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Tuesday, Sept 22
Anwar's arrest
The Jakarta Post

KUALA LUMPUR: The only unexpected thing about the arrest of ousted Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was that it happened sooner than he had predicted. It was effected on Sunday evening, only hours after he had led tens of thousands of supporters through the streets of Kuala Lumpur demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar was right when he said that Mahathir might use Malaysia's draconian Internal Security Act to arrest him on allegations of sexual misconduct and leaking official secrets.

But he predicted that the arrest -- despite his denial of all the charges -- would take place after Britain's Queen Elizabeth II had ended her four-day state visit to this peninsular country on Wednesday.

Thousands of Anwar's supporters gathered at Freedom Square in the capital on Monday to protest his arrest, shouting ''Long Live Anwar, Mahathir resign.'' Hundreds of the protesters clashed with riot police, who fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse the angry crowd. Monday's gathering, the biggest demonstration of public disorder in Malaysia in three decades, obviously reflects the public dissatisfaction at the government's unfair treatment of the deposed deputy premier. Anwar had been systematically discredited by the Mahathir administration, as well as by most local media -- which are largely controlled by the state.

The move to push Anwar out of office, which he calls a political conspiracy against him by those who oppose his views on corruption, cronyism, corporate governance and human rights, began with the publication of the book 50 Reasons Why Anwar Can't Be Prime Minister in June of this year.

It stands to reason that Amwar's supporters, the majority of whom are from the younger generation and long for better and more democratic leadership, protested his arrest and it came as no surprise when dozens were apprehended in Monday's show of solidarity.

These arrests came shortly after a number of Anwar's aides were detained after Mahathir sacked his former prime minister-in-waiting from his dual posts as deputy premier and finance minister.

The public disturbances at a time when the country is receiving a state guest who has come to Kuala Lumpur to close the 16th Commonwealth Games are, obviously, a disgrace for Mahathir, who tried to tone down the incident as a ''minor distraction.''

Given the growing demands of the people, which are clearly shown by the enthusiasm of Anwar's supporters, Mahathir should learn from Indonesia that he cannot avoid taking responsibility for the economic crisis currently blighting the country by diverting the Malaysian people's attention to the Anwar ''indecency'' case. Besides, a worsening economic and political situation could trigger more massive and more violent demonstrations that could lead to his downfall, as happened to former Indonesian president Soeharto, whose 32 years of authoritarian rule crumbled in the wake of student protests and bloody riots.

As a prominent Indonesian Moslem leader who has spearheaded the reform movement, Amien Rais, said on Monday that arresting and ''prosecuting Anwar could backfire on Mahathir'' and cause his downfall.

''There are some similarities between Mahathir and Soeharto.

Mahathir has been in power for such a long time,'' Rais commented, adding that a reformist struggling to improve Malaysia will eventually prevail.

Amien has a point here considering the similarities between Soeharto and Mahathir. Soeharto's administration was tainted with corruption, nepotism and cronyism, as Mahathir's is now. Mahathir, like Soeharto, has ruled unopposed for years (17 to be precise), making him less receptive to rising demands for political and economic reform from the younger generation of Malaysians as they cope with the challenges of the globalization era.