A: The government says there is no link between the cases against him and his status as opposition leader. But few people believe that to be true, and many suspect the ruling coalition is using the courts to try and silence the main threat to their long but slowly weakening grip on power.
Soon after he was ousted as deputy prime minister in 1998, Anwar led tens of thousands of people in street protests demanding reforms. The movement tapped into unhappiness among many Malaysians over racial discrimination and corruption in the government. He was arrested at its height, and later jailed for abuse of power and sodomy.
A: The law prohibiting sodomy — consensual or otherwise — dates back to British colonial days. It makes it an offense to commit "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." Social attitudes are now widely shaped by Islam, the official religion in Malaysia, and there is little pressure on the government to repeal the law. It is punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
The sodomy charge functions as smear on the integrity of Anwar, who hails from Malaysia's majority Malay Muslims and needs to attract votes from that very same group to win power. Anwar and his supporters say the charges were trumped up to tarnish his reputation and destroy his political standing, especially among Malaysian Muslims who — taking their cue from their faith — reject homosexuality.
A: Anwar and his People's Justice Party are seen as the unifying force in the alliance, which also groups the Islamic Party and the ethnic Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party. Policy differences between the two parties were previously set aside for the 2008 elections, but they have recently resurfaced, straining the alliance. Without Anwar at the helm, the tension could get worse. Anwar himself has said the alliance will survive his absence, and he noted recently that such speculation "is probably good for my ego but as a fact, it is not true."
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