Selasa, 22 September 1998

Rallying the Masses


Malaysia's Anwar may have fallen from grace, but he's not taking the accusations lying down


The crowd stirs as he makes his way toward the microphone. "Long live Anwar!" goes the chant as he squeezes through, smiling, shaking outstretched hands. He shouts to the crowd: "To defend the interests of the people, to uphold justice, to guarantee equal treatment for all, let us undertake reformasi!" The ecstatic reply: "Reformasi! Reformasi! Reformasi," a term borrowed from Indonesia that entails broad political and economic reform.

That was Tuesday, just another night at the Kuala Lumpur home of Anwar Ibrahim--except that the audience was three times as big as the evening before. Each night several thousand supporters fill his house, his garden and the surrounding streets, where merchants do a brisk trade in food, drink and tapes of Anwar's speeches. "If they charge him with a crime, they are making a big mistake," says worker Eric Bastian, 50, on his fourth visit. "Look at this crowd! The people want him back."

In all the excitement it would be easy to forget that, politically speaking, Anwar has just fallen off a cliff. Barely a week earlier, he was Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister, deputy president of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's anointed successor. Today Anwar is unemployed. He could be arrested at any time. Expelled from the party, he is trying to refute a host of damaging allegations, ranging from sexual misconduct to sedition. Many UMNO officials appear to have written him off. "Anwar cannot win, fighting against Mahathir," says former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Ghaffar Baba. "I pity him. He has wasted his talent for political leadership."

But Anwar is refusing to go quietly. He maintains that the claims of misbehavior have been fabricated as part of a high-level conspiracy to unseat him. Several influential political and religious groups have spoken in his defense, and his followers are busily distributing pamphlets, badges and bumper stickers proclaiming his innocence and calling for sweeping reforms. With or without a party, Anwar is launching a spirited opposition movement, and it is gathering momentum. "I never supported him," says Bastian, "but I would like to at this time because he has been unjustly treated and he will stand up against corruption and nepotism."

Mahathir, too, has been busy. Last Tuesday, the Prime Minister called a meeting of UMNO officials and told them that Anwar had been sacked because of immoral conduct. "It was not due to whatever differences he had with me over political or economic matters, but because his character does not qualify him to be a leader of a country like Malaysia," he later told journalists, without giving details. Mahathir did refer to a police investigation that is said to implicate Anwar in a wide range of moral and legal lapses, including womanizing, sodomy, corruption and treason. "I did my own investigations, and I am convinced," the Prime Minister said, adding that the dismissal was not related to a possible leadership challenge by Anwar in next year's party elections.

One after another, most of UMNO's leaders have come forward to express support for Mahathir's decision. "There was no conspiracy," says Ibrahim Ali, a member of the party's Supreme Council. "Anwar was sacked because of a purely personal problem." There have been calls for the resignation of UMNO Youth chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, an Anwar ally. And new allegations against Anwar have appeared. The police inspector-general says there is evidence that Anwar interfered in a police investigation and lied about a dna test to disprove a paternity claim. Anwar has also been criticized for lashing out at the government in the foreign press and for trying to mobilize the masses against the state.

Anwar's ordeal may look like an internal UMNO affair, but to some Malaysians the episode has stirred worrisome questions about the country's reputation for fairness. Among the concerns: allegations against Anwar were revealed via the widespread publication of affidavits filed in criminal proceedings against a friend of Anwar's, Solaimai Nallakaruppan, before the judge had ruled on the admissibility of the evidence. The Malaysian Bar Council has expressed "dismay" over the incident, saying it infringed the constitutional right of a person to defend himself. For his part, Nallakaruppan says his interrogators have used threats and inducements in failed attempts to make him sign false statements. Says Chandra Muzaffar, a political scientist and Anwar supporter: "The public feels that a great wrong has been done."

For now, many citizens assume that Anwar would not have been fired unless some of the allegations were true. But with Anwar's steadfast denials of any wrongdoing, that assumption could turn to skepticism unless he is indicted for something soon. "Anwar has only been charged by the local press," says Ahmad Zahid. "The people aren't stupid. They can read between the lines." Anwar, meanwhile, keeps talking about reformasi to all who will listen. And listen they do, thronging his two-story white stucco house and the tents set up outside. "Anwar is trying to rewrite the rules," says a diplomat. "He's trying to establish a new kind of structure." Malaysian politics may never be the same.

KOMEN: Sayang kau dengan Anwar, berapa lama si lalang ini akan bertahan?

Sabtu, 22 Ogos 1998

Fading from the Picture

Could well be, given the political setbacks Anwar Ibrahim has recently suffered

Asiaweek 21 Aug 1998

By Assif Shameen and Zoher Abdoolcarim

SINCE ANWAR IBRAHIM BECAME deputy prime minister of Malaysia in 1993, he has been first in line to succeed PM Mahathir Mohamad. Sure, the two - mentor and protégé - are very unalike. Mahathir's politics are nationalistic, his manner is blunt and his instincts that of a streetfighter. Anwar's outlook is global, his style smooth and his bent more a philosopher's. True, too, they have publicly sparred on ways to tackle the current economic crisis. But the accepted wisdom has been that Anwar should logically follow Mahathir. The older man's legacy is that he pulled Malaysia into the modern age. The younger's destiny, so goes this thread of thinking, is to steer the nation in the next century. If Mahathir, 72, is Malaysia's past and present, then Anwar, 51, is its future.

Forget it - it's not a done deal. In past weeks Anwar's stock has fallen as fast as the Kuala Lumpur bourse - to the point he is even fending off talk about him stepping down. During an Aug. 7 press conference on debt restructuring, a reporter asked Anwar (who also holds the finance portfolio) about speculation he was resigning because of recent political setbacks. Anwar laughed off the question: "These rumors [have been] going on for some time. I don't know whether this is good news or disappointing, but there is no basis [for them]."

Won't resign? Probably so. "No basis"? That's being disingenuous. Foreign news organizations, including Asiaweek, have repeatedly reported on the differences between Mahathir and Anwar, or, at the very least, between their supporters. The Malaysian press has hinted at the bad blood. The standard response by the authorities has been to deny any animosity and to condemn such reports as a mischievous, even conspiratorial, attempt to undermine government and country. But the story will not go away because the principal players won't let it.

Flash back to June, when the annual assembly of the United Malays National Organization took place. UMNO is the most powerful party in the ruling national coalition. Leading it means leading the country. Mahathir and Anwar are PM and Deputy PM because they are respectively president and deputy president of UMNO. In a speech to the assembly, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, head of UMNO's vocal Youth wing and a widely acknowledged Anwar ally, attacked cronyism and nepotism. Mahathir, who has wealthy friends and sons, seemed to take Zahid's words personally and slapped him down.

Zahid may have been fronting for Anwar, who has since appeared to distance himself from the Youth chief. Such a move could eventually hurt the deputy PM's own power base. The word among Zahid's boys is that Anwar can't be trusted to back you even when you do his dirty work. Zahid himself may now find it more difficult to retain his post in the next UMNO elections to take place by the end of 1999. (By contrast, Mahathir is known to stick by his loyalists - sometimes to a fault.)

There have been other signs of Anwar's declining influence. Mahathir has named party treasurer Daim Zainuddin to the cabinet with special responsibility for the stalled economy, which should come fully under Anwar's purview. Daim, Anwar's predecessor at finance and Mahathir's closest confidant, already heads a crisis task force.

Pressure is being brought to bear on the proudly independent central bank. Asiaweek has learned that governor Ahmad Mohamed Don and assistant governor Murad Khalid - both college-mates of Anwar - are likely to step aside in coming months. The same may happen to Munir Majid, chairman of the Securities Commission and another Anwar friend. They would not be the first Anwar followers to take a hit. The editors of the top two Malay-language newspapers and the head of operations of TV3, the largest private TV network, have resigned. The trio are linked to Anwar. "Their removal is the biggest setback Anwar has had since he became deputy PM," says an associate.

Anwar has also been subject to a vicious smear campaign. The starkest illustration is a Malay book called 50 Reasons Why Anwar Can't Be Prime Minister, which accuses the deputy PM of various sexual indiscretions, among other things. Anwar has denied all the allegations, got the courts to halt distribution and filed suit. On Aug. 12 the author was charged with malice over one of the many allegations he had made. But the gossip is unlikely to disappear overnight if only because word about the book has already spread so wide. "The [entire matter] is a sword over us," says an Anwar backer.

Why have things come to such a pass? After all, it was Mahathir who brought Anwar, once an anti-government activist, into the UMNO fold and orchestrated his climb. And for a period last year, the PM even gave Anwar a taste of what the top job is like. Mahathir took two months' leave and named Anwar acting PM, prompting strong speculation he would be retiring sooner rather than later. The change in mood has to do with both Mahathir and Anwar. The PM, who is in good health despite multiple-bypass surgery in 1989, has since declared he won't quit as long as the economic crisis persists - years by the government's own admission. "Mahathir is in no hurry to go anywhere," says onetime cabinet member Shahrir Samad, "so everybody has to adjust their own expectations."

None more so than Anwar, whom Mahathir's acolytes view as a younger man in too much of a hurry. They assert that Anwar's people held a flurry of meetings early this year to determine if it was feasible for their boss to take on Mahathir next year, seizing advantage of his possibly weaker standing because of the recession. The response of Anwar's camp: no way - the meetings were merely discussion groups to debate the economy and the plight of Malays. Says Kamaruddin Mohamed Nor, a state assemblyman who supports the deputy PM: "Anwar is ambitious, but I don't think it was ever his intention to challenge Mahathir next year."

Tell that to the prime minister. "Mahathir by nature expects enemies, challenges, conspiracies," says a former senior minister. "He can be paranoid." The two previous deputy PMs under Mahathir each lasted five to six years before dropping out. So history is not on Anwar's side.

What are his options? Insiders say Anwar considered three. First, resign from his government posts and take on Mahathir in the party next year. Second, remain in office and follow his conscience by articulating his opposition to policies he thinks are detrimental to Malaysia's long-term interests - risking being sidelined by Mahathir or even sacked. Third, eat crow, declare his support for Mahathir, retain his post in UMNO next year and wait for the PM to quit - eventually.

Anwar has chosen the last path. During the June assembly Anwar pledged loyalty to Mahathir, and on Aug. 11 ruled out any contest for the UMNO presidency next year: "Compared to the PM, I am just a student; I cannot fight my teacher."

Who just might be giving him a lesson. The buzz is that the PM may call general elections anytime beween October to late next year. One theory holds that Mahathir would remove Anwarites from government bodies, eroding the deputy PM's support prior to the UMNO ballot. Someone might then challenge Anwar. He could still win, but he would be enfeebled.

In the event he were ousted, the markets - which much prefer Anwar's prudent approach to monetary and fiscal matters over Mahathir's expansionary tendencies - may well go berserk. That's one of the few cards Anwar has left to play. Then again, Mahathir has consistently told the outside world to stuff it. What's certain is that Anwar is now no longer the unquestioned heir-apparent.