The Anwar Trial That Was Not Puts The Government On Trial

The Malaysian government cannot get the jailed former deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, out of its hair -- from how it sacked him from the party to how it convicted him for sodomy and corruption, the Malay ground angry at how how it did it.  Every impediment he faces should have put him to political pasture.  Instead, he returns, re-energised, to challenge his political tormentors.  From his high security prison cell in Sungei Buloh, to which he is returned after six months in hospital, he turns every petty act against him into a black mark against his political nemesis, the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, and his administration.  In the three years since his dismissal and detention in September 1998, he took advantage of every government misstep to his advantage, and, amidst the controversy of where he would be operated upon for his back problem, internationalised it.  This puts the government into a straitjacked both at home and abroad. Especially when it deals with it contentiously.

     So, when the government, inexplicably, decided to go ahead with the remaining four charges of sodomy and one of corrupt practice, another confrontation loomed.  By then, his back pain had worsened, he refused to have the surgery the government would allow him to, his neck in a brace, and he in a wheelchair.  The government cannot allow him in public in that condition, so the charges were read to him, and dismissed, in a makeshift court outside Sungei Buloh prison.  It was held there because, so the official spin went, to not put Dato' Seri Anwar in more pain than necessary.  It did not explain why then he was moved to Sungei Buloh in a hurry when the court trial was a few days ahead or why the charges were withdrawn.  But if it had, the government would have lost more ground.  The simple truth of the matter is he could not be seen in public in the condition he is in now.

     The de facto law minister, Dato' Rais Yatim, says it is all for the good that the charges are withdrawn.  If it was, why did the Attorney-General's Chambers proceed with the charges in the first place.  It need not have.  Why?  When Mr Justice Augustine Paul, the judge in his first trial, was made the presiding judge, it destroyed any pretense of fair mindedness in the public eye.  Now that the charges are withdrawn, Dato' Seri Anwar takes the high moral ground yet again to insist he cannot now rebut the charges against him.    When the deputy prime minsiter, Dato' Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, said why it was good the charges were dropped, and Dato' Rais that fifteen years in prison was enough and more time would be counterproductive, it reflects the pressures the government faces from the ground.  The long and short of it is the government cannot allow him to make a fool of itself, as it undoubtedly would, the third time around.  Mr Justice Ariffin Jaka, who presided over the second trial, has yet to deliver his grounds of judgement when he sentenced him to nine years in jail for sodomy;  without that Dato' Seri Anwar cannot appeal against sentence and conviction.  No one in governments this amounts to a miscarriage of justice, but the Malay ground increasingly believes so.

     More important, the Anwaristas has brought the Anwar imbroglio to international attention.  He is seen as a man deliberately wronged and destroyed in a political confrontation.  Malaysian students at home and abroad believe so and disbelieve official explanations.  When Malaysian ambassadors and high commissioners met here last week for a refresher on Malaysian policies, the focus was how to contain this new problem in Malaysia's international reputation and relations.  Up to now, the strongest international sympathy for Dato' Seri Anwar came from the United States, where a devoted band of supporters have kept the Anwar affair alive.  The European Union joins it, in the wake of the disastrous public confrontation between the government and Dato' Seri Anwar over if a Dutch surgeon in Munich he wanted would be allowed to.  That he is now on a wheelchair and neck brace, makes it necessary he is never seen in public.  If he is not, the government have to keep assuring the Malaysian public he is well.  And this it cannot since whatever it says would be disbelieved.

     The remaining charges against him should have beenn dropped without bringing it to court, and a bigger mistake to have withdrawn it once it was.  It is now seen as denying Dato' Seri Anwar to rebut the charges against him.  So, whey did the Attorney-General's Chambers proceed with the charges in the first place?  Did it not know the political consequences of whatever it did?  It is fair to assume that the strongest charges, so badly mishandled, have all been disposed, those that remain are peripheral.  So, why was it  proceeded with?  And before the UMNO General Assembly. Dato' Seri Anwar's genius and his devoted bank of Anwaristas, rising by the day, have nothing to lose, and continue to punish UMNO and its president, his nemesis, determinedly go ahead with their political destruction. Nothing so far suggests that the reverse is true.  There is little option now for the government, if it wants to survive, to release Dato' Seri Anwar and rebuild its lost reputation if it can.

M.G.G. Pillai
pillai@mgg.pc.my

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