Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim praised Tuesday the progress of the anticorruption drive in Indonesia, while criticizing similar moves in his country.

Speaking to local journalists on the sidelines of a conference held by the Habibie Center and the London-based think tank AccountAbility, Anwar said that in spite of the middling results of the anticorruption drive, Indonesian leaders had at least shown their commitment to fighting graft.

He also said that nurturing democracy and promoting free media had positively affected the anti-graft campaign.

“Openness in a democracy makes possible the exposure of corruption cases by the media, something that is not happening in Malaysia now,” said Anwar, who is also the honorary president of AccountAbility, adding that such media freedom was not readily available in Malaysia.

Anwar spent six years in prison on sodomy and corruption charges, which were regarded as false by many and triggered widespread protests. In 2005, an appeals court reversed the sodomy conviction and he was released. He recently announced his intention to run for Malaysian prime minister in the 2008 elections.

He said that it took five years for the Malaysian media to uncover a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal that involved a well-connected political analyst.

“The scandal was exposed after five years and it was first covered up as a murder case,” Anwar said, referring to the grisly murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shariibuu. The case later led to the revelation of the role of her alleged murderer, political commentator Abdul Razak Baginda, in securing a deal with a European submarine manufacturer.

Baginda is said to have received US$100 million as commission in the deal.

“The scandal was exposed only after five years and the government later said that the commission was legal. It just made me sick,” said Anwar.

Anwar also used the press conference to attack his former mentor Mahathir Muhammad, whom he accused of committing corruption.

He said that at the height of the Asian financial crisis, Mahathir “spun a tale” about American financial speculator George Soros being the mastermind behind the breakdown, while in fact the former prime minister was only trying to hide his own corrupt practices.

“But recently we learnt that Mahathir has said that Soros was not responsible for the crisis, something that I have believed for so long,” he said. —  JP

Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was sitting at the panelists’ table in front of participants of a discussion in Jakarta on Tuesday, waiting for the moderator.

The voice of the master of ceremonies filled the air: “Dr. Dewi Fortuna Anwar, the moderator of the discussion, is still in the rest room.”

Anwar quipped: “You see, they even announce this kind of information.” The 50-plus audience burst into laughter.

Anwar had just finished delivering his keynote address at an earlier session in which he praised transparency in Indonesian politics.

“My discussions with Jusuf Kalla last night were very frank,” he said in that session, referring to the Vice President.

Indonesian leaders are responding positively to what people are saying, he said.

“They even accept criticism. This is something you don’t always find in developing countries, let alone Muslim ones,” he added.

The discussion at Grand Kemang Hotel was organized by the Habibie Center and a London-based think tank, AcountAbility.

Anwar has said he plans to run for Malaysian prime minister in the 2008 elections. –  JP