Public interest in the latest trial has waned as the hearings drag on, in contrast to the rowdy scenes over a decade ago when Anwar’s supporters staged mass protests in the streets.
One reason is that Malaysians have already prejudged the outcome, says Ibrahim Suffian, director of Merdeka Center, an independent polling institute in Kuala Lumpur. “Most people have made up their mind that it’s all a political show trial,” he says.
After a rocky start, Najib has won praise for his handling of the economy, which has rebounded after last year’s recession, and for taking on a corruption-plagued system of preferences for Malay-Muslims and other indigenous groups. A recent poll by Merdeka Center put his approval rating at 72 percent, up from 44 percent before he took power.
Distracted by the trial, Anwar has struggled with defections from his multiracial party, which is aligned with two other ethnic-oriented opposition parties. He has also courted controversy by labeling Malaysian government policies as “Zionist,” a slur that has raised eyebrows among his supporters in Washington.
These missteps have played into the hands of Najib, the scion of a political dynasty who is leader of the dominant United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in parliament. He has also courted the Obama administration, which has cited Malaysia as a moderate voice in the Muslim world.