KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted Monday, January 9, of sodomy charges, a ruling that boosts the opposition ahead of this year's expected election.
"Justice has been done, Anwar told thousands of supporters outside Kuala Lumpur's High Court, Reuters reported.
I am vindicated."
Anwar faced charges of sodomizing a former aide in 2008.
The opposition leader called the charges a "vile and despicable attempt at character assassination" by the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition.
And in a surprise ruling on Monday, Judge Zabidin Mohamad Diah found the opposition leader not guilty due to doubts over whether DNA samples tendered as evidence were contaminated.
"And because it was a sexual offence, the court is reluctant to convict on uncorroborated evidence, the Judge told a packed courtroom in Kuala Lumpur.
Therefore the accused is acquitted and discharged," he ruled.
Sodomy is a criminal offence in Muslims-majority Malaysia.
In the 1990s, Anwar was Malaysia's political star, heir-apparent to then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
In 1997, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine next to words "The Future of Asia".
But Anwar was sacked a year later as deputy prime minister and finance minister after campaigning against corruption and nepotism in politics, and then jailed on sodomy and corruption charges that Anwar and rights groups said were trumped up.
He spent six years in prison until his sodomy conviction was overturned in 2004.
He swiftly returned to politics as the head of a revitalized, multi-ethnic opposition whose strong showing in 2008's elections deprived the ruling National Front of its traditional two-thirds majority in parliament.
Within weeks of that victory, and with his three-party Pakatan coalition close to a parliamentary majority, a former aide filed a criminal complaint accusing Anwar of sodomizing him.
Analysts believe that the acquittal would strongly boost the Malaysian opposition ahead expected election this year.
"The (verdict) will be more wind in the sails of the opposition Pakatan's camp than in Barisan Nasional's camp," Ooi Kee Beng, a deputy director at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies of Singapore, told Reuters.
Premier Najib Razak, the son of a former prime minister, has slowly introduced social and political reforms.
However, the incumbent premier has been struggling to reverse a decline in opinion polls as leader of the United Malays National Organization, the Muslim ethnic-Malay dominated party that has ruled since independence from Britain in 1957.
His approval ratings have fallen over the year due to a growing religious divide that has alienated minority non-Muslims and fanned middle-class anger over the slow pace of promised political reforms.
"Najib can of course say that the judiciary is not as corrupt as Pakatan says but so what? If the judiciary is not very corrupt, it doesn't mean that the government is good," said Beng.
In a bid to boost Najib's ratings, the Malaysian government said that Anwar's acquittal is a proof that the Malaysian judiciary is not corrupt as the opposition says.
"Malaysia has an independent judiciary and this verdict proves that the government does not hold sway over judges' decisions," his government said in a statement that also praised Najib's "bold democratic reforms."
But Najib is wary of moving too aggressively and provoking a backlash by conservatives in his Muslim ethnic-Malay dominated government.
The election will be a test of whether he can assert a reformist agenda within his own party, Malaysia's biggest.Opposition leader Anwar has promoted a rival vision for Malaysia that would abolish or scale back its most authoritarian laws and scrap a system of ethnic preferences for Malays that ethnic-Chinese and ethnic-Indian Malaysians say is unfair and has been cited by even some prominent Malays for holding Malaysia back.