Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yet more turmoil in Malaysia

Saturday, 20 September 2008 19:04
It is ten years ago since the birth of reformasi on 20 September 1998. Once again, Anwar is due to appear in court - on 24 September. K George recalls the proceedings of the first trial in which the judicial system did not distinguish itself.

I am quite sure that all of you have been reading our media which has been very faithfully highlighting the second case (or is it the third?) “sodomy episode” that was supposed to have taken place in our beloved Bolehland. More news and stories are expected to be published.

While we wait for them, allow me to refresh your memory on the events of the first episode of sodomy. I hope you have noted that whenever some of the Barisan Nasional leaders speak about the “second sodomy”, they compare it with the first one, and readily admit that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the Deputy Prime Minister at that time, was treated rather unjustly.

My recollections

I am 89 years old and at the frontier between life and death. My memory betrays me on and off, hence, if I happen to miss any event, please do pardon me.

Anwar was very active while he was in the university. He was a student leader and then president of Abim, committed to social justice and democracy. I have two books about Anwar. I do sympathise with him because of the suffering and victimisation he was subjected to while fighting for justice and freedom.

After Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became the fourth Prime Minister, he invited Anwar to join Umno in the early 1980s. Anwar happily accepted the invitation and treated Mahathir as his “father”. He openly admitted that he loved and respected Mahathir.

What displeased Anwar, though, was the squandering of huge sums of money on ‘white elephants’: the twin towers, Putrajaya, KLIA, etc. The fourth PM improved Malaysia’s infra-structure, enriched the rich Malays and cronies, undertook non-stop privatisation even of the most revenue-generating state-owned assets with many clauses highly favourable to contractors and cronies. I have never heard of such a thing happening in other countries.

At some point, Anwar the “son” tried to advise the “father” to change his style of spending. But the fourth PM was averse to any advice from any source or person. This, it appears, disgusted Anwar, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. Mahathir sensed that Anwar might contest against him for the presidency of Umno. Well, Mahathir, as we all know, neither accepts advice nor bothers about threats. He decided to get rid of his so-called “son”.

The conspiracy

The story has it that Mahathir needed evidence to realise his goal. His private secretary, it was speculated, managed to get five Umno members for this purpose. They were told that the PM wanted to remove Anwar from the cabinet and also to expel him from Umno. They were also allegedly informed that “money is no problem”. One of the five members was one Raja Komando. I had the opportunity to interview him for nearly 90 minutes. He told me that he was asked to conjure up evidence that Anwar had committed sodomy and leaked the nation’s secrets to foreign countries but Raja Komando’s reply was that he would not commit such a crime and subsequently removed himself from the pack of five and tendered his resignation from Umno.

He also told me that he refused to do it because he did not want to falsely bring disgrace to Anwar’s family. Another story I was told by Raja Komando was that a woman named Ummi allegedly sent a letter claiming that Anwar was the father of a child born to the wife of his secretary and that Ummi was paid some money for that information. There was yet another accusation against Anwar by his wife’s driver that he was sodomised by Anwar. The driver, of course, resigned and became a director of a business concern.

Well, the trial started in the court of Judge Augustine Paul, who was newly promoted to hear this case. Anwar was charged with sexual abuse and corruption. After more than 40 days of trial, Augustine Paul expunged the so-called evidence connected to the mattress episode, without giving the defence the opportunity to present their submission to the court, which I understand, was unethical.

Corruption charge

What do you think was the corruption charge? Anwar Ibrahim, the DPM, apparently told two police officers to investigate the writer of the letter hoping to have this letter withdrawn. There was no transaction of money or gifts involved but, the judge sentenced Anwar to six years’ imprisonment without even granting him bail. The entire nation was shocked. No one could reconcile with such a harsh sentence.

Trial in Ariffin Jaka's court

While Anwar was undergoing his six-year sentence, he was again charged with committing sodomy. During the course of the trial, the victim contradicted himself by telling the court that he had not lodged any report to the police, that he had not given any dates to anybody and that he had not been sodomised by Anwar, which he repeated another two times. This one-time sodomy was alleged to have been committed on three differing dates! At the end of the trial, the judge told the court that, “I will make my decision after perusing the evidence adduced. I am a Muslim and I am answerable to Allah.” Then he adjourned the court.

On the day of judgment, the judge sentenced Anwar to 9 years’ jail to commence consecutively after the completion of the six years. Well, what choice did Anwar have? He appealed to the Federal Court.

Federal Court decision

As the date of judgment was approaching, there was a rumour that two out of the three judges had decided to acquit Anwar. The date of judgment was set for 2 September 2004. The night before that, something unforgivable happened. A police officer allegedly approached the two judges and requested that Anwar not be acquitted - but both the judges refused to comply. I came across this allegation in the late MGG Pillai’s website. In fairness to the police officer, I don’t wish to identify him. He is still in service. But is this the function of the police – to pervert justice?

The BN politicians have been trying to impress on us that our police force has changed for the better. May I ask how many politicians have read the 600-page report of the Royal Police Commission? Why has Abdullah not implemented the most important recommendations of the commission: the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC)? I don’t think the PM has any convincing answer except that the police force is not happy to have the IPCMC for obvious reasons.

A few months ago, in a startling statement, Tun Hanif Omar, the retired IGP drew the attention of the people that if a survey was carried out, it was bound to disclose that at least 40 per cent of the Police Force would have to be retrenched. This statement was carried by our media. If this is the view of the former IGP himself, isn’t the public justified in persisting with the negative perception of the police?

The "father's" charade against the "son"

Having decided to get rid of Anwar, Mahathir assailed Anwar’s conduct and character in the later part of 1998. He proclaimed that Anwar was immoral and not fit to take over from him even before the court had convicted Anwar. Mahathir was on record as having said more than once that “an accused person remains innocent until proven guilty”. But in accusing Anwar of being immoral, the PM deviated from his belief. He went on attacking that Anwar was sexually immoral.

Anwar is well known, on 1 September 1998, Anwar was sacked from the Cabinet. The next day at an emergency meeting of the Umno Supreme Council, Mahathir told the meeting that his deputy was sexually immoral and hence not fit to be the PM. The Supreme Council decided to expel him from the party. Hardly anybody demanded any explanation, I was told.

Anwar’s sacking from the cabinet and Umno sparked the Reformasi movement and unleashed mammoth demonstrations in support of Anwar. Mahathir kept on harping that he had proof that Anwar was involved in immoral sex. An outraged woman sent a letter to the media that if sexual abuse was a crime in Umno, then 90 per cent of its leaders should be expelled. In my opinion, it was a bit of an exaggeration!

Coming back to Anwar

On 20 September 1998, while Anwar was having a press conference together with his supporters in his house the police draped in balaclava dramatically swooped down on Anwar’s residence at 9.30pm and arrested him. He was allowed an hour to get ready. He was taken to Bukit Aman, handcuffed and blindfolded. Then one coward of a man entered Anwar’s cell and rained brutal blows on him. A badly injured Anwar fell unconscious. A policeman pulled the cowardly attacker away and told him to stop the torture.

Crowds turned up at the court the next day - 21 September - and waited in vain. But Anwar was not produced in court. It took nine days before he was produced in court. The nation was shocked to see a brutally attacked Anwar who was badly injured. Anwar explained to the judge that he was assaulted by somebody. It took months before a Commission of Inquiry could establish that it was the IGP, Rahim Noor, who had inflicted the injuries, which according to a doctor, who gave evidence to the Commission of Inquiry, could have been lethal.

But, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was telling the world at large then that the injuries had been self-inflicted! Rahim Noor told the Commission that the PM was unaware of the assault. Are we to believe him? Did the IGP act on impulse or did someone instructed him to deliver those lethal blows on Anwar?

Had Anwar died in the cell what would have been the explanation from the Prime Minister? Would he have made that ludicrous claim in his cynical fashion that Anwar had induced it. But Mahathir who had repeatedly claimed that Anwar was guilty of the crimes he was charged did not appear in Augustine Paul’s court or Arifin Jaka’s court to give evidence.

My prayer

Based on my limited acquaintance with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, I believe that he is a simple, honest and humble person, committed to social justice, equitable distribution of wealth, racial harmony and, sympathetic to the poor. During the last 10 years – yes, a decade - he has unjustly suffered a lot.

The formation of Pakatan Rakyat is a great achievement for the nation. There will be better and greater prosperity, racial harmony – yes, a better Malaysia. The police have apparently tried to fix him up but they will fail miserably in their attempt.

May God bless you, Anwar.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Anwar our best and only chance for justice and equality for everyone

AUG 29 — As the Permatang Pauh by-election fades into the recesses of our memories, there is talk of it being a turning point in our country's history. Unfortunately, this talk habitually and routinely focuses on the possibility of changing the government by Sept 16.

It ignores a simple reality: Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has already made history by being the first Malay politician to ever actually win more political support through an explicitly non-racial platform. It is practically impossible to underestimate how Anwar bucked the trend; he has completely turned our understanding of politics in this country on its head.

History has already made it crystal-clear; Malay politicians who try to unite the country by appealing to a common sense of Malaysian-ness inevitably wind up heading into political oblivion. Dato Onn Ja'afar's political career went up in flames the moment he founded the first multiracial political party in the country, in spite of it having every conceivable advantage — it was literally the incumbent party of the time because of Onn's towering status in Malayan politics. And it, of course, foundered completely.

Since then nobody has even tried to unite the Malays as Malaysians. Unite the Malays as Malays, of course; Syed Jaafar Albar famously proclaimed in the 1960s that he was a Malay first and a Malaysian second. Syed Hussein Alatas made an admirable attempt to change Malaysian politics through Gerakan, and we all know how that turned out. Literally every Malay leader who has tried to be Malaysian first ever since has risked being branded as a sell-out, a puppet of the non-Malays and a stooge of Lee Kuan Yew.

The one exception was Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who experienced some brief success with his Bangsa Malaysia idea. This only makes sense, considering Dr Mahathir's iron-fisted handling of anyone who dared to oppose him; it is thus a pity that he never took this policy beyond mere words.

The moment Dr Mahathir handed over the reins to his successor, Malay politicians were up in arms criticising Bangsa Malaysia as a "nebulous" and untenable concept for daring to acknowledge that the non-Malays have a place in this country too.

So here we are today: 51 years after independence, the easiest way to tar a Malay politician next to calling him a Jew-lover is to accuse him of saying this country belongs to the Chinese and Indians too. That is simply how Malaysian politics works; to win the support of the Malays, you need to denounce the non-Malays as foreign squatters, who are only here as a matter of privilege rather than right, a privilege revocable at any time.

And what a coincidence it is — that is exactly how the Malaysian government works too. If you're not an Indonesian who can be counted as a Malay, your application for permanent residency or citizenship can never hope to see the light of day. If you're not a Malay, you can expect to hear your fair share of racist remarks in a public national school — and not from students, mind you, but teachers. As a student you can expect a syllabus which teaches you about the meaning of ketuanan Melayu rather than bangsa Malaysia. As an employee you can expect a civil service where you're not welcome unless they need you to fulfil their minuscule quota of non-Malay recruits. As an entrepreneur you can expect a government — and many government-linked companies — which will not give you any business unless you are a Malay. Half a century after independence, and that's what 40% of this country has to look forward to.

And since this is how the government works, up-and-coming politicians and political activists realise this is how politics works too. That is why even though you will never hear the typical Malaysian voicing such sentiments, political activists will readily denounce the non-Malays as foreign squatters here at the behest of a social contract which gives them the privilege, not right, to stay and live here.

Since this is how politics and government have worked since time immemorial, we owe Anwar an incredible debt for nearly single-handedly turning all this — everything — completely on its head. For the past half century, to be a good Malay leader, you have either had to publicly proclaim your support for ketuanan Melayu — and not the mild ketuanan as in strong leadership, but ketuanan as in "blood will run in the streets if our demands are not met" — or you have had to simply avoid commenting on the issue and just hope you can be all things to all people. Anwar ran on a platform, not of vague meaningless nice-sounding platitudes, but a platform explicitly against everything ketuanan Melayu stands for.

This is a man, mind you, who celebrated the end of his ban on active politics by damning ketuanan Melayu and consigning it to the dust heap of history. This is a man who has publicly and repeatedly proclaimed that his commitment is to the sovereignty of the people — ketuanan rakyat — rather than the dominance of the Malays.

This is a man who has never wavered from his stand that the philosophy of government assistance based on racial origin, rather than economic status, is fundamentally and morally wrong. This is a man who has repeatedly, wherever he goes, whoever he speaks to, driven home the same point, again and again: "Anak Melayu, anak saya. Anak Cina, anak saya. Anak India, anak saya."

And this is a man who has had everything in the traditional playbook of Malaysian politics thrown at him. He's been labelled a heretic, a sodomite, a liar, a hypocrite, a traitor willing to sell the Malays and Malaysians out at a moment's notice. The ruling coalition has done everything in their power to make it known far and wide that this is a man committed to non-racialism; committed to a Malaysia where everyone belongs.

Regardless of whether you think he deserves it, or if he was just lucky, credit is due to Anwar: where so many brave Malay leaders have fallen and failed, he has won an incredible victory. Onn Ja'afar was vilified simply for opening up his political party to Malayans of all creeds and colours; Anwar has gone above and beyond, explicitly declaring that this is a country for all Malaysians, whoever they might be. And he has won a resounding victory.

It would be one thing if he scraped through with a majority of less than 5,000 votes in the recent by-election, but the fact is, it was not even close — not with a landslide majority of 15,000, larger even than the majority his wife won before he explicitly condemned ketuanan Melayu. Anwar has succeeded where everyone else has failed; he has carved out a broad base of political support, not on a platform of rights or privileges for one community, but a platform of justice and equality of opportunity for all communities.

Criticise Anwar all you like for his inconsistent and wishy-washy stands on other issues. Criticise his coalition for its internal dissension and strange hypocrisy all you want. You can even say you have no intention of trusting a man who might just stab you in the back the moment he gains power.

The fact of the matter is, you do not have a choice between Anwar and your ideal, committed, consistent, sincere Malaysian leader. Your choice, in the here and now, is between Anwar and a regime built on racism, built on stoking the flames of mistrust and hatred. This regime of hatred has delivered its promise of ketuanan Melayu; why should we expect things to be any worse under a regime promising ketuanan rakyat? At the worst, it's the same old shit under a different government; at best, we might finally have a government and a political system which works for all Malaysians rather than whoever yells the loudest and threatens the most blood.

As far as taking power is concerned, this is still a long shot. Anwar may yet turn out to be a flop on delivering if he ever gets the chance to govern. But the simple and stark reality is, as far as we who live in the present are concerned, he is our best and only chance to put a stop to this insanity.

Anwar is not the perfect vessel for uniting the country, but there is a reason he scares the powers that be: he is the first real chance we have ever had to unite the country against the demons of racialism and parochialism. And for now, he is our only chance. He is the only one who can cross ethnic barriers to proclaim a commitment to a Malaysia where Malaysians, not Malays, are sovereign, and actually win more support than before.

I am no huge fan of Anwar, but I recognise what he has done, and how far he has come. I support him, not because I like him as a person, but because I believe in the cause he champions, and because I believe that if there is any person in this country who can make that dream a reality, it is Anwar Ibrahim.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Kita Menang! We Won!



Alhamdulillah, Allah memberikan kita kejayaan. Kemenangan ini merupakan saat penentu dan bakal menentukan hala tuju negara ini.

Saya berkongsi kegembiraan yang dirasai oleh semua rakyat Malaysia pada hari bersejarah ini. Ianya merupakan kemenangan buat rakyat.

Pada 8 Mac rakyat Malaysia memilih Harapan Baru. Hari ini di saat kita bakal menyambut hari kemerdekaan, rakyat menyahut seruan tersebut. Dengan ini kita merayakant hari kemerdekaan sepertimana pendiri-pendiri negara kita inginkan-sebuah negara dan rakyat yang bersatu.

Berhadapan dengan cabaran yang getir, kita memilih untuk menumpukan perhatian kepada isu yang berkaitan dengan negara ini. Seruan kita agar negara ini bersatu, mulai mengamalkan urus tadbir yang baik dan memperkasakan ekonomi telah menguburkan kempen yang berbaur perkauman, cita-cita individu yang sering mendapat habuan hasil dari penyalahgunaan kuasa dan eksploitasi politik yang berasaskan ketakutan serta penipuan.

Kami telah menjanjikan satu lembaran baru untuk Malaysia dan kami pasti akan melaksanakan janji kami. Kami akan melaksanakan Agenda Ekonomi Malaysia untuk memulihkan keadaan ekonomi kita, membasmi kemiskinan dan membantu sesiapa sahaja yang terpinggir tanpa berasaskan kaum. Kami akan memulihkan intergriti badan kehakiman, memerangi rasuah dan membina sebuah negara yang bersatu.

Dan kami akan menjadi sebuah kerajaan yang komited untuk merealisasikan aspirasi rakyat.

Dengan kejayaan 8 Mac dan juga kemenangan malam ini saya berani untuk menegaskan kita mampu bersama-sama menghadapi segala rintangan di masa hadapan.

Kami tidak akan menang tanpa dokongan kukuh dari rakan-rakan kami dalam Pakatan Rakyat dan juga sokongan ribuan rakyat Malaysia tidak kira samada Melayu, Cina, India, Iban, Kadazan, yang datang ke Permatang Pauh, bekerja keras, memerah keringat serta mengirim doa demi memastikan kemenangan ini. Saya sangat menghargai keberanian, tekad dan kesungguhan kamu semua; saya mengucapkan tahniah terhadap komitmen saudara semua terhadap prinsip bersama sebuah kemerdekaan, keadilan dan demokrasi.

Langkah kecil buat Permatang Pauh hari ini akan memastikan perubahan besar buat Malaysia.



We won! And our victory is decisive and overwhelming.

I share in the joy felt by all Malaysians on this historic day. This is a victory for the people. And it’s great to be back!

On March 8th Malaysians voted for a New Dawn. Today, on the eve of our independence day, we have reasserted that call. We celebrate our nation’s independence in the spirit that our founding fathers intended - a nation of one and a people united.

In the face of the greatest adversity, our campaign focused on the issues that matter to Malaysians. Our calls for national unity, good governance and a vibrant democracy have silenced the voices of racist chanting, those who profit from the abuse of power and exploit the politics of fear and deceit.

We have promised a New Dawn for Malaysia and we will deliver on our promise. We will forge ahead on our Malaysian Economic Agenda to revive the economy, and to uplift the poor and the marginalized of all races. We will restore the integrity of the judiciary, fight corruption and build a truly unified nation.

We will be a government that is totally committed to realizing the people’s aspirations.

With the success of the eight of March and tonight’s resounding victory, I daresay we are indeed ready to face the challenges of the future, together.

We could not have won without the firm, unwavering support of our friends in the Pakatan Rakyat and the tens of thousands of Malaysians – Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadhazans - who have come to Permatang Pauh to work hard for this victory. I truly appreciate your courage, conviction and valour; and congratulate your commitment to our shared principles of freedom, justice and democracy.

This may be one small step for Permatang Pauh but one giant leap for the people of Malaysia.


Sunday, August 17, 2008



I have made it very clear that the economy must be corrected. Which means we must do away immediately with cronyism, procurement and contract policies that favor sons and son-in-laws and family members. That’s why you find [the prime minister's] son-in-law has launched a very vicious personal campaign against us.

By Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times Online

Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim is headed either for the premiership or prison, depending on how highly anticipated political events play out in the weeks ahead.

His opposition alliance made important gains at March general elections, breaking the ruling United Malay Nasional Organization (UMNO)-led coalition’s two-thirds majority hold over parliament and wresting control over five of the federation’s 13 states, including the country’s main economic territories.

Anwar’s ban from politics on a corruption conviction expired in April and since he has aggressively upped the tempo of the opposition alliance he nominally advises but de facto leads. He has boldly predicted his alliance will have secured enough parliamentary defections to topple Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s coalition government and form his own administration by September 16.

Anwar’s formal return to politics is a key precondition for those defections to commence and all eyes now are on the upcoming August 26 by-election at Permatang Pauh, where Anwar is contesting and widely expected to win a parliamentary seat recently vacated by his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Against that script, the attorney general last week formally charged Anwar with sodomizing one of his former personal aides, charges he has characterized as a conspiracy and similar to the accusation he was convicted and incarcerated for in 1998 after falling out with then-prime minister Mahathir Mohammad. (Sodomy is a criminal offense punishable by 20 years in prison in mainly Muslim Malaysia.)

Anwar contends his opposition alliance aims to promote more democracy and racial equality, though a hard-line Islamic party included in his coalition raises critical questions about that assertion. There are also questions emerging about his willingness to accept establishment UMNO politicians into his supposedly pro-reform camp.

Incumbent Abdullah was elected in a 2004 landslide on a similar pro-democracy, pro-reform platform, but was handed a strong democratic rebuke at this year’s polls due to widespread perceptions he failed to live up to those reform promises. In a wide-ranging interview with Asia Times Online’s Southeast Asia Editor Shawn W Crispin, Anwar explains why his democratic drive to power is different.

Asia Times Online: Many see the political situation in Malaysia now as strikingly similar to the events in 1998 that ultimately led to your demise and incarceration. How is the situation different this time?

Anwar Ibrahim: It is generally similar, but the political environment allows for more space now, I would acknowledge that. In 1998 it was clearly more authoritarian and the measures crude and very dictatorial.

But on the issues of governance, economic management and corruption, it is worse. I’m talking about internal institutions, how they are being used to benefit those in power and make others vulnerable against the might of the ruling clique.

ATol: The latest sodomy charges brought against you are widely seen as politically motivated. What happens next if you are convicted and sentenced again?

Anwar: Well, if sanity prevails, and there is the barest minimum respect for the rule of law, no one would expect me to be charged - but I have been charged. It is unlike in 1998-99, when it all came as a surprise and no one had the courage to say anything beyond that.

As you must have seen the medical report [of the alleged sodomy victim] is already in the public domain. Which means the whole basis of the charge is now flawed and could only be done under the instructions of the ruling elite and the prime minister in particular. I believe both the prime minister and his son-in-law, who we know for a fact now, is deeply involved in this whole episode.

Now even the second medical report by the panel at the general hospital also affirms the fact, ruling out any possibility of assault or sodomy, whether forced or consensual. So it’s not only a general perception the charges are political, but is conclusive and clearly an attempt to smear my personality and to try to derail our reform agenda towards democracy and my candidacy in the upcoming by-election.

ATol: As those allegations come unraveled in the public domain, some now see worrying parallels to the run-up of the 1969 race riots, when opposition assertiveness escalated into street violence which saw ethnic Chinese targeted and killed by ethnic Malays. What is the risk that UMNO resorts to stoking ethnic passions to foment social unrest and uses that as pretext to crack down on your movement?

Anwar: The ruling UMNO has launched strong racist attacks and propaganda, accusing me initially of being pro-American and now as pro-Malaysian Chinese and a betrayer to the Muslim and Malay cause, but they have not succeeded.

At the March 8 elections they tried to do that, but the transformation, the political change in the five states [that voted for the opposition] has gone on very smoothly and we have survived almost five months now.

Looking back to the tragic experience of the race riots of 1969, you had the formation of a ruling government that was essentially Malay versus a predominantly Chinese or non-Malay opposition. Now that you have a very strong multi-racial opposition, they cannot use the race card.

ATol: What is the risk the government attempts to bait your supporters into some sort of street melee which allows them to crack down on the pretense your movement has undermined racial harmony and social stability?

Anwar: Yes, you can see the political leadership’s increased rhetoric of Malay survival and Malay supremacy. And in the last few days the prime minister made the clearly irresponsible remark that the slowdown or downturn in the economy is due to Anwar.

This is the main news in all the government-controlled media, that Anwar is responsible for the economic downturn. This, of course, can be played up continuously and therefore you are a threat to stability and the national economy, giving them the option to use draconian measures against you, including the Internal Security Act (which allows for detention without trial.)

ATol: You fear the situation is heading in that direction?

Anwar: I don’t fear, but I feel the public must be alerted.

ATol: How confident are you in the cohesiveness of your multi-racial opposition alliance? There were recent reports that the Islamic PAS party, a member of your coalition, was in talks about joining an alliance with UMNO.

Anwar: We will continue to face teething problems, not unlike the government coalition where it is all subdued and not open to the media. In our case, we all practice democracy and our discourse is publicized in the media. I don’t deny the fact that we will have to deal with this though.

But if you look at the five states we now rule, we’ve hardly had any real problems. Secondly, among the leadership - you know most of the meetings are coordinated by me personally - we have had regular meetings and resolved most of these issues, even the most contentious issues about an Islamic state, apostasy and others.

ATol: How certain are you that you have the numbers to form a new government by September 16. You’ve made the claim, but how firm are the guarantees you have received from potential defectors?

Anwar: I first need to work on the first hurdle of winning the by-election. We are still dealing with a system questioning the eligibility of my candidacy, with questions over the conduct of the election commission, the use of the security apparatus.

Particularly you notice that the inspector general of the police is personally involved [in managing the by-election], even though he has a personal vendetta against me. So we don’t want to underestimate any of these forces. Anyway, we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars [that] will be thrown into that small constituency.

Many have made as a precondition of any defection of MPs to our side that I have to be in parliament. I am optimistic that they will keep their word and once I enter parliament you will see some change. So right now we are still very much on track.

ATol: What qualifications do you require of defectors and isn’t there a risk with an avalanche of defections that your supposedly reform-minded government will actually be full of establishment UMNO politicians?

Anwar: We take a very open position. One, they have to agree on the reform agenda of freedom and democracy, our new economic agenda, an independent judiciary, a free media.

Second, we welcome all except those clearly involved in major corruption cases or abuse of power which would make it rather untenable for us to defend that they subscribe to these clear policies.

ATol: Before your incarceration you were widely seen as one of Asia’s rising political stars and your political rehabilitation has now taken nearly a decade. Are yours, as some critics allege, the politics of revenge or the politics of genuine reform?

Anwar: What else could they say? I’ve said since 2004, “malice towards none” - this is [Abraham] Lincoln. I think we have to move on. It is almost impossible to pursue an agenda for change if we are stuck in the past. This does not mean that the billions that are gone must not be returned. But at the personal level, even those who assaulted me to near death, I have forgiven them and this has been made public. Unless they kick me again, then that’s something else.

Even against Mahathir - he goes on lamenting about the issues and it all seems endless. Although his attacks against Abdullah Badawi are more vicious, he said in the event I take over as prime minister he would prefer to leave the country because I am not only close to America, but because I protect the Hindus and the Christians and whatever. His testament helps me to a degree, as people see me as fair to the Muslim cause, Christians and Hindus.

ATol: On Abdullah, do you see him as weak and does Malaysia need a strong leader to manage the transition to more democracy?

Anwar: Not a strong leader in the sense that you need to be authoritarian, but you must have a clear vision and policies. Obviously, you must be prepared to shift when necessary. Abdullah is clearly incompetent and corruption is more endemic under him. Nothing has happened.

Look at the royal commission on the judiciary: no further investigations; the case is closed. The same tainted corrupt judges are still there. Look at the police force - I would say we used to be proud of the judiciary and police at one time, but look at them now. Now the top brass is just like a stooge for politicians and those in political office and not respected for their professionalism.

Look at the state of the economy - just compare it to the 1990s. The 1990s were not the ideal, although I was part of it, but certainly if you compare the 90s to now you have neither the policies nor direction. The management of the economy is haphazard. They announce a policy today, withdraw it the following day … Not only do they lack concern for the poor, but also for the direction of the economy.

ATol: When Mahathir first rose to power in 1981, his first big bang policy was the promulgation of a nationalistic “buy British last” campaign. Assuming you rise to power next month, as you have predicted, what will be your first big bang policy?

Anwar: I have made it very clear that the economy must be corrected. Which means we must do away immediately with cronyism, procurement and contract policies that favor sons and son-in-laws and family members. That’s why you find [the prime minister's] son-in-law has launched a very vicious personal campaign against us.

With a clear policy the Malays, Chinese and Indians within the country will have more confidence in the system. And with this in place I’m very optimistic we will be able to attract back foreign direct investments back into Malaysia.

ATol: As a former finance minister, you once had access to the national accounts. Do you think there is a pressing need for more transparency over how state-owned oil giant Petronas and the national Employees Provident Fund (EPF) are run?

Anwar: Yes. I would say the general management of Petronas is satisfactory. But they are being directed how to disburse funds and priorities are made under political instructions. So it therefore has to be held accountable to parliament. Petronas is a national company and you can’t have a national company beholden to only one man, the prime minister. It breeds suspicion.

So with the EPA; huge funds we are talking about. It must be very professionally managed. You can’t use the EPA funds to prop up markets of your choice, or companies in your own stable, or invest according to strategies decided by the prime minister or his Cabinet.

ATol: So you would implement more transparency over both of these state institutions which many suspect are off-balance-sheet sources of government patronage?

Anwar: Yes, it has to be a very professional team. It has to be very transparent.

ATol: Mahathir often used “we-versus-them”, anti-Western rhetoric for domestic political purposes, but you on the other hand are seen as a good friend of the West. Is that a liability in the current political environment?

Anwar: We have strong views against the US’s foreign policy, but it is still a very important trading partner. It makes no sense to be hypocritical to deny the importance of the United States.

Look at China - they take strong foreign policy decisions, but they maintain very strong bilateral relations through trade and investments. Similarly, Malaysia must be more realistic in its approach. I have very strong views on Iraq. I believe the US must withdraw all its forces and be more fair and just in dealing with victims and the conflict. But it does not mean we must treat the United States as an enemy.

Do you want to engage with the United States administration? The answer is yes. I may not agree with their policies, but [engagement] is not only morally defensible, but it would help your own country, economy and credibility.

There is always a tendency for dictators and authoritarian leaders to use the US as a pretext or bogey to cover the stench in their own backyard. Why is the economy not developing - because of the United States. Why is the corruption in the billions, why are you not managing your economy well, why is your judiciary not independent, why is your media not free - blame the United States. That’s not defensible.

ATol: What about the US’s counterterrorism polices in Southeast Asia and the Bush government’s dangling of free trade agreements in exchange for intelligence cooperation in that sometimes abusive campaign?

Anwar: I have some reservations about that because the obsession with the war on terror could cloud the rational basis of our deliberations. I would not tolerate violence or perpetrators of violence or terror. But I don’t see the policy as legitimate or effective for now. It’s proven: look at South Thailand and South Philippines.

I think [the US] should assist, yes. They should engage, I agree. But they should allow these countries in the region to evolve an effective mechanism for dealing and not as a war on terror. These are issues of poverty, marginalization, minority rights, dispossession. There are many issues, not just prescriptions from Washington that are particular to all.

I’m not soft on terrorism, that’s not true at all. I believe in some very strong legislation. But I’m a democrat and I cannot agree with any legislation that calls for suspension of civil liberties or the writ of habeas corpus. To me these are contrary to the very spirit of the constitution and the US’s bill of rights - though Bush has his own bill of rights.

ATol: Prime Minister Abdullah has said political ferment is weighing against the economy as well as foreign and local confidence. What message would you send to the foreign investment community about your movement and what change could they expect if you come to power?

Anwar: I made my position quite clear. We need to shift from the obsolete New Economic Policy [which favors majority Malays over minority Chinese and Indians] to a more vibrant, competitive Malaysian economic agenda. That means a market economy but tempered with a strong dosage of definitive justice.

ATol: That will require substantial dismantling because Malaysia has very much been a state-led economy throughout its recent development.

Anwar: Yes, but it has to be done very cautiously, in a sense that it shouldn’t be destructive. It’s economic policy or economic prescription with a conscience, to cite [economist Paul] Krugman. It’s hard to be fair with a policy that protects cronies and that allows for endemic corruption.

If in the process in a multi-racial society you find groups marginalized or the indigenous population feels insecure, they can be propped up through measures such as affirmative action. But it must be transparent and based on needs, not based on family connections. I think this is important for assuring [foreign investors].

Why do foreign companies, in regard to issues of litigation and dispute settlement, chose Hong Kong or Singapore and not Malaysian courts? We lose hundreds of millions of ringgit annually because of this. Can we do anything about it? Yes, by bringing back integrity in the judicial process.

ATol: To establish this more rule-of-law based system would likely require prosecutions for ill-gotten gains and corruption in the past. How backward looking would an Anwar-led administration be?

Anwar: We would have to be very cautious at this stage. It would require so many resources and energy. To give a lesson learned, we would probably concentrate on a few select cases that involved billions of public funds.

ATol: So no need for a truth and reconciliation sort of commission?

Anwar: Some do propose that. Of course ours were nowhere near the atrocities seen under [South African] apartheid, but there were atrocities and abuse nonetheless. Frankly, I’m more concerned with what to do, what to change to evolve Malaysia into a greater country and more vibrant economy.

ATol: Mahathir had his vision for Malaysia to reach developed country status by 2020. What is your vision?

Anwar: I’m not so ambitious. There was a joke when I was younger while debating among my socialist friends whether you distribute wealth or distribute poverty. I just want to make sure Malaysia cherishes its freedom, has a vibrant democracy and economy, and is a country that brings all races together to feel the benefit of the vast resources the country can offer.

Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online’s Southeast Asia Editor. .

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pasca Penamaan Calon: ‘Alhamdulillah Semuanya Lancar’

Alhamdulillah semuanya berjalan lancar sepanjang proses penamaan calon pagi tadi.

Say terharu tatkala mengenang kembali saat dipilih mewakili rakyat Permatang Pauh hampir 26 tahun yang lalu. Kini selepas 4 tahun bebas daripada penjara, diri kerdil ini terasa umpama sireh pulang ke gagang.

Saya terharu tatkala mengenang kembali saat dipilih mewakili rakyat Permatang Pauh hampir 26 tahun yang lalu. Kini selepas 4 tahun bebas daripada penjara, diri kerdil ini terasa umpama sireh pulang ke gagang.

Jutaan terima kasih buat Tuan Guru Nik Abd Aziz, Sdr Lim Kit Siang, Sdr Mohd Sabu, Sdr Karpal Singh, Sdr Husam Musa, Sdr Lim Guan Eng, Dr. Lo’Lo, serta teman pimpinan Pakatan lainnya. Komitmen Dr. Syed Husin, Sdr Azmin, Sivarasa, William Leong, serta pimpinan KeADILan seluruh negara yang berkumpul di Permatang Pauh sangat menyuntik semangat. Demikian juga buat puluhan ribu penyokong dan pendukung Pakatan Rakyat yang hadir menyatakan sokongan pagi ini.

Jentera kempen sudah dipersiap dan perlu kekal mantap selepas ini. Masanya telah tiba untuk kita semua berjuang demi masa depan Malaysia yang lebih gagah perkasa.

Gelanggang telah dibuka. Ayuh, kita gerakkan rakyat demi nusa!


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

(The Star) Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah is the Barisan Nasional candidate for the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat by-election.

(The Star) Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah is the Barisan Nasional candidate for the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat by-election.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made the announcement in Permatang Pauh Wednesday night.

Arif Shah is the assemblyman for Seberang Jaya, which is among the three state seats under the Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency.

The other two are Permatang Pasir, which was won by PAS in the March 8 general election; while PKR clinched the Penanti seat.

The Permatang Pauh seat fell vacant on July 31, when Anwar's wife and PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail resigned to make way for her husband to contest.

Nomination for the by-election is Saturday while polling will be on Aug 26.

In the general election, Wan Azizah retained the seat by obtaining 30,338 votes against Datuk Pirdaus Ismail of Umno, who garnered 16,950 votes.

As at July 31, 58,459 voters, 490 of them postal, were registered as eligible to cast their ballots in the by-election.

Except for Seberang Jaya, which is a cosmopolitan centre, the rest of the constituency is made up of villages and farmland, mainly paddy fields.