So, a vindication of sorts for Anwar Ibrahim. Despite late efforts to influence the sodomy appeal, the judges held their ground. But while acquittal in this case helped restore some degree of judicial credibility, dismissal of the corruption appeal has revealed the limitations of that process.
Here, it is useful to consider the mindset of power and how it seeks to manage by concession. This does not always depend on agreements, as such, but on 'shared understandings' between those at the apex of the system.
The outcome here: the judges regain a little prestige, the political elite get ongoing protection. A neat trade-off, indeed. As the decision over this appeal suggests, the nods and winks were particularly crucial.
For acquitting Anwar would have risked full-blown exposure of conspiracy at the highest level. The persecution of this man, and the judiciary's role in it, has not been concluded quite yet.
Anwar's release has been interpreted by some as weakness on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahamd Badawi's part. But there may be longer-term benefits for Pak Lah. The PM may lack Dr Mahathir Mohamad's dogged staying power in handling political enemies.
Yet, while being part of the conspiracy to put Anwar away, he has managed, rather studiously, to cast the affair as a dark episode of the Mahathir era. By lancing the boil, Abdullah is now the 'healing surgeon' who took the sting out of the Anwar factor. Support for Anwar will remain. But it will no longer be conditioned by the politics of incarceration.
Whether Anwar can now galvanise the opposition from this side of a prison wall depends largely on Umno's own evolution. With renewed international standing, Abdullah will likely utilise the 'reformist' moment to full effect.
More problematic is his actual ability or willingness to address the institutional corruption within Umno/BN itself. If Abdullah's 'new era of judicial transparency' is to be taken seriously, it would also have to include an end to the Internal Security Act and the fair arraignment of those held on spurious terror charges.
Beyond the current rhetoric of national healing, there seems little indication of such.
Anwar's first consideration following recuperation will be his relationship with the much-troubled Keadilan. Formal leadership would seem the most obvious move. Yet, this may not be what Anwar has in mind.
Rather, in political limbo till 2008, he may try to stake out a new 'intermediate' politics of national unity, seeking to re-occupy the role of 'elder' civil reformer expounded in The Asian Renaissance.
Suggestions of a release deal between Anwar and Abdullah cannot be substantiated. However, Anwar's appreciations to the PM 'for not interfering with the judiciary' offers some indication as to the way in which it was managed and, perhaps, how both might engage as future opponents. Again, we shall see whether such 'shared understandings' translates into political compliance.
Any actual return to Umno on a new 'reform from within' ticket would be yet another exercise in self-deception - though, in the never-say-never world of Malaysian politics, this scenario cannot be ruled out.
In the meantime, Anwar remains a principal player with still considerable kudos inside Umno. The task for Abdullah et al is to keep that element safely detached from Anwar. The key feature here will be the nature and extent of any rapprochement between Anwar and the Umno hierarchy as the latter reverts to the old strategies of 'consult' and incorporate.
But this is also unknown political territory for Anwar and the wider opposition. Bruised by their recent electoral misfortunes, a key section within PAS will also use Anwar's release to hasten party change, including, perhaps, the removal of PAS' Abdul Hadi Awang.
As PAS must realise, serious political progress is not going to come through Islamic politics alone. PAS's populist high point coincided with its embracing of Anwar and the wide alignment of reformasi forces.
What this indicated to a new generation of politically-aware Malaysians was PAS' ability to engage the standard political arena rather than be bound by rigid Islamic doctrine. Once again, PAS needs to use this latest development to mediate their political profile.
Indeed, they might usefully adopt, in some form, Anwar's own 'Islamic populism' - a role once employed by Mahathir - in that process. If that happens, the realignment now taking place opens up more interesting possibilities still.
A last word, though, on misplaced political hopes. The depressing spectacle of 'Bush the evangelist' and 'reporting for duty' Kerry proclaiming their powers of national deliverance reminds us that the fight for real democracy and political reform still have to reach beyond the charade of party politics and promises of messianic politicians.
In seeking to mitigate their crimes, political leaders will also urge us to be part of the 'problem solving' process, as in US efforts to draw other countries, including Malaysia, into the 'reconstruction' process in Iraq.
Yet, the real problem in Iraq is America itself. Thus, nothing useful can be constructed on foundations that are already fraudulent and corrupt.
In the same sense, the Umno-corporate system is the foundational fraud undermining Malaysian society. And until that reality is fully recognised by reforming politicians and activists, the same deceit and incorporation will prevail.
Meaningful problem solving must, firstly, see the root of the problem itself. Any credible opposition must, therefore, work towards Umno/BN's ultimate demolition, not its renewal.
Let's hope that Anwar can be a contributing part of that process.