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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
Monday January 14
The ghost of Anwar continues to haunt Mahathir
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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