KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 24 – As a second jail term looms over opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the 67-year old is not as worried about prison time as he is about sending the right message to civil society. Anwar, who faces up to 20 years in prison for a charge he claimed is politically motivated, said he would send the wrong message if he chose exile to continue leading Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
“If you want to campaign for change you have to accept some difficulty. “If I were to remain outside and campaign for change, that would send the wrong message to all the youths out there who are campaigning for change,” said Anwar in an interview with The Malaysian Insider. Anwar is appealing against a court verdict which found him guilty of sodomising an aide in 2008.
The appeal at the federal court next week is his last chance to overturn the guilty verdict. He could spend up to 20 years in jail if he loses the appeal. Anwar and the PR coalition which he leads, believes that the charge was trumped up by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government to prevent them from coming to federal power.
This is after the PR made huge gains since the 2008 general elections and deny BN is customary two-thirds majority in Parliament. In the 2013 elections, PR managed to capture 52% of the popular vote and increase the number of seats it holds in Parliament. Anwar spent six years in jail from 1999 to 2004 after being found guilty of abuse of power.
He was arrested in 1998 as he was leading the Reformasi movement aimed at toppling then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed. In 1999, he was also found guilty of sodomising an aide but that verdict was overturned by the Federal Court in 2004. Anwar, a former deputy prime minister and protégé of Dr Mahathir, has always said that the two charges were concocted by the latter after he was fired from the Cabinet in 1998.
In an interview at his house today in Bukit Segambut, Kuala Lumpur, Anwar told The Malaysian Insider that he and his family had prepared themselves mentally and physically for the possibility of a second jail term. Although there were concerns that he might not survive a second stint in jail due to his health and age, Anwar felt that these concerns were not as relevant to his overall political aims.
“What is relevant is that there is a dictatorial system where if we bow down to it we will be colluding with it. I will not bow down to it. “I am not worried about whatever happens to me. What happens next will be up to the rakyat,” said Anwar, who has five grandchildren. “Even though I am not as healthy as before, I think I can still take it.”
He said he turned down many offers to flee and work overseas, from friends and contacts that he has made through-out his three-decade political career. The latest offer he said was from some friends in England who were worried that he would not get a fair hearing. “But this would send the wrong message to youths campaigning for change. If you want to campaign for change you have to accept some difficulty.”
He also wanted to give the judiciary one last chance to prove that it is independent and has integrity. “I think that federal court judges have an enormous responsibility to uphold the constitution. “They have to uphold the image that the judiciary is independent that it will judge based on facts not on the whims of those in power.”