KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says "he's prepared for the worst" as he stares at the prospect of imprisonment once again on a controversial sodomy charge, but has vowed never to give up his struggle.
The opposition leader, whose forces won a majority of the popular vote in polls last year, faces a late-October final ruling on his appeal against a much-criticised sodomy conviction and five-year jail sentence he denounces as a long-running government smear campaign.
Opinion in Malaysia seems split on whether a regime known for its rough political tactics will risk a domestic and international backlash by throwing Anwar - infamously jailed on previous disputed sodomy charges 15 years ago - into prison again.
But the charismatic campaigner said "it doesn't look good," citing an accelerating government crackdown on civil liberties aimed at throttling the opposition threat.
"There is certainly concern that they would then use the courts to secure a (sodomy) conviction, which is really unfortunate in terms of rule of law in this country," he said in an interview at his modest Kuala Lumpur office.
Malaysia's highest court hears the appeal October 28-29. Anwar says he is "prepared for the worst" but flashes his trademark sense of humour in speculating on the quality of the prison tea, medical care and books.
"I am thinking now of what classics to start with," he said with a laugh. "But I am still hopeful sanity will prevail and the highest court in the land will subscribe fully to the facts and the law."
Political deja vu
It's a case of deja vu for 67-year-old Anwar, once a rising star in the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its presumed future leader.
He was ousted in a 1998 power struggle and jailed for six years on earlier charges of sodomy - later overturned - and corruption, which were widely seen as trumped-up.
The episode triggered huge anti-government protests and a tectonic political shift that now has the formerly invincible UMNO reeling. Anwar has led a once-hapless opposition to increasing electoral gains, seizing 52 per cent of the popular vote in May 2013 polls by campaigning against UMNO corruption and heavy-handed rule.
UMNO, in control since 1957, retained power due to a parliamentary system skewed in its favour, prompting Anwar to decry a "stolen" election.
The latest charge that Anwar sodomised a young male aide emerged in 2008. Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia.