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Malaysia's Anwar Prepares For Return to Political Activity - 2004-09-03

Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's former deputy prime minister, has jumped quickly into action after his surprise release from prison, making plans for his return to the political arena. The question being asked is what forum Mr. Anwar will use for his political comeback.

Anwar Ibrahim used his first day of freedom after six years in prison to obtain a passport, saying he plans to fly to Germany for treatment of a back injury he claims is related to a beating he received from the police.

After that, he says, he plans to return to Malaysia to fight for political reform.

His wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, says her husband is likely to resume his campaign from the opposition camp, instead of returning to the ruling United Malays National Organization, or UMNO.

"He tried that, and it didn't work," he said. "He was almost near the pinnacle and he got slashed. We'll cross the bridge when we come to it, but at the moment when he speaks about that, it's outside [UMNO], not within."

But Chandra Muzaffar, a political activist and former deputy leader of the Malaysian Justice Party, says Mr. Anwar may only be able to realize his political ambitions from within UMNO.

"Anwar may slowly try to worm his way back into UMNO because he knows that UMNO is the only party that counts as far as political power is concerned, and he would want to get back to the party which is capable of catapulting a person to the highest office in the land," said Chandra Muzaffar.

Mr. Anwar was deputy prime minister and finance minister in 1998 when he fell out with then-Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad. Mr. Mahathir fired him, and Mr. Anwar was subsequently tried and convicted on charges of corruption and sodomy.

Many people have alleged that both the charges and the conviction were politically motivated. Mr. Anwar was sentenced to a total of 15 years, but was freed Thursday when the sodomy conviction was overturned on appeal.

Analysts like Mr. Chandra say that reforms already instituted by Mr. Mahathir's successor, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, may have pre-empted Mr. Anwar's reform movement.

They view Mr. Anwar's release as a sign Mr. Abdullah gave the judiciary freedom to assess the sodomy conviction without political interference.

"I don't think it would have been possible for the judges to have made this decision if there was even the slightest hint that the executive would be unhappy with such a decision," he said.

On Monday, a court will rule on the validity of the corruption conviction, for which Mr. Anwar has already served time.

Malaysian law prevents anyone with a criminal conviction from running for public office. A decision throwing out the original conviction would give Mr. Anwar complete political flexibility.