Magazine article Newsweek

Sex Wars, Asian Style A Brutal Political Battle Leaves Malaysia Reeling

Magazine article Newsweek

Sex Wars, Asian Style A Brutal Political Battle Leaves Malaysia Reeling

Article excerpt

When it comes to sex scan- dals, Washington has nothing on Malaysia. Last week masked commandos burst into the home of Anwar Ibrahim, the country's former deputy prime minister and leading reformer, arresting him and 16 of his top supporters. The allegation against Anwar: sexual misconduct. As Anwar's supporters continued to protest the arrests, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad explained his action to the Muslim nation of 22 million. "[Anwar] had not only performed sodomy," Mahathir told reporters, "but during the process he was I don't know how you call it he was masturbating this man." By the weekend, Anwar and his allies had countered with charges of their own, accusing Mahathir of corruption, and even alleging that police were planning to inject Anwar with the AIDS virus. "We have never done these things before; why should we do them now?" Mahathir responded.

The scandal, of course, is less about sex than politics. Only a year ago, Anwar and Mahathir were considered one of Asia's complementary partnerships: Mahathir the authoritarian wealth-builder, and Anwar, his deputy and heir apparent, the democratic reformer who attracted both support and investment from the West. But when reformers took to the streets in neighboring Indonesia this summer, Mahathir apparently began to suspect Anwar of similar intentions. The arrests last week were seen as a political crackdown. "This goes beyond Anwar," says Syed Husin Ali, who heads a small political party. "We are moving very, very fast towards a dictatorship."

The smear campaign against Anwar began more than a year ago, when Mahathir confirmed that he had received letters from a woman and a male driver, who reported on Anwar's alleged sexual affairs (both have since recanted). Last spring a book alleged offenses ranging from sexual misconduct to treason. Outraged, Anwar got an injunction against the book's distribution. …

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