Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Anwar's Troubles Grow

asia Sentinel
Written by Jed Yoong
Friday, 26 September 2008


Despite public promises of a political takeover, Anwar Ibrahim is still but a voice in the opposition wilderness

After months of eager anticipation, September 16 came and went like any other ordinary day in Malaysia.

That was the day opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had repeatedly promised he would overthrow the Barisan Nasional, or National Front, federal government, ending over 50 years of rule following independence in 1957.

On the eve of the what-should-have-been a momentous day, the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, or People's Alliance, held a Malaysia Day celebration in Kuala Lumpur. Reportedly about 20,000 people turned up, eagerly awaiting the dramatic unveiling of the identities of at least 31 defecting Barisan lawmakers. But when the event came Anwar revealed only that he had the "numbers" to topple Barisan, and nothing more. The proof that he had the means to take power, remained firmly under wraps.

The next day, Anwar held a press conference to postpone the deadline further, pending Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's approval of an emergency parliamentary session to allow a no confidence vote against him by September 23. Expectedly, Badawi ignored the request and this week the Tuesday deadline also came and went.

By Wednesday, Anwar was clearly singing a different tune. He urged Malaysians to be "patient" because Pakatan "do(es) not want to transgress the constitutional rules and procedures".

On accusations calling him a "liar" for failing to meet his self-imposed deadlines, he blamed Badawi for refusing to meet him, jeopardising his plans. "They have called me a lot of things before (but) the point is, if they really believe I am a liar then put me to (the) test and have a (no-confidence) vote taken (in parliament)," Anwar told reporters.

Moreover, Anwar has more to worry about than luring lawmakers to his side to form a government. He also faces fresh allegations of sodomy, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in jail. Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23-year-old one-time aide has accused Anwar of sodomising him in an apartment in the posh neighbourhood of Mont Kiara. A medical report and a statutory declaration by the doctor who examined Saiful says no medical evidence of sodomy was found. Yet, the government is rushing through a DNA bill that will allow it to compel Anwar to give a DNA sample. Anwar refuses, saying there is no case against him and that the sample will be used to fabricate evidence against him.

The government is also trying to move the case from the Magistrate Court to the High Court, although such cases are normally heard in the former. Anwar's lawyer has protested, observing that the transfer sheet was signed by Attorney-General Ghani Patail, whom Anwar is suing for fabricating evidence in the 1999 case which saw him imprisoned for six years for corruption. In 2000 he was jailed a further nine years for sodomy, but this conviction was reversed in 2004 and he was released from jail after serving his abuse of power sentence.

Anwar and his supporters have always maintained that the charges were "trumped up", part of a "political conspiracy" to end his political career by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who famously sacked Anwar, his former political protégé, as Deputy Prime Minister.

But while Anwar's latest case is being put on the fast track, other more serious allegations against those in government are being swept under the carpet.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been linked to the gruesome death of a 28-year-old Mongolian translator, Altantuya Shariibuu, in 2006. Witness testimonies in court have identified Najib in a photograph with the deceased and her lover, Abdul Razak Baginda, Najib's close friend and advisor who is on trial for her murder. In a statutory declaration, P Balasubramaniam, a private investigator and retired policeman hired by Razak Baginda, alleged Najib not only knew the murdered woman but had an affair with her, was involved in her disappearance and introduced her to Razak Baginda. Another statutory declaration by Raja Petra Kamarudin, editor of the political news portal, Malaysia Today, claimed that Rosmah was present at the crime scene where Altantuya was blown-up with military explosives after being shot twice. Despite this, Najib and Rosmah have not been charged.

Raja Petra's constant exposure of Barisan's dirty deeds, have landed him in jail again. The government on Tuesday locked him up under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention without trial, for two years. The Home Minister Syed Hamid Syed Albar reportedly said that Raja Petra was jailed because some articles had "ridiculed Islam, which could arouse anger among Muslims."

International organisations have condemned the detention and called for his immediate release.

"A two-year jail term imposed at the government’s sole discretion against one of its known critics is cause for real concern," Bob Dietz, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Asia Program Coordinator, said. "We call on the home minister to overturn this sentence immediately. No online commentator should be jailed because of the articles they have published."

"As well as being issued arbitrarily, behind closed doors and without informing Raja Petra’s lawyers, this detention order is devoid of any legal basis as it violates the constitutionally-guaranteed right of religious freedom," Reporters Without Borders said. "The interior minister clearly wants to silence RPK for good and to keep up pressure on bloggers who dare to criticise the increasingly fragile government. We call for his release."

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