MALAYSIA - The prospect of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's return to jail will throw the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance into disarray in the short term as it has yet to groom a replacement, analysts say.
The swift verdict of the Court of Appeal on Friday in sending him to jail for five years after reversing his 2012 acquittal for sodomy has raised questions yet again about the PR's long-term viability without Anwar.
Even if Anwar is freed pending his appeal to the Federal Court, this is an issue that the PR can no longer duck.
The Court of Appeal will decide on Monday whether to grant him bail pending the final appeal.
Anwar was acquitted by the High Court in 2012 of sodomising his former aide, Mr Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, in a posh condominium in 2008, on the grounds that the DNA evidence provided by the prosecution was tainted.
His acquittal was overturned by the Court of Appeal on Friday.
"This reality is now at their doorstep, and they have to deal with this," said political analyst Ibrahim Suffian, who runs the pollster Merdeka Centre.
Anwar remains the central uniting figure for his three-party alliance made up of his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party and Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
Mr Ibrahim noted that while the alliance has greatly matured in cooperation, there remain areas of acute dissent, such as the extent to which an Islamic agenda and Malay rights should be part of the PR agenda.
There also has been no serious effort to put forward any leader as a successor to Anwar or as an alternative prime ministerial candidate.
None of this bodes well for the PR, which has ambitions to win federal power.
Anwar remains the single most potent threat to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
Sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998 and jailed from then till 2004 for corruption and sodomy, he emerged from prison and pulled together three disparate parties into a cohesive alliance that became a formidable electoral force.
Under his leadership, the PR deprived the BN of its two-thirds majority control of Parliament in the 2008 general election and continued to make gains in last year's election.
In the immediate future, the PR will have to find a replacement candidate for the Kajang by-election that was intended to pave the way for Anwar to take over the Selangor Menteri Besar's post.
The law does not allow anyone with a criminal conviction to contest.
Finding a replacement will be a headache as not everyone in the PR is happy with PKR's strategic director, Mr Rafizi Ramli, who is touted as the alternative candidate.
He was the mastermind of this "Kajang Move".
Political analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who runs the think-tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said Mr Rafizi may be blamed for creating unnecessary problems for the opposition.
Analysts believe that Kajang will remain a safe seat for the PR, given its mixed racial demographics and track record in voting opposition.
But the bid to change the Selangor leadership is now likely to be scuttled.
Beyond Kajang, the jail term also puts at risk Anwar's Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat if he loses his appeal to the Federal Court and does not receive a royal pardon.
Under the law, any Member of Parliament who is jailed for a year or fined RM2,000 (S$777) is disqualified from holding the seat.
His conviction will also prevent him from contesting his party presidency in May as the law does not allow anyone with a criminal conviction to be active in politics for five years.
"Definitely, this is a blow to the PR and PKR," said Mr Wan Saiful.
There are already calls by his supporters for Malaysians to rally in a show of support for Anwar, but it is not certain if thousands will pour into the streets as they had in the past.
Mr Wan Saiful said they might have done so five years ago, but it is hard to sustain that level of anger for such a long time.
In reality, he said the PR needs to begin thinking about a future without Anwar but so far, it has not made any plans for succession.
"This is going to be a really difficult time for the PKR and PR," he said.
Anwar's rise and fall - yet again?
ONCE one of Malaysia's fastest rising political stars, Anwar Ibrahim was even tipped to be prime minister.
The charismatic 66-year-old father of six - one of whom is now an elected parliamentarian - first rose to prominence in the 1970s as a firebrand Islamic youth leader.
Then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad invited him to join Umno, the main government party, in 1982 to bridge the gap between the party's Malay nationalist image and its rising Islamic aspirations.
Under Dr Mahathir's charge, Anwar's rise was meteoric. He held a string of senior Cabinet posts, including helming the ministries of agriculture, education as well as finance.
He then fell out with Tun Dr Mahathir and was summarily sacked from the Cabinet in 1998.
Charges of sodomy and corruption soon followed.
He spent six years in prison before being acquitted in 2004 of sodomising his adoptive brother Sukma Darmawan Sasmitaat Madja.
After his release from prison, he returned to politics as the head of a revitalised opposition whose strong showing in 2008 deprived the ruling Barisan Nasional of its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Shortly after that election result, former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan filed a criminal complaint accusing Anwar of sodomising him.
Anwar was acquitted of the charge in January 2012, allowing him to lead the opposition to another strong performance in an election in March 2013.
The decision on Friday of the Court of Appeal to overturn the acquittal could well have put paid to his ambitions to be prime minister.
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