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MGG: The ghost of Anwar continues to haunt Mahathir
By M.G.G. Pillai

14/1/2002 4:48 pm Mon 2002/01/2002011401.php3


Monday January 14

The ghost of Anwar continues to haunt Mahathir

M.G.G. Pillai

2:06pm, Mon: If anything unsettles the government, it is the sudden death of its star prisoner, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently in intense pain and a wheelchair. So, the Sungai Buloh prison authorities understandably panicked when he refused food after the Federal Court postponed his appeal for the third time on Friday, and summoned his lawyer to persuade him to eat.

His back pain caused the first postponement in November 2000; the illness of one judge on the panel the second, a year later; and now again.

The attorney-general is new, we are told, and needs time to prepare his case. Is that why? Or that it is amidst the Indera Kayangan by-election? Or the still-secret negotiations between proxies of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar are not over?

The AG's chambers, with two years to prepare, should be ready by now. The new AG, Abdul Gani Patail, was in charge of the case all along. So, that is a lame excuse. The second and third reasons are more likely.

Be that as it may, the hunger strike caught the government off-guard. It is now an election issue in Indera Kayangan, especially amongst the Malays, who must support the Barisan Nasional for what it wants to achieve: a higher majority than in the 1999 general election.

It would probably get it, though it could win the battle and lose the war.

The two candidates are Chinese, but it is the Perlis mentri besar, Shahidan Kassim, who is the issue. To this is added another: Anwar's hunger strike. And its corollary: the government's refusal to resolve the Anwar affair expeditiously.

This is difficult. Its missteps in prosecuting him turned the tide, and the Malays, who moved to the sidelines when Anwar was dismissed and humiliated, against Malay cultural decorum and practice, distanced themselves even more from the government.

And 'rigor mortis' sets in

Three years later, with the tide against it, the government is in a bind. The Anwar affair reduced it to rigor mortis. It drifts, as the country. And battens its hatches, as it scurries hither and thither for that glimmer of hope to wrench it from its political, fiscal and economic nadir.

It is not enough. The civil service is hostile, despite higher salaries and perks given to buy support. The young Malaysians move away. They cannot get jobs. And they are told they are not loyal enough.

But how could anyone be loyal to a government that hectors and lectures but shows no attempt to govern? In Malay cultural tradition, in which feudalism holds sway, it is incumbent on the feudal leader to defeat any challenger; if he cannot, he must resign.

This Mahathir could not, would not, and now cannot. His future in Putrajaya is conditioned by what happens to the man in Sungai Buloh prison.

Which is why rumours of a modus vivendi between the two is more than that. The two men talk through intermediaries though have not met face-to-face. Aides to both dismiss this as rumours.

They kid themselves. Umno is at a crossroads. All because Anwar, the street fighter he is, led it there. To wean it, Umno must rehabilitate him.

How is the question and the problem. The sodomy and corruption convictions which put Anwar in jail for 15 years is now, in the view of many, suspect.

This must be reversed. It is now granted, even by the most vehement Anwar detractor, he had a raw deal and damned unfairly from the start. This must be put right.

First step

The Federal Court could be that first step to correct that: if his appeal is allowed, he remains in prison for the second conviction, but it opens the way to settle it once and for all. If the first conviction is reversed, the second must follow.

This case, and how the attorney-general and the then chief justice handled it, reeks of injustice. His lawyers were charged with sedition and convicted for contempt of court in kangaroo-style proceedings; the new AG accused of tampering with witnesses and evidence; the prisoner himself denied the courtesies allowed one.

It got the Malays riled at this deliberate and inept humiliation of the man, and challenged their finely-honed sense of justice.

Enough Umno leaders were frightened of Anwar as prime minister that they orchestrated his political destruction, and now pay the price for failure. His hunger strike frightens them even more. This must be reversed before Mahathir gets his due for what he wrought to bring the Malays with his 15th century feudal values to the 21st century.