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Anwar Ibrahim loses ground to rival as Malaysia sodomy trial drags on

The slow-moving sodomy trial for Anwar Ibrahim underscores his bitter rivalry with Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has grown increasingly popular in Muslim-majority Malaysia since his election in April 2009.

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In a show of support, Malaysia last week began the deployment of military medics in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Province. It has also toughened laws against the sale of dual-use nuclear technology in response to US concerns over proliferation.

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But Najib must still struggle with the political dynamics of Malaysia, which has grown more skeptical of its rulers, says Wong Chin Huat, a politics lecturer at Monash University in Kuala Lumpur.

As more young people join the voter rolls, this trend could unseat UMNO, which is seen as self-serving and resistant to change. Some UMNO politicians have openly opposed Najib’s plans for greater meritocracy in public institutions and the private economy, arguing that ethnic privileges are sacrosanct.

“Najib is increasingly popular. The question remains whether popularity for him will translate into votes for his party,” says Mr. Wong.

When will the trial end?

It’s unclear when Anwar’s trial will wrap up. The judge said Monday that hearings would resume Aug. 2, with or without the lead counsel, and continue until the end of the month.

Anwar’s lawyers complain that the prosecution has refused to share material evidence and kept secret its list of witnesses. Several defense motions have been rejected, to the frustration of his supporters who accuse the judiciary of bias.

Speaking after the adjournment, Anwar denied that the sodomy allegation was affecting his support base. “The people are not really interested. They don’t ask me about the trial,” he says.

Among Malay-Muslims, homosexuality remains a taboo topic. Malaysia’s strict criminal codes against sodomy date from British rule and are found in other former British colonies, including Singapore and India. Last year, a court in New Delhi ruled that India’s antisodomy law was unconstitutional after a campaign group filed a complaint. But there has been little outcry in Malaysia over the harshness of the rarely used sodomy law.

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