|Anwar Ibrahim addresses a crowd (estimated at 200,000) at Stadium Merdeka on 12 January 2013 (Vincent Thian)|
In January last year, Anwar returned to the austere chambers of Kuala Lumpur's High Court for the conclusion of his second trial on charges of sexual misconduct. He arrived to find the court registrar and her deputy in tears. "We will pray for you, sir," they whispered to him. The women, like many of Anwar's supporters, were convinced the charges were politically motivated and that his conviction was inevitable. The accusation that Anwar had had sex with a former male aide was raised just months after the opposition scored big gains in the 2008 national elections and as Anwar prepared to return to parliament in a by-election.
|Before the mutiny : Anwar plays Fletcher Christian to Mahathir's Captain Bligh (AFP, 1997)|
The relationship between Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister and his deputy fell apart in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. As finance minister, Anwar had committed to austerity measures suggested by the International Monetary Fund to rescue the battered Malaysian economy. But Mahathir claimed the cause of the problem was a conspiracy by global financiers and backed a slew of lavish bailouts for failing Malaysian corporations, including his son's shipping company. Anwar also upset Mahathir by moving to tackle widespread corruption in the government and embracing political and social reform, as many Malaysians cheered the unrest that brought down the Suharto regime in Indonesia in May 1998.
Mahathir abruptly sacked Anwar that September. Three days later, police used tear gas and water cannon to break up the biggest protest rally in Malaysia's history as more than 50,000 people took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur in support of Anwar. Malaysia's reformasi movement was born.
Read this well-researched and highly instructive report by Mark Baker here.