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MBD: TheAge: Power Without Glory
By Mark Baker

23/5/2001 6:32 pm Wed

[Rencana ini diterbitkan sekali lagi untuk mengimbau beberapa fakta. Kesemua tuduhan yang dikatakan amat menyakinkan itu oleh Mahathir nampaknya tidak pula dikemukakan di mahkamah untuk dibicarakan sedangkan butiran jenayah dan nama si tertuduh sudah pun disiarkan besar-besaran dan Mahathir sendiri menjadi tukang pemalu gendang. Sikap 'wira dunia ketiga' ini tidak ubah persis seorang pahlawan yang lari berperang setelah orang melayu sendiri bangkit sehingga negeri Terengganu tumbang dan Kelantan dikekalkan oleh BA.

Sekarang kebangkitan itu telah melimpah melebihi sempadan politik kepartian dan perkauman sebagaimana yang terserlah dalam isu piket pekerja (MTUC), petani (Pahang/Kedah-Lunas), penternak (Negeri Sembilan), peniaga (KL/BSKL) serta sektor kilang (Kesas/ShahAlam/Lunas).

Mahathir lupa agaknya orang melayu khususnya akan bangkit juga walaupun sedikit lambat kerana kuat ubat tidurnya dan dahsyat ancamannya. Sakit ekonomi dan sakit hati itu akan membuat mereka mengamok menuntut bela bila sampai ketikanya dan tiada sesiapa pun akan mampu merawatnya dengan segera walaupun dia doktor yang pakar dulunya. Walaupun begitu ia bermula dan mungkin berakhir dengan kata-kata sahaja tanpa sebarang senjata tentera kerana ia lebih berbisa dari segala-galanya. Bukankah kata-kata itu juga yang mengaibkan musuh-musuhnya?. Kata-kata itu juga akan mengaibkan dirinya sendiri kerana alam siber sudah menjadi salurannya. Jika tidak, masakan Raja Petra dan Pak Din menjadi mangsa? Kedua-duanya adalah anak melayu tulin - bukannya ciplakan di mana-mana. - Editor]

Power Without Glory

The Age newspaper. Melbourne, Australia.

26th September, 1998.

The Malaysian Prime Minister's lust for power at any price may end up destroying him, writes Mark Baker.

IN THE early hours of last Monday morning, a police van slipped quietly through the deserted streets of Kuala Lumpur.

After one of the most tumultuous days in Malaysia's history, Anwar Ibrahim was on his way from the heights of power and promise to the humiliation of the gulag.

After lengthy questioning at police headquarters, the former Deputy Prime Minister was being transferred to the grim confines of the maximum-security Jalan Gurney Detention Centre, held with-out charge as a threat to national stability under the infamous Internal Security Act. The security act was one of Britain's more enduring gifts to its former colony, Malaya. Introduced to combat the communist insurgency in the late 1940s and 1950s, it survived to become the most effective weapon of successive Malaysian governments for silencing dissent.

Since 1960, about 10,000 people have been held, for varying periods under its provisions. Those detained in prisons like Jalan Gurney are familiar with the patterns of physical and psychological abuse: solitary confinement in cells without windows, lengthy interrogations, and the knowledge they can be kept indefinitely without trial on an official whim. Many detainees have been politicians or political activists. The Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was himself held in 1969 after being labelled a dangerous firebrand.

Anwar Ibrahim, then a young Islamic activist, was arrested in 1974 and held for 22 months. But never before has the act been used against the heir apparent of the riding elite.

The law is a lingering flaw in the glossy facade of Malaysia's rapid modernisation and economic success over the past two decades, an anachronistic counterpoint to the country's pretensions as a modern, tolerant and democratic society. Now a law most Malaysians saw as a relic of past repression and instability has suddenly been resurrected, exposing the brittle foundations of the new order.

A few hours before his journey to Jalan Gurney on Monday - as Mahathir hosted a lavish dinner for dignitaries attending the Commonwealth Games at the Kuala Lumpur Tower restaurant - heavily armed and masked police smashed their way into Anwar's family home in the comfortable suburb of Daman Sara and arrested him.

That afternoon he had drawn a crowd of more than 50,000 people as he spoke, first at the national mosque in Kuala Lumpur and then at the city's Freedom Square, attacking nepotism and corruption in the ruling elite and demanding Mahathir's resignation. The exuberant, but mostly peaceful rallies were the culmination of weeks of public meetings across the country in support of Anwar's so-called reform movement - the biggest anti-government protests seen in Malaysia.

His arrest was the brutal, if inevitable, climax of a power struggle between Asia's most durable political leader and the man he had been grooming for five years as his successor.

In moving to crush his popular and respected deputy, Mahathir did much more than destroy the prospects of an imminent orderly leadership transition. The Prime Minister also has endangered the fragile cohesion of Malaysian society, put at risk his own formidable reputation as leader and made even tougher the task of managing the country's biggest economic crisis since he came to power 17 years ago.

By hounding the second most senior figure in his Government like a common criminal, by placing his wife under virtual house arrest, by arresting dozens of his political associates on the flimsiest of pretexts, and by ordering police and troops into the streets to attack peaceful protesters, Mahathir has both enraged the formidable ranks of Anwar supporters and deeply disturbed many other Malaysians who thought their country had attained a new level of social and, political maturity.

THE genesis of this week's upheaval was the congress in June of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). Already irritated by Anwar's continuing opposition to his increasingly idiosyncratic responses to Malaysia's economic problems, Mahathir was angered by direct attacks on corruption in the Government from prominent members of the Anwar camp. The Prime Minister embarked on a strategy to first sideline, then topple Anwar, his Finance Minister and deputy, Party veteran Diam Zainuddin was appointed over Anwar's head and given effective control of economic management, including the carriage of radical currency control measures vigorously opposed by Anwar as a substitute for tough austerity measures to clean up the over-heated economy. Then, after refusing to step down, Anwar was abruptly sacked on 2 September and stripped of his party membership. In an extraordinary twist, it was not Anwar's ambition, or his refusal to toe the Mahathir economic line, that was cited as grounds for his political execution. Instead, a farrago of sensational sexual allegations has been levelled against a man long regarded as one of the cleanest politicians in the country, a respected Islamic scholar and the devoted father of six young children.

In what senior diplomats and independent Malaysian observers regard as the opening shots in a contrived and orchestrated campaign to destroy Anwar's reputation and political support base, his adopted brother, Sukma Darmawan, and a former speechwriter, Munawar Ahmed Anees, were convicted last weekend and jailed for six months on charges of having allowed Anwar to s###mise them.

According to respected legal sources, the cases of the two men, who had been kept in detention and denied independent legal representation, were rushed through the courts in brief Saturday hearings at which neither was permitted to speak. Most remarkable of all, the man accused of committing the alleged s###my was not charged or called to give evidence. Before his arrest, Anwar - who has rejected the allegations - said both men were tortured and forced to sign confessions.

Police have declared that Anwar will face a dozen charges of sexual offences. These are expected to be based around a range of allegations that have been circulating for several years, mostly propagated by members of the Mahathir faction in the UMNO.

At the UMNO congress in June, all 2000 delegates were anonymously presented with copies of a book entitled 50 Reasons Why Anwar Can Not Be Prime Minister, a lurid work of character assassination describing a career of heterosexual and homosexual philandering. In granting a suppression order on the book, pending criminal defamation proceedings, a judge recently denounced it as a scurrilous "poisoned pen" work. One of the book's more persistent allegations was that Anwar sired an illegitimate child by the wife of his private secretary - a claim that gained such currency that Anwar eventually took a blood test to disprove it. "There is a very high degree of scepticism towards all of this," says a senior regional diplomat based in Kuala Lumpur. "Anwar has adopted a high moral profile all his life and his credentials on personal morality remain high until proven otherwise. The quality of evidence is really questionable and, so it seems the people don't believe it."

The process leading to Anwar's arrest has exposed the extent to which the Malaysian legal system has been corrupted in the decade since Mahathir engineered the sacking of the then chief justice - notwithstanding the continuing brave impartiality of a number of individual judges and magistrates. Mahathir's attacks on Anwar have become more strident, implausible and self-serving by the day. Even before any charges had been laid, let alone tested in court, the Prime Minister this week was denouncing his former deputy as a "despicable s###mist" unfit to be a leader - and declaring that he had taken it upon himself to personally interview witnesses. "I interviewed the people he s###mised, the women he had sex with, the driver who brought the women to him," Mahathir told a news conference. "They told me this in the absence of the police or anybody else ... They denied being forced and they told me they were telling the truth. Several of them even said this man was not fit to become a leader."

Mahathir's new-found conviction about his former deputy's guilt is at odds with events last year when the driver in question and a woman relative of the wife of the private secretary alleged to have had an affair with Anwar first made signed statements detailing their claims. A veteran human rights lawyer and Opposition MP, Karpal Singh, said the driver and the woman had visited his offices in August last year after copies of their statements were sent to Mahathir. "They came running up to me, very agitated, and said they were in fear of their lives," said Karpal, who acted as defence lawyer for Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, the two Australians hanged for heroin trafficking in 1986. "They said it would be the scandal of the century." After being approached by the two - who have recanted their allegations - Mahathir issued a statement dismissing the claims against his deputy. Now, when it suits his political purposes, Mahathir is not only embracing the most scurrilous of accusations against Anwar, but appointing himself as the chief publicist.

As he regaled the media this week with details of his former deputy's supposed immorality - "he was ... I don't know what you call it, m*sturbating this man" - it was Mahathir who seemed to be struggling to hold the high moral ground. He looked and sounded defensive, desperate and, for once, as old as his 73 years. There was none of the usual ebullience and bravado in his delivery. His Government clearly has been shaken by the events of past month. Their fear of the undercurrents of national discontent, tapped so spectacularly by Anwar since his sacking, is evident in the vehemence of their efforts to smear his name, and the lengths to which they have gone to round up his supporters, clamp down on media coverage and isolate and intimidate his wife, Dr Wan Azizah. "The Government has been rattled by the whole chain of events," says a Western diplomat. "They were shocked by the size of the public reaction to Anwar's sacking and they are dismayed that the s###my allegations aren't sticking with the public."

THE JAILING of Anwar and the most prominent of his political allies has left a gaping leadership vacuum that his wife - despite the obvious public respect she enjoys, and her own considerable courage in recent days - seems unlikely to be able to fill.

A critical factor in determining what happens next will be the impact of Mahathir's radical prescriptions for tackling the country's economic crisis, particularly his decision to impose tough currency controls and force banks to increase lending in an attempt to pump-prime an economy that shrank by 6.8 per cent in the second quarter of this year.

The currency measures, opposed by Anwar, are expected to scare away foreign investment and already have triggered the resignations of the governor of the central bank and his deputy.

If Mahathir stumbles over economic management - and the forces of international market gravity indicate he will - then both his party and public opinion could turn swiftly against him.

The sacking of Anwar and his expulsion from UMNO has, for the time being at least, robbed Malaysia of the most capable and respected politician of his generation - when his skills are most desperately needed. A social democrat with strong appeal among both young liberals and conservative Muslims, and a politician with none of the anti-Western baggage carried by Mahathir, his smooth assent to the leadership could have given new direction to the country and helped rebuild bruised international confidence in its governance. At 51, Anwar has time to ride out the political storm; and the more Mahathir is mired in the political and economic quagmires of his own making, the more Anwar's stature is likely to grow.

For Mahathir, the growing danger is that instead of retiring with his mostly proud record as a nation-builder intact, his tenure will end in the manner he fears most: as the next Soeharto, another authoritarian Asian leader whose vanity and lust for power ultimately destroyed him.