ANWAR SEIZES THE POLITICAL
THE UNSEEN, unspoken confrontation
between the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, and
his erstwhile protgege and deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri
Anwar Ibrahim, finally breaks out into the open. The prime minister,
with his absolute control of the cronyistic,
mainstream, media, kept the lid on, with court coverage, by order,
reduced to a bare minium, often contentiously, reporting only
what makes the Prime Minister and his administration look good.
Malaysians lost the importance of this major political change
in this David-and-Goliath battle, in which David finally flung
a stone at Goliath's forehead.
The venue for this was the courts.
On 1 February 2000, Dato' Seri Anwar dispensed with his counsel
and argued for the Chief Justice, Tun Eusoff Chin, to step down
from the three-man coram hearing his appeal against the Court
of Appeal decision the Prime Minister need not appear as a defence
witness in his sodomy trial. In a terrifying litany of judicial
corruption, involving the chief justice himself, he argued how
he could not expect a fair trial if Tun Eusoff sat, why the Prime
Minister's rationale of "unfinished business" for his
six-months extension on reaching retiring age in June included
his continued incarceration.
In a two-hour peroration, he
mercilessly dissencted the depths to which the once vaunted judicial
independence and integrity had now descended. And the following
day, refused to proceed with the appeal. The chief justice was
caught in his own trap. In chambers, he begged Dato' Seri Anwar's
former counsel to return to argue the appeal, even suggesting
ingeniously how they could as amicus curae. Dato' Seri Anwar
would have none of it. If Tun Eusoff remained on the panel, he
would not proceed. When the court then tried to strike off the
appeal, he objected, insisting he would if Tun Eusoff recused.
For the first time since the
civil administration of justice was imposed in the Malay peninsula
in the late 18th century, an appeal does not proceed because
the appellant objects to one judge. More
important, Dato' Seri Anwar seized the political high ground,
along with the moral he had had since his travails. He remains
in prison, and can expect to for a long while. But the political
now on is his. His friendly, confident demeanour contrasts sharply
with the stumbling, uncertain, ill-prepared adversaries in the
Judge Arifin Jaka threw an irreelvant
political timebomb into the government's midst. When the sodomy
trial ended late last month, he adjourned judgement to 4 August,
a Friday. Whether this was deliberate or not is irrelevant. But
this gave Dato' Seri Anwar and his supporters a bonus. With his
supporters calling for a massive show of force, the government
tried to dampen their enthusiasm by
frightening people, with suitable cine clips of the May 13 riots,
of what could happen if these people rioted. But how could they
tell Muslims they must stay home and not come to the National
Mosque for prayers?
The case had to be postponed,
ostensibly because the judgement was not ready. That he is adjudicated
guilty is not in doubt. He could not be. Otherwise, the judge
could have pronounced him not guilty and give reasons for his
decision later. He cannot be found other than guilty, as indeed
Judge Arifin Jaka did, at the postponed hearing on 8 August 20000.
But Dato' Seri Anwar's guilt or otherwise is no more the issue.
His well-aimed barbs from his political catapault not only unnerves
the administration but bleeds it.
The Prime Minister claims he
had irrefutable evidence of Dato' Seri Anwar's guilt, but all
the Public Prosecutor could produce was an amateurish bumbling
legal team trying to make velvet purses out of sow's ears.
The cases should have been thrown out, but the Prime Minister
had politicised it so completely that an aquittal would have
caused a political crisis. Dato' Seri Anwar's stoic acceptance
of the inevitable, telling his family he would be incarcerated
for twenty years or more, that his physical incarceration apart,
he leads the masses against an "intolerant, undemocratic
supremo". So he has.
What pushed the Prime Minister
to destroy a political rival by charging with sexual offences,
destroying not just the man but his family as well? What distinguishes
the Prime Minister (and his
visitor from Singapore this month) from the other authoritarian
leaders who wanted to destroy their political enemies is how
it was done. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, even Pol Pot destroyed their
politically, not by accusing them of sexual offences. Gandhi,
Chiang Ching, Nelson Mandela, even Martin Borman, a homosexual,
faced political harassment and trial, not destroyed for their
foibles. But Dr Mahathir and Mr Lee took this route, to send
a chilling message that to oppose them is to invite total destruction.
Malay political and cultural
beliefs would not have permitted that. Which is why, against
the Prime Minister's wishes, the cases in court has dragged as
long as this, sufficient for Dato' Seri Anwar to mount a counter-offensive.
The Prime Minister and his administration flounders in a self-created
quicksand that threats its right to govern. The longer Dato'
Seri Anwar remains in jail, the more
damaging the political consquences for the Prime Minister, his
administration, and UMNO. The Prime Minister could not have thought
so when he impetuously began the destruction of Dato' Seri Anwar,
but what he has ensured, in the ensuing two years, is the return,
as a possible prime minsiter, He Who Must Be Destroyed At All
Cost. Dato' Seri Anwar's inclemental health notwithstanding.
Even more dangerous for UMNO is if he does not survive prison