Anwar Ibrahim, the Leader of the Opposition in the Malaysian government has won a crucial courtroom battle. He has been acquitted of sodomy charges leveled against him by his former political aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan.
Ibrahim was once considered one of Asia's most prominent young politicians. The now 64-year-old charismatic leader has seen several ups and downs in his long and unrelenting career. The current acquittal is crucial and could mark a political comeback for both him and his political alliance.
He emerged as a radical leader during his student days and was part of an Islamic reform movement - Abim. He later joined Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's United Malays National Organization (UNMO) and went on to become the Deputy Prime Minister of the country. He was then touted as the second most powerful man and a future Prime Minister.
Ibrahim is popular for his reformation campaigns and the promotion of equality of all races; he fought against an authoritarian system that benefited ethnic-Malays over ethnic-Chinese-Indian Malays.
Unfortunately, at one point, his campaign challenged his mentor and the ruling party. Soon after, he faced the first setback of his political career. He was expelled from his ministerial positions and jailed for charges of corruption and sodomy. Ibrahim refuted the charges as politically motivated.
He was imprisoned for six years in 1998 and got his first reprieve from the country's highest court, which overturned the sodomy charges against him in 2004.
Once released from jail, Ibrahim mobilized the opposition and was successful in forming a loose coalition called Pakatan Rakyat, consisting of three parties which had different ideologies. He gained unprecedented support in the 2008 general elections, which for the second time in the past 50 years deprived the ruling coalition of its two-third majority in Parliament.
Months after the election, he was charged again with sodomy... this time from his former political aid. The act, even when consensually performed, is a crime in Malaysia and attracts a jail term of up to 20 years and, if found guilty, the sentence could have ended Ibrahim's hopes for the next general elections.
Since he stands acquitted now, the allegations have actually benefited Ibrahim, allowing him to project himself as a victim of political vendetta, both nationally and internationally. Human rights watchers around the world protested against the allegations and surveys in the country showed that a majority of Malaysians believed charges against him were politically motivated.
The verdict, additionally, could also work to revitalize the opposition, which is gaining momentum from both within and outside the country. Additionally, with the elections around the corner (political experts predict a general election later this year), Ibrahim and his coalition are expected to gain from the court verdict.
His greatest strength is his image as change-maker and social reformist. Known for political strategies, he has demonstrated enviable skills in turning hostile situations to his gain in the past. He is projected by his coalition as the only person who can end the widespread corruption in the country.
The Malay people, fed up of the ruling coalition and the current discriminatory administrative system, might find Anwar Ibrahim's promise for reforms and change too attractive to refuse. If he leverages the current popularity levels to a general election win against the current UMNO-BN government, led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, it could be a historic moment for the country. It will end a five decade-old political monopoly.
All this also depends on whether chief prosecutor Yusof Zainal Abiden will decide to appeal the acquittal. If there is an appeal, then it could derail Ibrahim's election chances.