islamic State (IS) as our neighbour Indonesia," Anwar said.
His own imprisonment, he said, also showed that Malaysia still needs unyielding international encouragement and pressure for it to fully realise its "democratic destiny".
The final judicial review of Anwar's Sodomy II conviction is being held today, where he will find out if he will be acquitted of his conviction or serve out the remaining 16 months of his five-year jail sentence.
This is Anwar’s last legal avenue to challenge his conviction, failing which he will have to continue serving his sentence until mid-2018.
"I hope my wrongful conviction will now be overturned.
"I pray my political imprisonment will soon end - as the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all implored - and that I may be free again to witness a new chapter in world history.
"I believe the factors are well-aligned to see Malaysia return to its position of regional leadership, if its true friends can work to ensure it does not slide down a path from which it will be difficult to quickly recover," he said. - Mkini