On May 5, 2013, Malaysia’s ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional, won a resounding victory in Malaysia’s 13th general election. Few were surprised that it captured a majority of Parliament (133 seats vs. 89 for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat). What was surprising was how disproportionate the BN’s seat share was compared to its popular vote share (60% vs. 47.38%). The opposition alleges not just that gerrymandering has created safe districts for the BN, but also that the BN engaged in vote-rigging and foul play.
Now, the PR has filed a lawsuit against the Elections Commission before the Malaysian High Court. Malaysian judges are not known for their willingness to confront the political elite. Malaysian legal scholar Ratna Rueban Balasubramaniam argues judges ought to view the elections case as an opportunity to enforce the rule of law, not as a improper infringement in political activity.
While the judiciary’s past actions do not hint at judicial activism, this will certainly be the closely watched case in Malaysia for years – at least since the Anwar sodomy trial(s).
I haven’t written recently about the trial of Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, partly because I’ve been busy but also because it seemed nothing surprising was happening in the trial. Even top Malaysia experts figured a guilty verdict was inevitable. However, earlier today Judge Zabidin Mohamad Diah ruled that the prosecution had not satisfied its burden of proof and there was still some question about the DNA evidence.
It’s not yet clear what this means for the rule of law in Malaysia. According to BBC, Information Minister Rais Yatim proclaimed that “Malaysia has an independent judiciary” and that Prime Minister Najib’s reforms extended to the courts. However, political analysts suspect that the acquittal might have been orchestrated to diffuse opposition to Najib, especially after the Bersih 2.0 protests last July 9 – rights ends, wrong means. While we probably won’t ever know for sure (unless Judge Diah keeps a journal), we might get more clues if the government appeals.
As the Sodomy II trial of Anwar Ibrahim wraps up, Anwar made a stirring defense that both professed his innocence and lambasted procedural irregularities during the trial. Asia Sentinel has a summary of the defense and the main criticisms of the judiciary. I definitely recommend reading it for anybody interested in Malaysia and its struggle with the rule of law.
Lot’s of interesting bits of news, but not of a lot of time to post them. Here are some samples:
Myanmar/Burma: Talk about the tables turning! The National Unity Party, formerly Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party, has urged the government to adhere to the rule of law and release all political prisoners. If anything, the courts under the BSPP (1972-88) were even more of a mess than Myanmar’s current judiciary. However, the NUP’s current statements probably reflect the fact that out-of-power dictators prefer to live under the rule of law, in the belief that legal procedures can provide them with some protection from the current elite. Still, it’s an interesting twist to Myanmar’s political dialogue. Personally, I hope the opposition continues its focus on the rule of law, as that might be more palatable to the elites than “democracy.”
Malaysia: Yet another twist in the infamous Anwar Ibrahim sodomy trial. This time, government chemists claim the DNA found in the alleged sodomy victim matched Anwar’s. I’ve already blogged frequently about the case, but needless to say it seems highly political. Asia Sentinel provides a good rundown of the case, the evidence, and the very suspicious circumstances surrounding the alleged “victim.”
Philippines: The Supreme Court cleared a Court of Appeals justice of charges of gross negligence after she accepted a fraudulent contract into evidence. The deed was apparently signed in 2008 by an individual who had died in 2001. It’s not clear from the article exactly what the justice knew at the time of the case. However, I’m left wondering why anybody forging a contract would rely upon a signature that’s so easily falsifiable!
A few weeks ago I reported the judge in the Anwar trial threw out a key piece of DNA evidence because the government had obtained it illegally without Anwar’s consent. It turns out I spoke too soon. According to Asia Sentinel, the judge has reversed his order and allowed the evidence in. Given turnarounds like that, it’s hard not to sympathize with the pessimistic views of many Malaysian lawyers about their country’s courts…