President Obama is on the final legs of his Asian tour that included a two-night weekend stop in the increasingly prosperous Muslim-majority nation of Malaysia. So it’s a shame that Mr. Obama pointedly chose not to meet with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who nearly won last year’s election even as he appeals a second suspicious conviction on sodomy charges.
“The fact that I haven’t met with Mr. Anwar in and of itself isn’t indicative of our lack of concern, given the fact that there are a lot of people I don’t meet with and opposition leaders that I don’t meet with,” Mr. Obama said at a joint news conference on Sunday with Prime Minister Najib Razak. “And that doesn’t mean that I’m not concerned about them.” The opposition leader met instead with White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Mr. Obama doesn’t meet with every opposition leader, but he was happy to meet with the leader of Angela Merkel’s opposition, German Peer Steinbrueck, and his former campaign adviser David Axelrod is advising British Labor Party leader Ed Miliband. Malaysia wants to join the ranks of rising middle-income states and be considered a full-fledged democracy, yet its ruling party has never lost an election. Mr. Anwar won an appeal of his first conviction but then faced a second indictment as he prepared to fight an election in which his party won 51% of the vote but only 40% of the seats.
Mr. Obama could have sent a powerful message of American concern and political tolerance by meeting with Mr. Anwar, and the symbolism of his failure to do so won’t be lost on Malaysians, especially the young urban voters who are Mr. Anwar’s core supporters.