Thursday, 22-Jan-2004 10:13 AM
issue to get new life ahead of election
Opposition to revisit his
jailing as polls show public cares
By Brendan Pereira
Anwar Ibrahim suffered a setback
in court yesterday and, short of a royal pardon, looks destined
to spend the next five years behind bars.
But expect much more to be
heard about the former deputy prime minister in the days and weeks
Parti Keadilan Nasional and
other opposition parties are bent on revisiting the issue of his
sacking and jailing.
They believe the issue, which
coalesced a divergent opposition and turned perennial also-rans
into serious election contenders five years ago, is still a potent
This belief is boosted by the
findings of an independent survey showing that the Malay ground
still holds him in high regard.
The opposition parties expect
the sympathy level to rise after the Court of Appeal ruled against
his bail application yesterday.
He has served four years in
jail on corruption charges and sought bail while awaiting the outcome
of an appeal against his conviction for sodomy, for which he was
jailed for nine years.
For Parti Keadilan, the attempt
to resurrect the Anwar issue may be as important for its political
survival as it is for the man in the Sungai Buloh jail.
A poor electoral performance
by its candidates would surely confine the party to the sidelines
of Malaysian politics.
For Anwar, a strong mandate
for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his reform platform
may lead to longer-term consequences: it will dilute his platform
as the agent of change in Malaysia.
For the next three weeks, Keadilan
party members will organise a series of talks, launch a leaflet
campaign and get convoys of vehicles to run through several states.
At the same time, non-governmental
organisations will step up their campaigns to pressure the government
to allow Anwar to receive treatment overseas for his back problem.
Mr Khalid Jaafar, a senior
official with Parti Keadilan, said: 'We feel it is time that the
issue of Anwar is brought to the fore again.'
Anecdotal evidence, quiet signs
of support from the electorate and survey findings are driving the
party down the tried-and-tested road, he said.
Critics argue that a political
party that was born out of the political crisis following Anwar's
sacking in 1998 can only find hope from that one source that gave
Other Keadilan leaders like
Tian Chua are unapologetic. 'Anwar is still a very strong election
issue. We also want to test Abdullah Badawi's credibility.
'There is talk that he is distancing
himself from Dr Mahathir. If that is true, then he should handle
the Anwar case differently. After all the Anwar case involves questions
of the judiciary and the police.'
The move to assign the 'sins'
of the Mahathir government to the Abdullah administration is an
approach which will be employed by all the opposition parties, especially
Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), in the run-up to the general election.
Even PAS seems to be coming
around to the view that it may be worth mining the Anwar issue again.
A party official told The Straits
Times: 'It will not be the main focus like in 1999 but will be one
of the issues we will bring up.'
A poll of party members shows
the former DPM is still in their thoughts. A third of the respondents
say Umno's efforts at boosting Malay unity will be credible only
if Anwar is freed.
Interestingly, only a fraction
of the respondents were concerned about Internal Security Act detainees.
It is understood that PAS Youth
leader Salahuddin Ayob has left for London to get human rights organisations
to start making a din about the former DPM.
The United Malays National
Organisation (Umno) and the Abdullah administration are not losing
any sleep over the opposition's moves.
They believe that there are
built-in flaws in the plan: It presupposes that sympathy for Anwar
will translate into a gush of votes, like it did in the 1999 general
It presupposes that Umno is
still fractured. And it presupposes that the anger that voters felt
towards Dr Mahathir will automatically attach itself to his successor.
An Umno official told The Straits
Times: 'The PM has shown that he has different ideas than Dr Mahathir
and will continue to do so.
'He has also made it clear
that he is not interested in meeting several Keadilan leaders who
have sent feelers about wanting to return to Umno.
'That should tell you his level
of confidence. We believe that the majority of Malaysians have moved
The opposition, though, believes
that its future lies in yesterday's formula.
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