Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Political plot full of sound and fury

The Star :Wednesday July 2, 2008


Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim plays the game of distraction when the real issue is credibility.

POLITICS is the art of tumbling with the falls. And if you are ambitious and mercurial, the grab for power takes on the breathtaking strategies of a national chess game – queens, knights and pawns intact.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has turned on the country’s leaders, accusing them of trying to derail his political career.

In doing so, he has tried to distract public attention from a police report, lodged by a young aide alleging sodomy on Saturday.

To heighten the drama, United States State Department spokesman Tom Casey also issued a statement yesterday, urging that any legal action “would not be anything that was a politically motivated investigation or prosecution”.

Anwar claims that the sodomy charge was trumped up, when he was in fact to have announced his choice of a by-election constituency . Moreover, four Barisan Nasional MPs were to have declared their allegiance to the Pakatan Rakyat.

Anwar’s mistrust of the police and his claim of lack of political freedom in this country today is somewhat dubious, given that his wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is now Opposition Leader and his daughter Nurul Izzah is now MP for Lembah Pantai, having vanquished a full minister.

Perhaps Anwar had a sense of the sands slipping from below his feet.

After having recently failed to push through the Sabah Progressive Party’s no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister in Parliament, Anwar has been bereft of an issue. Having set himself a Sept 16 deadline to take over the federal government, time was running out.

A whirlwind of Umno meetings, the Olympics in August, the political hiatus of Ramadan, culminating in a watershed party election in December will all throw him into eclipse.

Anwar had to act fast. What better way than to claim threats against his life to a gullible foreign press, while seeking refuge – but not political asylum – at the Turkish Embassy.

The choice of the Turkish foreign mission was odd, as political circles believe Anwar’s friends to be from the United States. But then Turkey is an Islamic state, so this was in keeping with Anwar’s Islamic credentials. Plus Turkey is a well-known US ally.

Wisma Putra was sufficiently upset to summon the Turkish ambassador for interfering in internal affairs, contending that since sodomy is a crime under the Penal Code, it was up to the police to investigate and clear or book him.

The Turkish ambassador himself subsequently denied having invited Anwar; it was Anwar who had asked to meet him and then asked to stay.

Anwar left the Turkish Embassy 32 hours later, accompanied by his wife and daughter. Having now been assured of his personal safety, he proudly stood through the sunroof of the multipurpose vehicle, a la Benazir Bhutto – not quite the pose of a man who feared for his life.

Anwar has been quick to accuse Barisan Nasional agents of resuscitating an old accusation against him, ostensibly timed to deflect attention from Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s alleged links to murdered Mongolian translator, Altantuya Shaariibuu – via his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor .

In attacking Najib, Anwar is not questioning Najib’s abilities. But since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has already been grazed by sporadic sniper fire, it is only logical to gun for the declared heir apparent, Najib.

Anwar’s publicists have already dubbed him “prime minister-in-waiting”. A by-election has been in the offing since March, one that Anwar will fight tooth and nail in, boosted by sympathisers who feel for him in this latest sodomy charge against him.

But other lay members of the public have grown weary of the politicking. They would like to see more governing – for the sake of the people and country, as both sides of the fence had promised in the March election.

Whoever eventually runs this country will have to grapple with Anwar, both in party politics and on the national landscape.

And it is doubtful that Abdullah, a good-hearted gentleman of the old school, has the stomach for Anwar’s brand of shenanigans. Najib, too, has inherited the low-key character of his late father, Tun Abdul Razak. Plus, if coffee shop talk is to be believed, Najib is weighed down by too much baggage.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad could, but he is no longer in the equation – his health and age tire him. More significantly, after he quit Umno in May, he no longer has the locus standi to defend the party he had led for 22 years.

There is a Machiavellian theory that it was not the Barisan but Anwar’s own strategists who engineered this latest round of theatrics: being whisked to a foreign embassy in an unmarked car, followed by loud claims of his life being under threat and a posse of supporters ready to go to the streets for him.

His former colleague, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Samad, might just have a point when he called Anwar a “drama king”. Shahrir had seen Anwar up close when both were cutting their teeth in Mahathir’s Cabinet in the 1980s.
Anwar is desperate to keep himself in the limelight, and fully understands that in public relations-speak, even “bad publicity” is good. It keeps one’s name in the news.

For the PKR de facto leader, this was his last chance to regain momentum before events passed him by.

But the real issue for him – as for all politicians – was not timing but credibility. These last few months have been a test not just of the Umno leadership but also of Anwar’s credibility.

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