The surprise release of leading Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim from jail two weeks ago led to intense speculation about whether he would become active in politics again. The world got its answer yesterday, when Malaysia's highest court denied Mr Anwar's petition to have a corruption case against him reopened, thus virtually guaranteeing he will not play a leadership role of any kind. The ruling leaves intact a ban on his holding elected office until 2008. It also means he cannot head a political party until then. Taken with the move this week to bar Mr Anwar from the ruling political party to which he once belonged, the impression of an orchestrated strategy to keep him out of the spotlight is stronger than ever. The popular former deputy prime minister, whose ambitions for the country's top political job are no secret, would have posed a challenge to the government whether he was in or out of jail. So long as he was behind bars, Mr Anwar remained a potent symbol of the grip on power of the United Malays National Organisation, the dominant party in successive ruling coalitions since independence in 1957, and of its intolerance of dissent. Releasing him has won prime minister Abdullah Badawi much praise and burnished his image as a reformer intent on rooting out corruption and letting the judiciary operate without interference. It also removed a lightning rod for criticism by Malaysians and the international community. The decision to let Mr Anwar's corruption conviction stand delivers the final blow to his political ambitions and neutralises a possible rival for power. The outcome is far too tidy and convenient for Mr Abdullah's government, as well as being legally questionable. In releasing him from jail, the court overturned a sodomy conviction that Mr Anwar has always insisted was based on trumped up charges. That it chose not to reopen the related corruption conviction makes little sense. In essence, he stands convicted of trying to cover up a crime he did not commit. The corruption case should have been reopened. That it was not leaves the world with the unnecessary impression that the judiciary is not as independent as it should be. The only alternative, a royal pardon, is not politically feasible for Mr Anwar because seeking one would be considered an admission of guilt. Since taking office last year, Mr Abdullah has made surprising moves towards ending cronyism and waste. Promises of greater government accountability looked positive. Umno's electoral successes, based on the liberalisation campaign, showed that most Malaysian citizens approved. It is a shame, then, that the latest ruling against Mr Anwar means reforms will stop well short of opening up Malaysia's political scene.