KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian judge on Monday ordered a sodomy trial involving opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to proceed, setting the stage for a lengthy trial that could boost Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government ahead of a possible snap election this year.Judge Zabidin Mohamad Diah asked Anwar to enter his defense on sodomy allegations which will hurt his reputation among conservative ethnic Malays, damage the opposition’s chances of wresting power and raise questions about the future of his political career.”I find a prima facie case has been made out against the accused, therefore I call upon the accused to enter his defense,” the judge told the court, dashing any hopes Anwar supporters had of his dismissing the case altogether.Sodomy carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ jail. The trial will take place from June 6-30.“Of course it does not come as a surprise the fact that the judge gave this ruling,” Anwar, 63, told reporters after the decision as hundreds of his supporters thronged the court compound shouting “Reformasi”, the reform movement set up by Anwar after he was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998.”But what is clearly shocking is that he has virtually prejudged the case. He has taken not only prima facie but extended beyond that, taking all the ingredients of the charge as something factual, acceptable beyond reasonable doubt, which means it’s already a conviction.”Analysts said Monday’s court ruling increased the chances of a general election this year, although one isn’t due until 2013, with Najib expected to grab the chance to call for snap polls while the opposition’s attention is diverted by the trial.Anwar’s People Justice party is regarded as the link that holds together a widely disparate three-party opposition coalition which has seen sharp differences over the use of Islamic criminal law and the rights of majority ethnic Malays.
The outcome today provides the ruling party with some advantage, Anwar will be embroiled in the case and it will take a while for this case to reach its conclusion,” said Ibrahim Suffian, director at the independent opinion polling firm Merdeka Center.Once the rising star of Malaysian politics, Anwar was jailed for sodomy and corruption after he was sacked by former premier Mahathir Mohamad in 1998. He was freed in 2004 after the country’s top court overturned his sodomy conviction.Monday’s decision comes after a recent allegation that Anwar was the man caught on tape having sex with an unidentified woman. He has denied the charge and described it as a political conspiracy aimed at discrediting him.Since taking office in 2009, Najib has welcomed more foreign ownership in Malaysian banks and liberalized some segments of the services sector. But he has twice delayed the implementation of a goods and services tax and baulked at further rolling back fuel subsidies, raising doubts about his commitment to reform.In a March report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Malaysia ranked as the second-least popular market after Colombia among global emerging market fund managers and tied with India for least favorite among Asia-Pacific asset managers. – Yahoonews