Growing religious, political divides strain Malaysian unity


From The Australian. by Rowan Callick

What's happening with Malaysia?

The country has long been viewed in Australia as not only an especially friendly Southeast Asian neighbour - the "recalcitrant" Mahathir Mohammad excepted, though he's been retired six years - but also a model of middle-class success and tolerance in that region.

Today, however, the country is having a hard time holding things together, in the face of religious and ethnic divides, political battles, and economic challenges.

Michael Danby, who chairs Australia's foreign affairs subcommittee, told parliament last Tuesday night that "fellow democrats around Asia are flabbergasted at events unfolding in Kuala Lumpur."

He was referring to the second trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy.

"For the second time," Danby said, "the Malaysian legal system is being manipulated by supporters of the incumbent government to drive Malaysia's best-known leader, Anwar Ibrahim, out of national politics.

"For the second time, documents are being forged, witnesses are being coerced, evidence is being fabricated. This trial, like the first trial, is a disgrace to Malaysia, a country that aspires to democratic norms."

Danby said it was long past time that Malaysia repealed these British colonial laws, which could not then be used for such political purposes. "In the second place, everyone in Malaysia, and everyone in the international legal community, knows that Anwar is innocent of these charges."

The underlying problem is that Anwar, leader of the People's Justice Party, is the first charismatic Malay opposition politician with sufficient appeal for Malay voters to pose a real threat to UMNO's 52-year hold on power...

Read full article in context at The Australian.

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