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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    23 May 2012

Malaysian Opposition leader Anwar to be charged

22 May, 2012

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will be charged today in connection with the breaching of police barricades at last month's massive protest, a development with major ramifications as the country braces itself for what is expected to be a tightly fought general election soon.

One of his key aides, Azmin Ali, who is deputy president of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), will also be charged with a similar offence.
The two are blamed for triggering the chaos at the tail end of the Bersih rally on April 28, meant to push for electoral reform.

The charges will not prevent both men from contesting the next poll, widely expected to be called soon. But, if convicted, they could be disqualified from sitting in Parliament pending appeal.

Many will question the timing of the charges but their impact could cut both ways.

Anwar and his No. 2 could be forced on to the back foot but the charges could also garner sympathy for them.
There is no doubt Anwar - who has twice been acquitted of sodomy - will again claim that he is the victim of a government campaign to remove him as a political threat.

"We feel this is directed to remove Anwar from the political scene... They fear his popularity," Lim Guan Eng, Penang chief minister and leader of the Democratic Action Party, a member of opposition coalition led by Anwar, was quoted as saying.

"Definitely this case will be used as political capital by the opposition to show that the government is unfair," said Dr Shamsul Adabi Mamat, associate professor of political science at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Still, he added, "if the government doesn't take any action about Bersih, it will be worse for them... because it will look like they don't care about the shops having to close because of the rally and taxis losing business".

Anwar and Azmin as well as another lower ranking PKR official, Badrul Hisham Shaharin, will become the first people to be charged under the new Peaceful Assembly Act. How this law is interpreted in court will be closely watched as critics say it is more restrictive than the law it replaced.

National police spokesman Ramli Yusoff confirmed that a summons was issued for Anwar to appear in court on charges related to the demonstration, said an Agence France-Presse report.

The offence under the Peaceful Assembly Act carries a maximum fine of 10,000 ringgit (US$3,200). The men will also be charged with conspiring to disobey the court order, and face up to six months' jail and/or a fine of up to 2,000 ringgit.

Under Malaysian law, an elected representative can be stripped of office if fined more than 2,000 ringgit or jailed more than a year.

The charges apparently stem from a video that went viral over the Internet which showed Anwar and Azmin exchanging hand signals, which marked the point when the peaceful protest turned chaotic after the barricade at Merdeka Square was breached.

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