COMMENT Feb 10 is V-day - Verdict Day. That's when we will learn whether Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim will be found guilty in a trial that governments and human rights organisations around the world unanimously have called politically motivated.
No legal basis for Anwar's guilt
Judged solely on legal grounds, there is no doubt that the prosecution has failed to prove its case. In the Federal Court hearings which spread over two weeks, Anwar's defence team, led brilliantly by a former judge, Gopal Sri Ram, made mincemeat of the government's prosecutor, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah (right), who is better known as Umno's lawyer.
Anyone who looks at the facts of the case would conclude this: If Anwar is found guilty, it will be for political, not legal, reasons.
Malaysia has changed forever
But if Anwar is found guilty, he can go to prison with his head held high. He can look back and think about all that he has been accomplished since he was first arrested by then premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1998, and how Malaysia's political situation has changed over the past 16 years.
Even as the Umno government pursued and persecuted him, Anwar never gave up. Neither did his supporters. And now the movement he began, and the challenge to Malaysia's political order that he and his wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail started in 1998, have become much larger than Anwar himself.
There is no going back. Malaysia has changed forever.
Anwar put country above self
Anwar had many opportunities over the past decade to travel overseas. But he always went back to Malaysia, despite the risk. If Anwar were selfish - if it were just about him - he could have stayed overseas and gone into exile.
Mahathir actually gave him that choice in 1998, yet Anwar turned him down and ended up spending six years in prison.
That is one reason why I respect him so much. Anwar always chose to go back. He chose his country Malaysia over any risk to himself.
I wonder how many other people would do that.
Umno a minority government
Anwar can think about the fact that in the last general elections, the opposition defeated - yes, defeated - Umno and its coalition partners in the popular vote.
Umno was saved only because of the inequitable distribution of electoral seats by the Electoral Commission, which as everyone knows is controlled by the Umno government.
Even with one hand tied behind its back, Anwar and the opposition won 53 percent of the vote in peninsular Malaysia. It defeated BN at the polls.
As for Umno's own candidates, they took only 33 percent of the national vote.
Malaysia now has ‘two-party’ system
Anwar can think about the fact that in the past 16 years, a genuine opposition and ‘two-party’ system have emerged. The difference between Umno-BN and Pakatan Rakyat is now very clear.
One side, BN is dominated by Umno, which increasingly tries to survive by appealing to the basest and most racist instincts of its members. It survives by the use of Sedition Act, control of the media, and threatening to arrest anyone who dares to speak out.
Umno has castrated the other parties in the coalition, MCA and MIC, to the point where they are politically meaningless. There really is no BN anymore.
Umno - even though it was the recipient of only 33 percent of the national vote - now calls 100 percent of the shots. MCA and MIC have lost their supporters and are struggling for their own survival.
Chinese Malaysians have shifted
During the struggle in 1998, the Chinese Malaysian community stood on the sidelines. They considered it an internal Umno struggle among the Malays. They thought of Anwar as an "ultra Malay".
But not today. The Chinese-Malaysian community has shifted their support to the opposition, to the point where Najib complained of a Chinese tsunami after the last elections.
No longer just about Anwar
Over the past 15 years, the movement that began with Anwar's sacking, arrest, and imprisonment has grown into Pakatan. It is now a permanent fixture in Malaysia's political landscape and a genuine alternative to BN.
Fifteen years ago, Keadilan basically was about Anwar and the injustice that had been done to him. But no longer. Today it is about democracy, freedom, human rights, and Malaysia's future. It is about an end to corruption and cronyism. It is about Malaysia's future.
So whether he goes to prison or not, Anwar already has won.
JOHN R MALOTT is a former US ambassador to Malaysia.