So Anwar has been released on police bail and it’s now Raja Petra’s turn to face the music. He has been arrested and is being taken to court to face a charge of criminal defamation.
What on earth is happening to Malaysia? Many have drawn comparisons with the events of 1998. But there are a couple of crucial differences between then and now.
In 1998, Anwar’s arrest came before – and indeed sparked – the reformasi movement and Malaysia has never been the same since. (That said, that movement could not have taken off the way it did, if not for the ground work carried out by so many others in the decades before to further the cause of justice and human rights.)
This time around, Anwar’s arrest comes after the political tsunami and Makkal Sakthi. In many ways, the tsunami and Makkal Sakthi were the culmination of the process which began in 1998 – interrupted briefly in 2004, when Abdullah Badawi appeared to promise to introduce reforms. (But that, as we all know, was short-lived – a false dawn.)
The other difference is that a lot more Malaysians have access to alternative views this time around, and Malaysians will be much more sceptical of the official line.
Malaysians today are a much more politically mature lot. They voted for real change on 8 March – they want people-centred policies and people-powered democracy – and I doubt if they will settle for less. Politicians on both sides of the divide should take note.
If certain quarters are hoping that the arrest of these two public icons will now deflate public expectations for change, I think they are sadly mistaken. Reformasi, Makkal Sathi and people power go well beyond individuals. The people’s passion for justice will continue.