Sunday, July 27, 2008

Amendment will cut 'down time'

AS an academic who wears many hats, Professor Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang is thrilled with what the AUKU amendment promises.

The guarantee of academic freedom to students and staff to pursue academic activities without the need to seek permission or approval from the Higher Education Ministry will give a boost to the knowledge culture, he says.

As the deputy vice-chancellor (research and innovation) of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), commissioner of the National Water and Services Commission (Span), and deputy president of the International Relation, Research and Further Education Committee of the Malaysian Water Association -- to name just a few responsibilities he bears -- Zaini currently has to get permission from Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin for the simplest things: attend a conference, become a member of an international organisation, or give a speech as member of a non-governmental organisation.

"With this amendment, I will no longer need his permission."

In his portfolio on research and innovation, he finds it difficult to drive innovation in the university without a free hand.

"Even when you want to sign a memorandum of understanding, you have to first get permission from the minister.

"If my counterparts overseas want to work with me and they give me a contract to sign before return to Malaysia... I can't do that. I have to get the minister's permission. And, if it is related to international affairs, it sometimes goes to the Foreign Ministry first! It can take longer than six months.

"Let's say I have a patent and I want to sell it, I have to get so many approvals and this can take longer than six months. The moment I get the permission, the agreement has already expired. The company has lost interest. They engage you because they have problems at that point in time; they don't want your answer in six months -- they want it tomorrow, or today."

Zaini says the amendment, which allows the minister to approve the transfer of academic staff between universities or organisations, gives mobility to staff and universities to pool academic resource.

Currently, an academic has to resign his position and lose his seniority before joining another university.

"If, say, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia is trying to develop a water-research centre, where there is going to be a state-of-the-art centre for excellence in Malaysia, we can pool all the staff in Malaysian universities in UKM. This will create a critical mass of people working on the same thing from various angles."

But it is not only staff who have to gain from these freedoms, Zaini stresses.

Freedom of speech will allow students to make statements related to their studies.

"These changes are being made because we found that students could not speak in front of others. Why? Because they are afraid of making mistakes in front of others. Students can tell you who is the minister, but if you ask them whether a specific policy is the appropriate solution to the problem, they don't know.

"The important thing about knowledge culture is we speak what we think. And be ready to face the consequences. People will argue with you, so you will have to respond. But if you dare not to argue, your commitment to the knowledge that you have is not to the level where people can challenge you.

This freedom, Zaini says, will train students to be accurate when making statements.

In the past, students weren't trained to handle mistakes because they were never allowed to make mistakes.

"If you feel that something around you in not right, you have to raise the issue. If, at the time we were colonised by the British, no one said anything, we would never have achieved independence."

Ancient burial site found at Malacca Fort

Human skeletal remains from the 15th century at World Heritage Site could hold clues to the region’s history

BIG FIND: After the excavation at the burial site at the Malacca Fort.

An ancient burial site dating to the 15th century has been discovered at the Malacca Fort, in the historic Malaysian city of Malacca, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia on Friday unveiled an initial analysis of the site, a press release said.

Malacca was a strategic trading post for South-East Asia in the 15th and 16th century. The burial site is pre-Portuguese and could hold clues to the history of the region.

In late May 2007, human skeletal remains were found during excavation undertaken to trace the walls of the ancient Malacca Fort known as Bastion Courassa (Portuguese) and Fredrick Hendrick (Dutch) by the Department of National Heritage; and the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage, in the compound of a Tourist Police Station in Bandar Hilir. Further excavations until early September 2007 uncovered at least 10 human skeletons and hundreds of broken pieces of human bones.

The removal, conservation and analysis of the remains were carried out by researchers from the Centre for Archaeological Research Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, with staff from the Department of National Heritage. Four of the better preserved and more complete skeletons were removed for further study. These were rather fragile and had to be conserved on-site as well as in the laboratory at the Centre for Archaeological Research. A tibia of one of the skeletons was sent for AMS dating in Florida. The results suggested a date between A.D. 1400 and 1450.

Since the discovery in the Fort, an area of about 6 sq m was excavated to a maximum depth of 120 cm by the Department of National Heritage, revealing a burial site with more than 10 skeletons. It is believed to be part of a much larger burial site, as suggested by some of the unexcavated human skulls exposed at the site, as well as human bones found at the walls of the trenches.

A large number of loose human bones, broken tiles, ceramics, animal bones, shells, and coins were found scattered, especially in the upper layer.

Observation of the finds and the soil profile suggested that the upper layer probably comprised backfill or “tanah tambak” with broken tiles, ceramic shards, shells, coins and animal bones. All the intact skeletal remains appeared to have come from the burial ground, which is situated on the lower layer, 80 cm to120 cm deep.

A preliminary on-site examination revealed that the four skeletons were laid in an extended position and placed in an east-west orientation with the head pointed west. Three of them were identified as those of males; one was of a female. The skeletons of a male and a female were together in a grave.

Testing of the soil surrounding the first of the skeletons showed slightly alkaline soil. This must have helped preserve them for more than 600 years; acidic soil would have destroyed them.

Malacca, locally known as Melaka, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list on July 7. Along with Georgetown, the historic cities of the Straits of Malacca have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca.

The influences of Asia and Europe have lent the towns a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. With its government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications, Melaka demonstrates the early stages of this history originating in the 15th-century Malay sultanate and the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century.

Iran, Malaysia and Turkey are said to be best-placed to produce car


Iran's Industry and Mines Minister, Ali Akbar Mehrabian, said that among 56 Muslim countries, Iran, Malaysia and Turkey have the best situation to produce car, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

Speaking in a ceremony to sign a Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) on cooperation between SAIPA, an Iranian car production company, and PROTON, in the venue of Industry Ministry here yesterday, Mehrabian said taking advantage of Islamic countries big market had been underlined in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting.

He added SAIPA and PROTON can take advantage of their common potentials and capacities in the field of car manufacturing to access to the new markets.

He welcomed the signed MoU between the two companies as a good start for joint cooperation and added, “It is expected that the move could be a strategic step toward continuation of joint activities in the field of car manufacturing.”

SAIPA Managing Director Mehrdad Bazrpash and PROTON Managing Director Zeinolabedin Seyyed MUhammad Taher signed a MoU on cooperation in the presence of Industry and Mines Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian.

SAIPA exported cars to 29 countries and PROTON also exported cars to different countries in the year 2007.

Living by his principles

Sunday July 27, 2008
Living by his principles

TO his most ardent admirers, Kassim Ahmad is Malaysia’s “foremost thinker and philosopher”. To his detractors, he is a Marxist-turned-Umno man who is anti-Hadith.
But to his son and closest friends, he is a scholar and a gentleman who made great personal sacrifices for his country and its ordinary people.
His lifelong friend Parti Keadilan Rakyat deputy President Dr Syed Husin Ali says they were two young friends who were united in a passionate political struggle that changed their lives.
“After Kassim came back from London, the two of us ceased to be just academicians and took over the leadership of PRM (Parti Rakyat Malaysia) and that’s when we renamed it Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia which I perhaps didn’t totally agree with.
"We came together to build a party to fight for the common people. We tried hard, but maybe in the end we failed"- DR SYED HUSIN ALI
“Kassim became the chairman and I became the secretary general. There was some strain with the old leaders, especially Ahmad Boestamam, but eventually we came together to build a party to fight for the common people. We tried hard, but maybe in the end we failed,” muses Dr Syed Husin.
Indeed, he, Kassim and other party colleagues earned a spell under the Internal Security Act.
Kassim’s son, Ahmad Shauqi, now 41, recalls those difficult years vividly. “The time my father spent under detention was very tough. I was in Standard Three. My mother wasn’t working and there was no steady income for the family. Fortunately PSRM gave a sum of RM100 or RM150 every month for a few years and our relatives helped too.
“I must salute my mother for not abandoning my father or the family when he was detained because she was very pretty and many men were chasing her during this time,” he adds with a laugh.
Kassim and Dr Syed Husin were detained at Kamunting but were placed in different cells.
“We were never in the same dormitory but we managed to talk over the zinc partition, and to pass food and books to each other,” says Dr Syed Husin.
To the authorities, Kassim was a trouble-maker but to his son, he was a soft-spoken and law-abiding citizen.
“He cared about the welfare of the people as a whole, putting it higher even than that of the family. He knew the hardships of life growing up in Kedah and he wanted to work to improve the conditions of everybody’s life, not just his family’s,” says Ahmad Shauqi.
“My father tends to think the best of people and sometimes he has been taken advantage of. But most people I meet think very highly of my father although some rural Malays have been given an incorrect impression of him because of (his book) Hadis – Satu Penilaian Semula (Hadith – A Re-examination).
Parti Sosialis Malaysia chairman and Kota Damansara assemblyman Mohd Nasir Hashim was among the generation of leftists who remembers Kassim’s leadership of the progressive struggle.
“Our paths did not cross much, because I was overseas and only joined PSRM in the mid 1980s soon after he left the party but I can tell you that many young leftists in the 1960s and 70s looked upon him as a guiding force. After he came out from detention, he moved towards Islamic socialism before abandoning socialism altogether. Even so as an Islamist thinker, he questioned a lot and was branded unfairly as ‘anti-Hadith’.
“I believe leaders like Kassim and (DAP stalwart the late) Dr. V. David, at their height, were a force to reckon with.
“Kassim was always coming out with fiery statements and interpretations of global politics. In later years he mellowed. He must have had his reasons for going to Umno; it was a tough world for a socialist and in Malaysia the leftist movement had been wiped out.”
Dr Syed Husin admits that Kassim’s decision to leave PSRM affected their friendship “a little” but they remained friends.
“We were certainly not antagonistic. We still attended each other’s children’s weddings and most recently met at the launching of my book (The Malays: Their Problems & Future).
“But in hindsight, I think Kassim would have had more influence if he remained independent after leaving PSRM instead of joining Umno because his style and their political culture were incompatible.”
Adds Dr Syed Husin, “Kassim is an important thinker. Right from his student days he was interested in both socialism and Islam. Some people misunderstand him, thinking the interest in Islam came later. Even as an Islamist he holds opinions which are viewed as controversial, some of which I share and others that I don’t.
“He is a very powerful poet and should be recognised as such. Whatever the controversy surrounding his politics and religious views, his contributions as a writer should not be overlooked. He was given an honorary doctorate by UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) in the 1980s but by and large he has not been given his due.”
Still for all his trials and tribulations, it is heartening to see Kassim enjoy retired life with his loved ones. His two daughters married an Australian and a Frenchman and reside overseas while his son lives in Penang with his Malaysian Chinese wife.
“As a father he has done his job well,” says Ahmad Shauqi. “Even though he was not always around when we were growing up, he gave his values of what was right and wrong. He has a very open mind and heart which he has passed to us and now to his (11) grandchildren (aged from 22 to three).
“My father likes to impart his knowledge and values but then give you the freedom to chose your own path. He taught us to be independent and self-reliant and not to depend on the government or a corporation for your living.” – MARTIN VENGADESAN

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rakyat losing out in the end

Sunday July 20, 2008
Rakyat losing out in the end
It was not the first, nor will it be the last time Parliament was distracted by events beyond its gate but it must be remembered that this comes at a heavy price.
HAVING debated so much in Parliament, one would think MPs might not have turned up for the debate between Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek and PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
But they were there in the audience, visible in the background to millions of television viewers as both Ahmad Shabery and Anwar argued their points in the historic live telecast.
This only showed that, just as the public keenly follows the daily meetings of the august House each day, so are the Parliamentarians entranced by the shape of politics taking hold of the nation at this time.
Some of these “politics” even had a direct impact on the running of Dewan business – like the tip-off on an illegal rally in front of the Parliament building in anticipation of an Opposition no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister, prompting the police to close down several roads, which resulted in a traffic snarl.
The traffic congestion compounded the “Monday blues” effect for many Malaysians, including MPs trying to debate the mid-term review report on the 9th Malaysia Plan – which was into its last legs – and journalists covering the daily sittings.
By now, everyone would have known that the request for the motion was subsequently rejected by Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia and the Opposition walked out of the Dewan in protest.
However, walking out meant walking away from any debate as well as the chance, only given to an MP, to make the Government accountable for its actions. It meant walking away from asking questions, demanding action, giving suggestions, scrutinising public accounts and highlighting the needs of voters.
Emptied of the Opposition bloc, the ministers got away with minimal answers.
Ministers in Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, wrapped up their replies in about a minute. Usually, they would have been grilled, as would have Human Resources Minister Datuk S. Subramaniam and Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Noriah Kasnon. They all chose to say they were only replying to the MPs present that day.
About the only MP present on the Opposition bloc was Datuk Ibrahim Ali, who is actually an Independent candidate.
Perhaps they had a point to get across to the Opposition, just as the latter was hoping to convey its own displeasure with the Chair’s decision when it staged its boycott.
Boycott and you don’t get the answers.
Tony Pua (DAP - Petaling Jaya) must have expected that because, to the surprise of the backbenchers, the first-term Parliamentarian, wearing a rather sheepish grin, came back just as business was winding down in the evening to deliver his adjournment speech on the Education Ministry obstructing a student and teacher’s private activity.
For this valiant effort, he received resounding applause – and some catcalls.
When approached in the Parliament lobby the day after for his feelings about the motion, Pua had this to say:
“I would have rather sat in the hall. I thought we had made a statement (on the motion) when we walked out.”
In making his decision to come back, the blogging enthusiast was certainly mindful of his constituents.
“I promised them in my blog that I would raise this matter with the ministry concerned. I told them I would expect a reply that evening. If I didn’t come back, I would have failed them.
“The deputy minister has got my reply ready,” he said.
In fact, Pua was not the only Opposition MP who felt this way as DAP stalwart Karpal Singh also seemed somewhat reluctant to leave after the decision to boycott was taken. The former Lion of Jelutong was itching to take on the Prime Minister’s Department.
Although notice for the motion had originated from Opposition Leader and PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the entire bloc had agreed to the boycott as a mark of Pakatan Rakyat solidarity.
Privately though, some Opposition MPs would have much preferred to remain.
Similarly, when Anwar was arrested on Wednesday, Azmin Ali (PKR - Gombak) told the press that all Pakatan Rakyat MPs had been told to speak up on the issue during their debate time on the Supplementary Supply Bill, which was to seek the Parliament’s permission for an additional allocation of RM20.2bil.
The funds are intended to finance subsidies by the Government due to the recent increase in the price of fuel, as well as provide for the payment of rebates to eligible motorists and motorcyclists.
Considering the fuel crisis has been making headlines recently, some Opposition MPs would have understandably wanted to talk about the plight of their own constituents.
Senior Opposition officials confessed that some of their MPs felt their voices were being drowned out by all the emphasis on one man. With only a day to debate the Bill and each MP’s time cut down to just 10 minutes, priority should have been with their voters.
“But they have to toe the party line.
“Those feeling it the hardest are the MPs who have tried so hard to get picked out by the Chair for debate,” said one such official, who hoped the current political scene was not going to drag on.
Several Opposition MPs, among them PKR members, ignored Azmin’s request and chose to focus their debate on the voters’ immediate needs.
Last week was not the first, nor will it be the last time Parliament was distracted by events beyond its gate but it must be remembered that this comes at a heavy price.
Case in point. Despite having sat for 16 days and until late hours, the House only managed to pass three Blls – the Supplementary Supply Bill, the Geologists’ Bill and the Judges’ Remuneration Bill.
The Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (Amendment) Bill has been on the Order Paper since the first meeting in April but until Parliament closed on Thursday, it had yet to see the light of day.
If business in the Dewan is to be slowed down for more public scrutiny, that’s fine. But slowing down and the voices of the people’s representatives not being heard in the din were surely not fine.
The price is heavier still for those voters who live within urban poor pockets or are plagued by hardcore poverty in rural areas where access to education or employment is hard.
“The MPs should have been debating the food and fuel crisis so they can be responsible to their voters. Instead, our attention has been diverted by a political crisis,” said Deputy Minister S. K. Devamany.
It is a fair conclusion that in Tuesday night’s debate, while Anwar was said to have won the verbal fight, Ahmad Shabery’s victory was in creating new history for the country’s political landscape. This means that nobody actually lost.
However, while the political game continues to hold the nation’s attention, it is the voters who may actually lose out in the end.

Malaysia's Anwar revives bid for power despite arrest

Malaysia's Anwar revives bid for power despite arrest

MALACCA, Malaysia (AFP) — Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim toured Malaysia over the weekend in a bid to revive his ambitions of seizing power despite his arrest on sodomy allegations -- the same charge that saw him jailed a decade ago.
Dressed in his trademark blue batik shirt, Anwar travelled to the government-held states of Malacca, Pahang and Johor to build support and momentum after last week's explosive events, when he spent a night in police custody over the accusations levelled by a 23-year-old male aide.
"The government knows that if not for these sodomy allegations, I would be on my way into parliament by now," he told a crowd of more than 5,000 conservative Muslim supporters in Jasin, a village near the tourist town of Malacca.
"I tell you now that I will be contesting in a by-election," he told the crowd, to yells of "Allahu akbar" or "God is greater."
A return to parliament would be the next step in the political rehabilitation of Anwar, who was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges.
The sex conviction was overturned, but the corruption count barred him from public office until April.
The Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance, fired up by Anwar's charismatic presence, made unprecedented gains in March general elections, leaving it just 30 seats short of ousting the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which has ruled since independence from Britain a half-century ago.
Anwar's latest crisis, which he says has been fabricated by the government, has been a distraction from his plan to form a new administration with the help of defecting coalition lawmakers.
But he told the crowds on his post-arrest roadshow that he was making progress nevertheless.
"I will shortly be ready to announce four BN MPs who will join the Pakatan Rakyat. It will happen very soon," he said.
Anwar had agreed to be questioned Wednesday over the new sodomy allegations brought by Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who said he was assaulted at a luxury condo.
But just an hour before he was due to appear, a team of balaclava-clad police commandos picked him up and took him to Kuala Lumpur police headquarters.
He was released on police bail until August 18, but could still be charged with sodomy -- which in predominantly Muslim Malaysia is a serious offence with a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.
Analysts said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government could be forced onto the defensive by the allegations, which one survey found are widely disbelieved by Malaysians who have lost faith in the justice system.
"Anwar is trying to capitalise on a tactical weakness of the police and government," said Tricia Yeoh, head of the Centre for Public Policy Studies.
"If they charge him in court on the sodomy allegations, he will get more sympathy and support from the public. And if they let him go, he will be vindicated and it will be a victory for the opposition," she said.
Anwar is also seizing on a largely unpopular 41 percent fuel price hike introduced last month, saying he would lower pump prices immediately if he comes to power.
"Don't let these baseless accusations about me distract you from what is most important, how to bring down the high prices of oil and food which have devastated the people," he told an enthusiastic crowd in the small Malaccan village of Cheng on Friday night.
More than a thousand ethnic Chinese supporters, including old men with walking sticks and young girls in cheongsams, turned up to hear him speak in a sign of the multi-ethnic appeal that he enjoys in Malaysia, which is home to large ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities.
"Keadilan (Anwar's party) did not win very big here in the last elections," said 44-year-old villager Choong Hai Sung as blue-and-red Keadilan flags fluttered from wooden houses.
"But the recent hikes and indifference of the local authorities to our problems mean that we have to now shift our support," he said.
"I know that subsidies are bad but we are going through bad times and Anwar's plans seem like the best option now."

Nasty in Kuala Lumpur

Nasty in Kuala lumpurJuly 19, 2008; Page A8
The last time Malaysian democrat Anwar Ibrahim was prosecuted on a trumped-up sodomy charge, we wrote that the government's "crude measures will exact a heavy price in terms of lost credibility." Ten years later, Malaysia's political leaders are repeating their mistakes.
On Wednesday, Mr. Anwar was picked up by men in ski masks and hauled to police headquarters. He was interrogated for six hours, stripped and asked to supply a DNA sample -- a request he refused. He spent the night on a concrete floor without furniture and was released on bail Thursday morning. Malaysian media report that the government is exploring ways to compel Mr. Anwar to give DNA.
Mr. Anwar's accuser -- his former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan -- is under police protection. It's not a stretch to imagine Mr. Anwar's DNA finding its way onto his clothes as "evidence," as that's the tactic the police used back in 1998. Mr. Anwar wryly noted at a press conference that, while he was stripped, the police measured his "necessary parts." That kind of detail would be helpful in a show trial.
Ten years ago then-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar was falsely convicted of sodomy and jailed for six years. His conviction was overturned by the high court in 2004. A conviction for abuse of power stood, and Mr. Anwar did not become eligible for political office again until April. Today, he leads the political opposition and is on a path to the premiership.
The same cast of characters from 1998 are in positions of influence today. The inspector general of police, Musa Hassan, was the lead investigating officer into Mr. Anwar's 1998 case, and Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail was the lead prosecutor. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak competed with Mr. Anwar for the leadership of the United Malays National Organization in the 1990s. Then, as now, Mr. Anwar's popularity is a threat to the deputy PM's political future.
Home Minister Syed Hamid called the arrest "not a political move," while others have suggested that Mr. Anwar has nothing to fear from a "fair" trial. Malaysia's state-run media have fallen into line, too. One headline in the New Straits Times reads: "Trust in the authorities needed to restore calm."
But it's trust in the system that's lacking here. Given Mr. Anwar's judicial treatment the last time around, it is difficult to believe he would get a fair trial. His arrest is likely to stimulate more support for his cause of a more democratic and free Malaysia. The government obtained a court order barring Mr. Anwar and the public from going within five kilometers of Parliament on Monday, the day he was planning to attend a key debate.
Malaysia's democracy has come a long way since 1998, when Mahathir Mohamad was Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has introduced a number of reforms, including in the judiciary. Malaysia's democratic institutions -- and Mr. Abdullah's credibility -- are now threatened by his government's treatment of Mr. Anwar.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Oil can actually be sold at US$20 a barrel, says Jala

18-07-2008: Oil can actually be sold at US$20 a barrel, says Jala
by Gan Yen Kuan

KUALA LUMPUR: Crude oil price is “commercially viable” to be sold at US$20 (about RM66) a barrel, judging from the existing reserves of oil majors in the world, according to Malaysian Airline System Bhd managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Idris Jala.
The airline chief, who previously worked with Shell for more than 20 years, said the current oil price hovering around US$140 per barrel was “absolutely unfair” to the world economy.
“If you take a look at the oil companies’ portfolios, most of their existing reserves and productions — probably 90% of them — are commercially viable at US$20 per barrel.
“I was kind two months ago when I said the oil price should be US$40 a barrel. I believe that the US$100 on top of the US$40 is actually purely and highly speculative,” he said.
Jala was speaking as one of the panellists at the 2008 Leadership Forum Malaysia here yesterday.
“I don’t blame them. That is the nature of the market. If you have a free market, the speculation instruments are out there. Layers upon layers of speculative instruments are put on top of the real value.
“The question you have to ask is, what is the fair price of crude oil?” he added.
Jala said the world would likely go into recession if oil prices hit US$200 a barrel.
He noted that it would still take a long time for biofuel to be seriously considered as an alternative to fossil fuel.
Earlier at the forum, General Electric Co Southeast Asia president Stuart Dean said: “We talked to oil and gas companies. They don’t believe the price is reasonable. So, it’s truly a speculative aspect. It’s going to correct at some point but we don’t know when.”

Rais: Rule of law in Malaysia unquestionable

Rais: Rule of law in Malaysia unquestionable

Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim is willing to debate anyone who challenges the country’s system of justice
PUTRAJAYA: Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim yesterday challenged to debate anybody questioning the country's rule of law in connection with the detention of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim over the sodomy allegation by the latter's former aide.
Rais said unauthorised and unqualified people should not question Malaysia's rule of law."We, just like the United States, also have our own systems and procedures. The position of Kuala Lumpur in the rule of law is unquestionable."Rais was responding to US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who said the arrest of Anwar had raised "serious concerns". McCormack also urged Kuala Lumpur to resolve the matter "in a manner that builds confidence in the impartial rule of law in Malaysia".
Rais said foreigners who questioned the former deputy prime minister's detention could "come and inspect the country's rule of law themselves"."We want them to examine which part of the enforcement of the law is flawed or questionable and under what jurisdictions they are speaking against us."I would like to enter a debate with these people. I always welcome this for the sake of knowledge." Earlier this month, Malaysia issued a formal protest to the United States over its earlier comments on the investigation into the sodomy allegations, accusing it of meddling in the country's internal affairs.Two US rights groups had also expressed concerns about the arrest and said they hoped the investigation into the sodomy claims was not used as a political tool to silence Anwar.Japan, meanwhile, will seek information on Anwar's arrest during an Asean meeting next week.Anwar was freed on police bail on Thursday after being held in custody for a day. He had refused to provide a blood sample for DNA tests.Rais described the accusation against Anwar as "purely a criminal case"."If they (critics) are in the dark, we will do the necessary so that they will understand better. The rule of law of this country must be recognised."Rais said all Malaysian consulates and embassies had been directed to update themselves on the case so that they could explain if there were queries in their respective countries. He agreed with Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar that Anwar had nothing to worry about if he was innocent.Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said there was no need for the US to interfere in the case."If it were any other person, I don't think the US would have interfered. We want justice and fair investigations done as in any other normal case involving normal people, so there's no need for McCormack to teach us this," Hishammuddin said after chairing his ministry's post-cabinet meeting yesterday.He said there appeared to be efforts to shift public attention away from the core issue, which was the police's duty to investigate a report of a crime."People must understand the real issue because there are efforts to cloud this. The police are just doing their job."Meanwhile, the MCA Youth executive council urged the Pakatan Rakyat adviser to cooperate with the police by giving his DNA sample."Anwar, should give his full cooperation," Youth chief Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said

Chong Eu: Malaysia and BN Government doing well

Chong Eu: Malaysia and BN Government doing well
GEORGE TOWN: Malaysia is doing well, and the Barisan Nasional Government is strong and secure, says former chief minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu.
The Gerakan founder member, who served as Penang Chief Minister between 1969 and 1990, said the March 8 general election was held efficiently and peacefully, and the elected leadership was sound and good.
“The new national government is strong and secure – and this is the Barisan Nasional Government.
“Perhaps the Opposition would have to adjust and adapt themselves in their roles,” he said.
Welcome: Dr Lim (right) being greeted by Penang Chinese Clan Council vice-chairman Soon See Keng at the opening ceremony of the symposium in George Town yesterday.
“Malaysia today is peaceful and doing well, although perhaps the Third Estate (the people) and the Internet bloggers find this to be true but not colourful enough,” he said at the opening of a symposium on The Evolution of the Sino-South-East Asian Communities at the Wawasan Open University (WOU) here yesterday.
Dr Lim, 89, who delivered the opening speech as WOU chancellor, said that in Penang, “life goes on well”, adding he hoped that the international participants would have time to find out for themselves how happily and peacefully the people in this country lived.
The three-day symposium, organised by the Penang Chinese Clan Council and Clan Associations Youth Committee Penang, is aimed at creating a platform for Chinese clan associations in the region to exchange views on each other’s culture, economic and social policy and opportunities and tourism products.
The opening ceremony was attended by 400 participants from Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
Malaysian Anwar in 'sodomy alibi'

Anwar Ibrahim interview with the BBC's Robin Brant
Malaysia's opposition leader has told the BBC that he has an alibi for "every minute" of the day when he is accused of sodomy with a former male aide.
Anwar Ibrahim was released on bail on Thursday after being held for 21 hours. He refused to give a DNA sample, saying it could be manipulated to frame him.
Mr Anwar says he is the victim of a personal vendetta, and has called the allegation "complete fabrication".
Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia, punishable by 20 years' imprisonment.
Mr Anwar, 60, has always strenuously denied the claim, made by a 23-year-old former aide at the end of June.
We are clear, absolutely clear on the alibi, every single minute of the day
Anwar Ibrahim
Profile: Anwar Ibrahim
He told the BBC's Robin Brant that there was no case because there was no evidence.
"You must establish a case. A case that is considered to be at least with some grounds in order to proceed. But here the case is not established," Mr Anwar said.
"We are clear, absolutely clear on the alibi, every single minute of the day."
Mr Anwar says the allegation is a set-up - a repeat of similar claims 10 years ago for which he was sacked from his post as deputy prime minister, tried and jailed.
Malaysia's Supreme Court eventually overturned the sodomy conviction against Mr Anwar and he was released in 2004 after he had served six years.
He had always strongly denied the claims, calling them a smear campaign.
Public anger
Mr Anwar says the current allegation is aimed at thwarting his popular opposition movement, which made unprecedented gains in the general election in March.
The sodomy accusation came only weeks after Mr Anwar said he was in a position to launch a challenge to the ruling coalition, with the help of government defectors.
Mr Anwar is preparing to address supporters of his three-party opposition alliance at a series of rallies this weekend.
He has ordered his supporters - who had pledged to protest - to "stay cool" but, he said, if he was charged and a trial followed he might not be able to contain public anger.
The Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, remains under intense pressure to resign over poor election results and high fuel prices. He has said he will leave office in 2010.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A dead end in Asian politics

A dead end in Asian politics
Written By: FARISH A NOOR * Article Date: July 14, 2008

It has become the common blight of many a postcolonial state that the discrepancy between political idealism and the realities on the ground grow wider by the day. It has also been my singular misfortune that the nature of my work as a political scientist who studies the uneven development of many such nation-states means that I have grown somewhat jaded by such contradictions that are all too evident when one is distant from the country in question.
Over the past decade I have travelled across South and Southeast Asia looking at the painfully slow pace of development in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia. The political elite of these countries talk on and on about development, progress, emancipation (both economic and mental) and yet remain beholden captives to the racialised ideologies of the colonial past.
Their feeble attempts at deconstructing the legacy of Empire often dwindles down to little more than a vulgar pastiche of reversed Orientalism at best, (as if the racism of Asians is somehow better than the racism of the European colonialists who came before); and their steadfast refusal to adapt to changes around them is irritating and infuriating to witness at close range.
In India and Pakistan I watched as my fellow academic friends who play the role of public intellectuals and who have been calling for peace and reconciliation between the two countries have been systematically denounced as 'race traitors', 'cowards', the fifth column within, etc.
Some of the best minds that secular democratic India has produced have been pilloried and harangued by right-wing Hindutva fundamentalists who have called them 'traitors' to the great Hindu cause, labelled them 'Muslim-lovers' or worse still, apologists for the great Western conspiracy against the motherland.
The same level of puerile non-debate can be seen in Southeast Asia too: Thai pacifists who have called for a settled end to the hostilities in the Muslim south have been denounced as apologists for Muslim extremists; in Malaysia academics who have called for the re-working and re-negotiation of the social contract have been labelled 'race traitors'; in Indonesia moderate Muslim intellectuals who have defended Indonesia's plural society and culture have been branded enemies of Islam. So what gives?
The country that is closest to my heard is, of course, Malaysia and the recent developments in the country has given me reason to be worried about its future. Religious and racial sectarianism remain the dominant features on its political landscape and there is the apparent need for some form of national reconciliation and healing.
Yet events over the past two weeks have made a mockery of Malaysia's claim to be a developing country with first world ambitions: Despite the skyscrapers that claw at the heavens above Kuala Lumpur, the mega-malls that devour their consumers by the thousands, the massive highways that are crammed with cars; the state of Malaysian politics today beggars belief.
At a time when all of Asia is on the brink of a global recession sparked by the rising costs of oil and gas and the collapse of the American Dollar, the issues that count ought to be structural-economic ones instead. But what has transpired over the past two weeks have shown that despite the flashy suits and corporate videos broadcasting the bold and brazen image of Malaysia Inc., the country's politics remains trapped in the swamp of the banal and ridiculous.
For a start sodomy season has returned to Malaysia with a vengeance with allegations of sodomy being levelled against Anwar Ibrahim, de facto head of the Peoples Justice Party (PKR) and adviser to the Peoples Alliance opposition coalition. Not to be outdone, those close to Anwar have also made disclosures about the alleged sexcapades of Malaysia's ruling elite and senior politicians in the country; but only to have the very same allegations withdrawn a day later.
The rally to protest the rise in oil prices on 6 July that was aiming to gather a million Malaysians only managed to bring together 25 to 30 thousand, and was marred by an equally embarrassing incident when conservative Islamists stormed the stage during the performance of a punk rock band, the lead singer of which decided to moon the crowd.
In the midst of this, have we forgotten our economic essentials? And the real reason behind this global economic meltdown, which happened to be the skewed uneven global economy, we have all inadvertently created thanks to our dependency on the US economy? Or has politics been reduced to bottoms and sodomy for now?
All of this has made it increasingly difficult for me to explain the nature of Malaysian politics to my European colleagues where I am currently on the seminar circuit. How, pray tell, does a global economic crisis degenerate to the level of sodomy allegations and why on earth does the personality of politicians matter more at a time when the overbearing global economic structures have taken on a life of their own?
Voodoo politics was a term once fashionable in the 1970s and we seem to have returned to our political myths and ghost stories with relish. As oil and gas prices are set to soar across Asia, the manifestations of public outrage and frustration is bound to spill into the streets. But in Malaysia, as in the case of Indonesia, the results are freaky and unpredictable at best. Why, in Indonesia the ones who seem to have benefitted the most are the Islamist parties that have been scoring hits at all the local elections. So once again, what gives?
Politics has always been influenced by elements that are variable and sometimes even irrational; but this time round the weird and wonderful manifestation of collective anger and frustration may take us to the end of politics itself, and with that our aspirations for development, progress and political maturity can be dumped into the bin as well. How terribly sad!

Dr Farish A. Noor is Senior Fellow, Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Research Director for the Research Cluster 'Transnational Religion in Contemporary Southeast Asia', Nanyang Tech Uni, Singapore

More officers expected to be nabbed for corruption in Malaysia

More officers expected to be nabbed for corruption in Malaysia 2008-07-14 11:11:24

KUALA LUMPUR, July 14 (Xinhua) -- More Malaysian Immigration Department officers are expected to be detained this week before Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) wraps up its investigations into graft allegations, local media reported on Monday.
Most of the officers are believed to be lower-rung staff who are alleged to have done the bidding of their bosses, two high-ranking officers detained on Thursday and Friday, in exchange for a cut of the bribes given by syndicates and manpower companies.
So far, nine people have been detained by the ACA for their involvement in two different scams, the New Straits Times reported.
In the first case, seven were detained in connection with the issuance of visas for foreign workers. This included a top Immigration officer who allegedly received money from manpower companies and syndicates to approve the visas.
Others detained were the owners of two companies and five "runners" for the companies.
In the second case, another top Immigration officer was detained for allegedly receiving bribes for approving the extension of special passes for foreign tourists who had overstayed.
The officer's brother-in-law was also detained in connection with the case.
He is believed to be the middleman between the Immigration officer and those who were paying him.

Editor: Du Guodong

Malaysian police close down Parliament

Malaysian police close down Parliament
By JULIA ZAPPEI – 1 hour ago

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian police locked down Parliament on Monday with roadblocks and massive security to prevent an anticipated rally by supporters of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is awaiting interrogation on a sodomy accusation.
Anwar's party, however, said it was not planning a protest.
Anwar's questioning later Monday was to coincide with an opposition demand for an emergency debate in Parliament on what it says is the public's lack of confidence in the government.
The police action against the opposition is likely to increase political tensions, already high amid Anwar's threat to bring down the government by mid-September even as he fights the sodomy allegation.
The debate is not the same as a no-confidence vote, but the speaker was still not expected to allow it. In the past, almost every opposition motion has been rejected on grounds of being non-urgent or not in the public interest.
Anwar, who is not a member of Parliament, was supposed to witness the session from the visitors' gallery before going to a police station for questioning.
But police obtained a court order barring Anwar as well as the public from coming within three miles of Parliament. Copies of the court order were pasted in public places. Members of Parliament were also told not to bring guests to witness the session.
The roadblocks, which also prevented journalists from entering with their vehicles, caused massive traffic jams in many parts of the city.
District police Chief Ahmad Sofian Mohamad Yassin said the measures were necessary because Anwar's supporters had not sought a police permit for a rally, as required by law.
"We have such laws that any public gathering must first have a police permit ... so we are going to disallow any gathering," he said, adding only "those who have business" in Parliament would be allowed to enter.
Anwar criticized the court order barring him and his supporters from Parliament as an "abuse of the legal process."
Tian Chua, information chief of Anwar's People's Justice Party, said the party had merely wanted supporters to come to Parliament for the debate.
"There is no protest planned. We want people to go into Parliament to listen to the debate," he said. "I think it (the police lock down) is deliberately to create a situation to cause confusion."
Anwar, who has become a thorn in the side of the government, suffered a setback when he was accused last month by a volunteer worker in his office of sodomizing him. Anwar has dismissed the allegation as a political conspiracy to thwart his political ascendancy.
The People's Justice Party and two other opposition parties together won an unprecedented 82 seats in the 222-member Parliament in March 8 elections. Anwar claims he can get more than 30 ruling party lawmakers to defect to form a new government.
Anwar did not contest the elections because a previous corruption conviction barred him from politics for five years. The ban expired in April.

14 July 2008

Malaysia warns against rally, Anwar to meet police
Mon Jul 14, 2008 3:35am BST

By Liau Y-SingKUALA LUMPUR, July 14 (Reuters) - Malaysian police vowed to crack down on an opposition-led rally on Monday, seeking to subdue growing dissent, as opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim prepared to meet police over sodomy accusations against him.Looking to avoid a repeat of Anwar-led protests a decade ago which drew tens of thousands onto the streets, police obtained a court order to prevent a mass gathering outside parliament, where the opposition plans to call for a debate of no-confidence against Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.Police also mounted roadblocks in several parts of the city and put security personnel on standby, local newspapers reported. Helicopters circled overhead at the parliament building."The rally, being illegal, could be moved anytime so we have to be ready," police official Abdul Khalid Abu Bakar was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.The political drama could further scare off foreign investors who have shunned Malaysian assets on fears a sudden shift in government and policy could scuttle Abdullah's efforts to clean up the civil service and judiciary.The Malaysian stock market .KLSE had slipped 0.3 percent to 1,147.29 points by 0219 GMT on Monday.Abdullah's Barisan Nasional coalition faces its worst crisis in 50 years, hit by public anger against rising prices, a series of political scandals and a revived opposition snapping at its heels.The prime minister has tried to fend off calls for him to quit to take responsibility for a dismal showing by the coalition in a March poll by promising to hand over power to his deputy Najib Razak in mid-2010.Anwar, the de facto opposition leader, will give a statement during the day to police investigating allegations of sodomy made against him by a former aide, the New Straits Times reported.Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998 and then jailed for corruption and sodomy after leading street protests against then premier Mahathir Mohamad's government during the Asian financial crisis. The Supreme Court overturned the sodomy conviction six years later. (Editing by Jerry Norton)

Monday, July 7, 2008

7 JULY 2008

Malaysia asks Interpol help to find missing detective
Sun Jul 6, 2008 5:39pm BST

By Soo Ai Peng and Niluksi Koswanage
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian police on Sunday issued an international alert for a missing private eye after he made, and abruptly retracted, allegations about the deputy prime minister's links to a high-profile murder case.
The detective, Balasubramaniam Perumal, disappeared along with his wife and three children on Friday after retracting an allegation that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak had sexual relations with the murder victim.
The allegation was the latest twist in a political melodrama -- featuring allegations of sex, murder and lies -- that has gripped the nation and unnerved foreign investors since a March 8 general election handed a resurgent opposition led by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim unprecedented gains.
Anwar, mired in a sodomy allegation that rocked the nation, told a 20,000-strong crowd at a rally protesting fuel price hikes that he was willing to debate the issue with the prime minister or his deputy.
"It is better if I debate with the PM," said Anwar, who was earlier scheduled to hold a televised debate with a junior minister on July 15 on the subject.
Thousands of people, defying police orders to shun the rally, had gathered at a soccer stadium outside Kuala Lumpur. A police helicopter hovered above the stadium.
"Azizah, Kit Siang and other MPs will stand in parliament tomorrow to demand a reduction in fuel prices. They will convey the wishes of the people," he told the crowd. He was referring to opposition leaders Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Lim Kit Siang.
Police have declared the event an illegal gathering but are allowing it to proceed as long as the rally is confined to the stadium grounds, officials said.
Anwar told the crowd that he would press ahead until his opposition alliance ousts the National Front coalition that has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1957.
The Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaariibu, 28, was shot in the head twice before her body was blown up with C4 explosives in October 2006. Najib's political adviser, Abdul Razak Baginda, and two policemen are on trial for the murder.
Najib has repeatedly denied he ever had a sexual relationship with the Mongolian, or had conspired to cover up her murder, allegations made on Thursday by Balasubramaniam, who was working for Abdul Razak at the time of the killing.
National Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) chief Bakri Zinin said on Sunday police in Malaysia and neighbouring countries had been put on alert to find Balasubramaniam, and Interpol had been informed.
"I give a guarantee of his safety, if he comes to meet us, and he is free to bring a lawyer," Bakri told a news conference.
Najib and Anwar are competing to become Malaysia's next prime minister with control over a political patronage system that dominates the economy. Both are battling accusations that could ruin their political careers.
The rally, which ended at almost 11 p.m. ( 4 p.m. British time), had a convivial atmosphere with most people wearing red T-shirts, the colour of the protest movement.
The crowd, who chanted "Bring Down Oil Prices", also asked Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to step down.
"I love Anwar ... he is innocent and he is our hope," said 35-year-old computer executive Mohamad Amran Amiruddin.
"Oil has gone up. Goods have gone up. People are left with less money," said Faridah Jantan, 48, mother of five children. "This weekend we will take up the fight. We want a more democratic nation."
Abdullah's government raised petrol prices 41 percent last month, adding to its unpopularity after the opposition won power in five of Malaysia's states and came within 30 seats of taking over the 222-member national parliament.
Anwar said he was on the verge of winning that majority in parliament by wooing defectors from the ruling coalition when a 23-year-old aide suddenly accused him of sodomy, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Anwar said on Thursday the sodomy allegations surfaced because leading government figures feared he would use the detective's statements in the Altantuya case in his drive to lead the opposition to power for the first time in Malaysia.
(Writing by Bill Tarrant and Jalil Hamid; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Rudd rejects Anwar meeting in Malaysia
Dennis Shanahan, Political editor July 07, 2008

KEVIN Rudd has avoided a diplomatic row with Malaysia by deciding not to meet the de facto leader of the opposition, former jailed deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, whose career risks being derailed a second time by sodomy allegations.
Mr Rudd opted to stand by existing Malaysian and Australian government protocols and not meet Mr Anwar or the leader of the opposition, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, when he arrives in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday on his first visit as Prime Minister.
Mr Anwar was sentenced to six years' jail in 1998 after charges were laid against him alleging sodomy with his driver.
Mr Anwar, who declared at a rally he was in a position to "seize" power through defecting government MPs joining his opposition group, sought refuge in the Turkish embassy last week when new allegations were made by a second driver.
Mr Rudd had considered meeting Mr Anwar as part of the preparation for his trip.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said last night that as in the practice of former prime minister John Howard, there would be contact between the Foreign Minister and the opposition leader in Malaysia.
Mr Rudd will spend one day in Japan this week for the G8 meeting, and then fly directly to Malaysia for an eight-hour visit.
The Prime Minister sought advice last week from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on the political ramifications of meeting Mr Anwar during his visit.
Outspoken Australian support for Mr Anwar and his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, during his trial and imprisonment, caused serious diplomatic rifts between the two countries, with then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad declaring Mr Howard was not welcome at the 1998 APEC meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Mr Howard declared the conviction of Anwar to be political, and said Malaysia's judiciary had lost its independence.
"There is enough concern, given the long history of this, to cause me to worry that the judiciary there (in Malaysia) isnot as independent as used tobe the case," Mr Howard said in 1998.
"It does seem to be part of a series of events that represents some kind of political campaign against Anwar, and that is a matter of very great concern."
Then foreign minister Alexander Downer met Mr Anwar's wife to offer Australian support in 1998.
Labor's then leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, agreed with Mr Howard's comments, but attacked him for failing to join the strong criticism of then US vice-president Al Gore during the 1998 APEC meeting.

The Battle for Accountability in Malaysia and Turkey
by Louay M. Safi
(Monday, July 7, 2008)
"Will democracy take hold in modern Muslim societies? The next few months are poignant with agonizing fear and great hope, and the answer hinges on whether Malaysians and Turks will succumb to the intimidation of the power hungry or show the maturity and courage worthy of free and principled people."
Politics is a central aspect of social organization as it represents the activities that aim at coordinating the interests and concerns of citizens. Politics presupposes an agreement on a set of rules to ensure representation of citizens in decision making and governance, and to facilitate peaceful transition of power. In most functional democracies, elected officials are replaced whenever they lose popular support in national elections.
Many Muslim countries have embraced the democratic process, but most have not yet succeeded in overcoming the old politics of palace intrigue that plagued governance in historical Muslim countries. Sheer police and military power, as well as political conspiracy and trickery, is often used by political elites in Muslim countries to seek or maintain power. Malaysia and Turkey are among the very few Muslim societies that are ahead in practicing democracy, and holding their political leaders accountable, as both have a thriving multi-party system and markedly developed civil society.
Recent events in these two countries illustrate the difficult transition to democratic governance in Muslim societies. After a torturous route to political participation, the Islamically-inspired Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym as APK) that represents the middle class is locked in a power struggle with nationalist elites. The latter have shown willingness to use the judiciary and the military to undermine the standing of a popular political party that commands 2/3 majority in the parliament. The immediate conflict is over the constitutionality of allowing devout Muslim women to wear head scarf on university campuses.
Rather than recognizing that wearing head cover is a personal choice and religious obligation that must be protected by the democratic principle of freedom of religion, the nationalists accuse APK of undermining the secular tradition of Turkey, and are considering a ban on the party and its leaders. The party chair and Turkey’s current Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan was imprisoned in the late 90’s for reciting a religious poem when he was Istanbul’s mayor. The nationalists apparently believe that they can fool the Turkish people by using democratic language and concerns to hide their desire to maintain grip on power and deny their ideological opponents the opportunity to control state institutions through fair democratic competition.
A similar struggle is underway now in Malaysia. The leaders of the ruling party, which has been in power since Malaysia gained independence in 1957, have apparently decided to maintain grip on power by implicating the leader of opposition in a sexual scandal. Anwar Ibrahim, who led the opposition into a major political victory last March and who is poised to become the country prime minister, stands accused of sodomy by a young political aide. Najib Tun Razak, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister and long term rival of Anwar, admitted to meeting Anwar’s accuser in his residence two days before the later made his damaging accusation. The deputy prime minister is himself linked to the murder of a Mongolian translator, and his political adviser and two of his aides are among those charged with the crime. The current sodomy accusation is a rerun of a similar tactics used in 1998 by the same party to deny Anwar, then the party’s deputy president, the right to contest for the highest office.
Both Recep Erdogan and Anwar Ibrahim represent a new breed of democratic leaders in Muslim countries driven by a new vision of politics rooted in Islamic morality that stresses the social accountability of political leaders. Both espouse commitment to religious freedom and to political and social pluralism. And both have shown the willingness to make great personal sacrifices to advance their vision of politics.
The heroic acts of courageous leaders like Anwar and Recep, while greatly admirable and inspiring, would not be sufficient by themselves to transform Malaysia and Turkey into functional democracies. Such transformation requires a new political awareness and activism that take away political power from the exclusive control of political elites and makes fair and equitable governance the concerns of engaging citizenry. It requires the emergence of vibrant and assertive civil-society organizations that reject political trickery and manipulation, and demand that elected officials are held accountable for their statements and actions.
Most importantly, transformation to true democratic rule presupposes a citizenry that is not willing to be fooled by its elected officials. The Qur’an gives a great insight into the source of power enjoyed by dictators and tyrants: their ability to fool the people to garner their support. This ability is, ironically, derived from the willingness of a corrupt people to be fooled into accepting false claims in exchange for gaining personal advantage. The Qur’an presents the Pharaoh as the epitome of arrogant of arbitrary political power, and attributes his ability to govern with impunity to the willingness of his people to follow him, even when he made fool of them: “[Pharaoh] made fool of his people and they obeyed him, they were truly people given to corruption.” While the contemporary ruling elites in nominal democracies may not compare in arrogance with the Pharaoh, the dynamics of retaining political control is often the same.
The efforts by the vestiges of arrogant and arbitrary power in Malaysia and Turkey are trying to maintain their political edge by fooling the citizens of their countries through political games and trickery, thereby turning national politics into circus. Their failure will signal the end of politics as the instrument of power-hungry leaders and the beginning of politics as an exercise in social responsibility. It will also make their two important countries a source of hope and inspiration for future transformation in other Muslim societies.
Will democracy take hold in modern Muslim societies? The next few months are poignant with agonizing fear and great hope, and the answer hinges on whether Malaysians and Turks will succumb to the intimidation of the power hungry or show the maturity and courage worthy of free and principled people

Sunday, July 6, 2008

6 JULY 2008

Can Pak Lah step up to the plate?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - Bernama
JULY 6 – After a week of high political drama, all eyes are now focused, once again on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Many feel he has been a passive bystander during the explosive exchange of fire between his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and opposition icon Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Both men have traded bloody blows – some way below the belt – in a fight reminiscent of Anwar taking on former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed.
While in the court of public opinion Najib has come out worse off, Anwar is also not without his detractors. The latest about turn made by private eye, P Balasubramaniam, in retracting his earlier statutorydeclaration has set Anwar's charge against Najib back somewhat.
Clearly the situation between the two potential future Prime Ministers is fluid and it is anyone's guess what the next salvo will be and from whom.
Amid this tit for tat, the stock market has dived and investor confidence was not helped by a full day suspension in trading on Thursday because of a technical glitch.
As if to compound bad news on a day of market jitters, the police announced that it would conduct joint exercises with the armed forces to ensure public order. To most people, having soldiers on the streets means nothing less than martial law.
All of these developments have worsened the sense of uncertainty that began right after Barisan Nasiona's electoral setback in March. It comes at a time when inflation figures are creeping up partly due to the Government's move to slash petrol subsidies and development expenditures have had to be reprioritized because of escalating costs.
For most Malaysians, if there was ever a need for strong leadership, it is now. The big question is whether Abdullah can step up to the challenge. The answer is, he has no choice but to do so.He has to put together the best innings of his political career to get things back on track. Why? Because, for now, there is no other alternative.
With all the accusations and counter-accusations, Najib will need time to repair his image and credibility with the wider public even though UMNO appears unperturbed by the damage inflicted on Najib over the last weeks. Any move for him to succeed Abdullah in the immediate future will cause further instability especially since Anwar has claimed that he has more dirt to dish on Najib.Anwar himself is not an option. For all his huffing and puffing of crossovers from Barisan Nasional, not one has materialized so far. Even the renegade Sabah-based SAPP has decided not to leave Barisan Nasional.
Until Najib is able to resuscitate himself, Abdullah will have to dig deep into his reserve of experience, shake off his indecisiveness and take charge. He has to calm the market by appearing focused on the economy and getting his economic ministers to send out positive signals to investors and businessmen. Government bureaucracy for the implementation of the rest of the Ninth Malaysia Plan projects must be cut so that there is economic activity and the corresponding multiplier effect.
Abdullah must send a clear message to the armed forces to stand down and honour the division of duties between the police and the military. He needs to tackle the spat between Anwar and Najib by ensuring speedy and professional investigations into all the allegations, protecting at all times due process. In the case of the sodomy allegations against Anwar, Abdullah needs to get the police moving quickly to complete their investigations.On the allegations against Najib, a speedy resolution to the investigations into Balasubramaniam's contradictory declarations will reduce the political temperature considerably.
Most importantly, Abdullah needs to stay in front of the news cycle. Many feel that he is being reactive and merely responding to events as they unfold. As the most powerful man in Malaysia, he should be pre-empting issues and directing swift and transparent responses that can ease speculation and rumour mongering.
This is a tall order for Abdullah. Yet, this is still his mandate and since he has indicated that he does not want to resign, he must prove himself by showing Malaysians that his mind and heart are still in the game. This is a chance for him to come back from the political dead and assert his leadership that has been absent or the last few years.
The odds are against him to succeed, but Malaysia has no other choice for now. Not with the global economic turmoil at our doorstep.

Thousands at rally despite Syed Hamid warning

Crowds gathering with momentum at the Kelana Jaya stadium
KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 -Thousands garbed in red t-shirts are crowding the Kelana Jaya Stadium for a pump price rise protest and a pro-Anwar rally despite police calling it illegal.
Some 10,000 people were at the stands at lunchtime listening to speakers such as PAS treasurer and chief protest organiser Dr Hatta Ramli and Hindraf coordinator S. Jayathas while others patronised stalls selling food and party merchandise.
There were no untoward incidents reported at the carnival-like rally as Pakatan Rakyat has mobilised 2,500 marshalls to keep the peace. Police presence was minimal save for two mobile police stations.Roads around the stadium were choked with traffic although many took the light rail transit to a nearby station.
Home Minister Datuk Syed Hamid Albar warned the public yesterday not to attend the rally, saying police will take action to keep public order and peace.

"We won't compromise if public safety and order is threatened. So don't break the law," Syed Hamid was quoted as saying by Mingguan Malaysia in the Sunday paper's edition.He said the authorities wanted to prevent possible chaos and trouble in the rally starting at 10am and ending at 12 midnight. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who is facing fresh sodomy accusations, is expected to launch a nation-wide roadshow to clear his name with a speech after 9pm at the rally.
The rally was planned in early June after the government raised pump prices for petrol and diesel but has suffered a change of venue, dates and causes over the weeks culminating with Anwar's new sexual misconduct claims headlining the event. A roster of top opposition leaders and performers are expected at the rally but a planned band performance was nixed by Anwar's ally Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS).
There is a large police operations centre at the corner of the stadium car park but police were largely absent from the stadium. People have started to park their cars near roads leading to the stadium and traffic is building up, reporters at the stadium told The Malaysian Insider.
Syed Hamid charged the rally had ulterior motives and went beyond protesting the fuel price rises. "The police is there to protect the interests of the people and I hope our citizens can read the intentions and motives of those who clearly believe the ends justify the means," he told the newspaper in an exclusive interview.

Malaysia's Anwar to address rally as turmoil deepens
2 hours ago
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Thousands gathered at a stadium here Sunday for a mass anti-inflation rally which Malaysian opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim was due to address amid deepening political turmoil.
Anwar is fighting back new accusations of sodomy -- the same charge that saw him jailed a decade ago. The marathon event will run until midnight (1700 GMT).
The protest is going ahead at an alternative venue after the original plans were slapped with a police ban, and despite fears authorities may use force to break up the gathering.
"Our aim is not to cause trouble but to get the message to the government that fuel prices must come down and we will not stop our protests until this happens," said organiser Hatta Ramli from the Islamic opposition party PAS.
"The protests will only get worse until the government listens to the voice of the people to ease their burden and suffering."
By noon up to 6,000 people had gathered at the suburban stadium, which was ablaze with red T-shirts, the colour of the protest movement, with many sporting bandanas with the caption "No Price Hike."
There was a festive air, and outside the stadium traders sold everything from drinks to Islamic religious tracts.
"We want prices lowered, we are suffering but the government appears to be doing nothing," said housewife Aminah Rahman, 48, who along with her two young daughters was dressed in red T-shirts and scarves.
"If this continues, the people will have no trust left in the PM, he must go now," she said.
Last month's 41 percent fuel price hike has heaped pressure on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose government is reeling from March general elections that produced the worst showing in its half-century history.
Anwar has said he is poised to seize power with the help of government defectors, after his opposition alliance claimed one third of parliamentary seats and five states in the elections.
He is now embroiled in a political battle with deputy prime minister Najib Razak -- Abdullah's heir apparent -- trading serious allegations that have deepened Malaysia's political crisis.
A week ago an aide to Anwar filed a police report claiming that the 60-year-old opposition leader had sodomised him, causing Anwar to flee to the Turkish embassy saying he feared for his life.
The claims threatened his stunning political comeback, staged after he was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges he said were orchestrated by the government.
In the next sensational turn of events, a private investigator them made allegations linking Najib to the 2006 slaying of a Mongolian woman. A close friend of Najib is on trial for abetting the murder.
At a press conference organised by Anwar, Balasubramaniam Perumal released a sworn statement saying he had given police detailed information about 28-year-old Altantuya Shaariibuu which was never raised during the trial.
However, a day later, he retracted the claims, saying he made them under duress.
His nephew on Saturday filed a missing person's report, saying he and his family had disappeared.
Criminal Investigation Department director Bakri Zinin said Malaysian police had enlisted the help of Interpol and authorities in neighbouring countries to help locate the investigator.
"We suspect he is either in hiding or someone is hiding him," he told a press conference Sunday.
"I give a guarantee of his safety if he comes to meet us, and he is free to bring a lawyer to the meeting."
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Thousands protest fuel price hike in Malaysia despite police warning
The Associated Press
Published: July 6, 2008

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia: Thousands of Malaysians thronged a stadium Sunday for an opposition-backed protest against a steep hike in fuel prices, ignoring a police warning that the gathering was illegal.
Some 5,000 people assembled in the 50,000-seat stadium, many wearing red bandanas and red T-shirts with the word "Down" emblazoned on the chest, a reference to their demand for oil prices to be reduced.
By midday, most people had left after listening to speeches by opposition leaders and other speakers, which were interspersed with chants of "Down with the oil price" and "Long live the people."
They were expected to return at night when Anwar Ibrahim, the de-facto leader of the three-party opposition People's Alliance, is scheduled to deliver a speech at the stadium in Petaling Jaya, a town in central Selangor state outside Kuala Lumpur.
Selangor is governed by the People's Alliance, which approved the protest organized by opposition and nongovernment organizations. The federal police, however, banned the rally, saying organizers did not obtain a police permit that is required in Malaysia for gatherings of more than four people.
But there was no trouble Sunday, and there was no visible presence of security forces in and around the stadium.
"People are under pressure because of the rise of prices. The cost of living is very high and people are under stress. This government has forgotten the people," said S. Indran, a 48-year-old security guard.
Public anger against the federal government, run by the National Front coalition, is high after it increased gasoline prices by 41 percent and diesel prices by 63 percent last month. Food prices have also been rising.
The National Front, which has been in power since independence in 1957, suffered heavy losses in the March 8 general elections, returning to power with a slim majority. The People's Alliance boosted its strength from 19 to 82 seats in the 222-member Parliament.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


A Malaysian Private Eye Recants an Explosive Statement

Our Correspondent
04 July 2008
Complete reversal on charges against Malaysia's deputy prime minister raises questions of political pressure

Related Story: More Twists in Murder PlotSee: Balasubramaniam's Statutory Declarations

In a stunning turnaround that raises as many questions as it answers, the Kuala Lumpur-based private investigator who set off a firestorm Thursday by alleging that Deputy prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was involved in the 2006 murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu today retracted the entire contents of his statutory declaration and said he had made it under duress (Note: Both declarations can be found here).
Media in Kuala Lumpur reported that P. Balasubramaniam, a private investigator who once represented accused murderer Abdul Razak Baginda, said everything he had alleged in his July 1 statutory declaration was wrong, then rushed off without taking questions. Local media also reported that he had come under severe pressure after releasing the declaration in the company of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim Thursday.
The investigator did not say who pressured him to issue the initial statement, but his action raised the inevitable specter that powerful political forces are at work over the sensational murder. The allegations against Najib have already undermined his standing as the heir apparent to the leadership of the powerful United Malays National Organization. The prominent Internet journalist Raja Petra Kamaruddin in his own statutory declaration recently flatly stated that Najib's wife had been present at Altantuya's execution. Raja Petra now faces charges of sedition and is scheduled to go on trial in October.Opposition leaders denounced the retraction as the result of political pressure and called for an investigation. To Balasubramaniam's assertion that he had been pressured into making the original statement, they pointed out that he was in the company of his own lawyer, Americk Singh Sidhu, when he made the statement public to reporters. The respected independent reform organization Aliran issued a statement questioning the reversal and said that an assistant superintendant of police had met with Balasubramaniam at the Brickfields police station in Kuala Lumpur the night after he made his first statement, and that his second was witnessed by a commissioner of oaths named Zainul Abidin Muhayat from an address of the law firm Zul Rafique and Partners, reportedly owned by the brother of Federal Territories Minister, Zulhasnan Rafique. The minister is a top UMNO wheelhorse.The ongoing trial has thus far avoided questioning Najib or bringing his name into the proceedings, with both prosecutors and defense attorneys challenging attempts to have him brought into the proceedings. Given the assertions by Raja Petra and Balasubramaniam it seems almost inconceivable that the High Court hearing the case would not reopen it to attempt to get at the truth.
Anwar, who himself faces recent allegations of forcibly sodomizing a 23-year-old man who works in his office, was excoriated by pro-government loyalists from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition led by UMNO after he released the initial declaration. Najib and Anwar are bitter rivals for power who were once allied in UMNO before Anwar was booted out of the deputy prime minister’s job in 1998 and later jailed on sexual perversion charges. Building on opposition gains in the March elections, Anwar has declared his intention to unseat the BN by September.
Najib called the private investigator’s statement “a desperate move by Anwar Ibrahim to divert attention from the sodomy allegation he is facing.”
For some, the episode reveals rot inside the political system. “They are all damaged, it doesn’t matter, really,” said a disgusted lawyer and political insider in Kuala Lumpur. “I think new leaders will emerge after this mess.”
In the new declaration, a sworn statement made in writing as was his first, Balasubramaniam said: "I wish to retract the entire contents of my statutory declaration dated July 1, 2008. I was compelled to affirm the said statutory declaration under duress.
"I wish to expressly state that at no material time did (Abdul) Razak (Abdullah) Baginda inform me that he was introduced to Altantuya Shaariibuu by a VIP and at no material time did Razak Baginda inform me that Datuk Seri Najib (Tun Razak) had a sexual relationship with Altantuya Shaaribu and that she was susceptible to anal intercourse. At no material time did Razak Baginda inform me that Datuk Seri Najib instructed Razak Baginda to look after Altantuya Shaaribu as he did not want her to harass him since he was the Deputy Prime Minister."
Balasubramaniam’s previous statement was extraordinarily detailed, accusing the deputy prime minister of having had an affair with Altantuya and introducing her to Razak; he also recounted SMS conversations between Razak and Najib on the night of her murder. The statement described the cars that came to take the woman away, related conversations with the accused and described his disappointment at the fact that a detailed statement he had given police about the matter had been censored so completely that nothing of the relationship between Razak and Najib survived.
Razak went on trial in June 2007 for Altantuya’s murder along with two of Najib’s bodyguards, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar of the elite Unit Tindak Khas or Special Police Action Unit. The 28-year-old Mongolian woman was shot twice in the head on October 19, 2006 and her body dumped in a patch of jungle near the suburban city of Shah Alam before she was blown up with explosives.
Balasubramaniam wrote in his first declaration that he wanted the “relevant authorities to reopen their investigations into this case immediately so that any fresh evidence may be presented to the Court prior to submissions at the end of the prosecution’s case.”
In that declaration Balasubramaniam, who was hired to help Razak deal with the woman, said he repeatedly tried to get Razak to have Altantuya arrested for harassment, but that he refused to do so.
The July 1 statement described in meticulous detail a series of visits by Altantuya and two friends from Mongolia to Razak’s office and home, seeking to corner the political analyst about their relationship and demanding US$500,000 for her services as a translator in a questionable transaction involving Malaysia’s purchase of French submarines.
The document also purported to confirm long-reported rumors that Najib, Razak and Altantuya had been at a dinner in Paris during the time when the submarine transaction was being negotiated. It described conversations with Altantuya, in which she told the private investigator that Razak had even bought her a house in Mongolia

More Twists in Malaysian Murder Trial
Our Correspondent
03 July 2008
Deputy Prime Minister romantically linked to murdered Mongolian translator in court declaration UPDATE: More Twists in Malaysian Murder Trial
One of Malaysia’s most powerful politicians has been tied to murdered Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu in court documents filed by a private investigator who had been protecting one of the men accused in the case before her disappearance. A statutory declaration filed with a Kuala Lumpur court by the investigator alleges that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak not only knew the murdered woman but had an affair with her, was involved in her disappearance and introduced her to Abdul Razak Baginda, the man who is now on trial for her murder.
The court declaration by P Balasubramaniam, a private investigator and retired policeman hired by Razak Baginda, was made public by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently under fire from charges that he raped a male member of his office. The counterattack by Anwar on Najib, one of his staunchest critics, raises the heat in the country’s current battle for power as the resurgent opposition tries to unseat the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition that has governed the country since independence in 1957.
The Altantuya murder, with its long-rumored ties to Najib, has been a tantalizing target for government foes, who until now have been unable to get Najib officially linked to the case. In the declaration, Balasubramaniam’s declaration makes Najib an integral part of the case, something most of Malaysia’s top government and judicial officials have been seeking to avoid ever since Razak went on trial in June 2006 along with two of Najib’s bodyguards for the gruesome murder. The 28-year-old Mongolian woman was shot twice in the head and her body dumped in a patch of jungle near the suburban city of Shah Alam before she was blown up with explosives.
The declaration was made by the investigator because of his “disappointment at the standard of investigations conducted by the authorities into the circumstances surrounding the murder of Altantuya Shaaribuu.” Balasubramaniam wrote that he wanted the “relevant authorities to reopen their investigations into this case immediately so that any fresh evidence may be presented to the Court prior to submissions at the end of the prosecutions [sic] case.”
While part of the court record, the declaration, which is a written statement signed by the person making it who declares it to be true before a person authorized to take declarations, was not given under formal oath.
In the declaration Balasubramaniam, who was hired to help Razak deal with the woman, said he repeatedly tried to get Razak to have Altantuya arrested for harassment, but that he refused to do so. Razak, he said, told him that she had “been given powers by a Mongolian ‘bomoh’ [spirit doctor] and that he could never look her in the face because of this.”
Razak told Balasubramaniam he had been introduced to Altantuya “by a VIP…who asked him to look after her financially.” According to the statement, he was becoming concerned that he could be harmed personally and that his daughter needed to be protected also. There followed a series of visits by Altantuya and two friends from Mongolia to Razak’s office and home.
Balasubramaniam wrote that on October 14, five days before she disappeared, “Aminah [Altantuya’s nickname] turned up at Abdul Razak Baginda’s house in Damansara Heights when I was not there. Abdul Razak Baginda called me on my handphone to inform me of this so I rushed back to his house.
“As I arrived, I noticed Aminah outside the front gates shouting, ‘Razak, bastard, come out from the house.’ I tried to calm her down but couldn’t so I called the police who arrived in two patrol cars. I explained the situation to the police, who took her away to the Brickfields police station.”
At that point, the woman told Balasubramaniam to deliver a note to Razak demanding US$500,000.00 and three tickets to Mongolia “apparently as commission owed to Aminah from a deal in Paris.” [Najib and Razak have long been under fire for a reported US$111 million commission that Abdul Razak took through a company he owned that was linked to the US$1 billion purchase of three submarines by the Malaysian military from the French military.]
The police urged the warring parties to settle the affair amicably, according to the declaration. They returned to Razak’s house, where Razak then told Balasubramaniam that Najib had introduced him to Altantuya at a diamond exhibition in Singapore and that Najib had had a sexual relationship with her in the past. Razak was to look after the woman because Najib “did not want her to harass him since he was now the Deputy Prime Minister.”
The document also purports to confirm long-reported rumors that Najib, Razak and Altantuya had been at a dinner in Paris during the time when the submarine transaction was being negotiated. During the trial, a cousin of Altantuya’s said she had seen a picture of the three at dinner, but the prosecution and defense both refused to take the matter further.
On October 19, the night she disappeared, Balasubramaniam claimed that Altantuya told him that she had met Razak in Singapore with Najib, that she was promised US$500,000 as a commission for assisting in the submarine transaction and that Razak had purchased a house for her in Mongolia. She also said that her brother had refinanced the house and she needed money to get back the property. She also claimed that Razak had married her in South Korea.
In the declaration, the investigator said that shortly after that conversation a red Proton car appeared with a woman and two men, whom he identified as female officer Lance Corporal Rohaniza and Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azahar, the two bodyguards who worked for Najib and are now on trial. All three were in plain clothes and they took the woman away. Balasubramaniam said he thought she was being arrested.
“They drove off and that is the last I ever saw of Aminah,” the private investigator wrote.
On October 24, he wrote, “Abdul Razak Baginda instructed me to accompany him to the Brickfields police station as he had been advised to lodge a police report about the harassment he was receiving from these Mongolian girls.”
She was already dead.
In the document, the private investigator said he himself was arrested and held for seven days over the issue, during which time, “I told them all I knew including everything Abdul Razak Baginda and Aminah had told me about their relationships with Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak but when I came to sign my statement, these details had been left out. “
In the trial, when he was asked to give evidence, he said, “the prosecutor did not ask me any questions in respect of Aminah’s relationship with Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.”
On the day Razak was arrested, he said, “I was with him at his lawyers office at 6:30 am. Abdul Razak Baginda informed us that he had sent Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak an SMS the evening before as he refused to believe he was to be arrested, but had not received a response.
A short time later, the declaration said, Razak received an SMS from Najib that read: “matter will be solved… be cool.”

Anwar Tries To Face Down His Accusers

Our Correspondent
02 July 2008
Were the latest sodomy charges against Malaysia’s leading opposition politician trumped up?
Malaysia’s long-suffering opposition, which four months ago glimpsed its first chance in the 50-year history of the country to take power, has to figure out where it goes from here in the wake of charges by a volunteer in the office of Anwar Ibrahim that the opposition politician had sodomized him.
Anwar, the opposition coalition’s most charismatic figure, had expected to stroll through a by-election for parliament sometime in the next few weeks and be handed formal leadership of the opposition. The next step would be a no-confidence vote to sink Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the ruling Barisan Nasional, a move that would give Anwar the top job and cap a remarkable political comeback for the high-flying politician who was derailed a decade ago by sexual abuse and corruption charges. Now he first has to clear up allegations, justified or not, that have dogged him for a decade.
A former deputy prime minister and finance minister, Anwar has responded to the charges with a furious series of countercharges, lodging a formal complaint against police chief Musa Hassan and Attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail and claiming that intelligence reports from a "neighboring country" indicate that assassins were planning to kill him.
On Tuesday night he told a rally of some 15,000 supporters that he was undeterred in his quest to derail the BN. "The BN government cannot be trusted to manage the economy of this country because there is too much corruption," he told supporters, according to published reports. "Time is up, you get out, let us move in!" Anwar was reported as saying.
Anwar’s lawyers have also filed defamation charges against the accuser, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 23, who last Saturday filed the police report accusing Anwar of forcibly sodomizing him in an apartment in Damansara Heights, a posh neighborhood minutes away from parliament. Doctors from Kuala Lumpur Hospital have submitted Saiful's medical report to the police for further investigation.
Immediately after Saiful’s charges became known, Anwar headed for the Turkish embassy, alleging he could be murdered. His presence in the embassy, reportedly one of several that offered sanctuary, strained Malaysia’s relations with Turkey. Irritation is also rising with the US embassy after US State Department spokesman Tom Casey issued a statement urging that any legal action “would not be anything that was a politically motivated investigation or prosecution,” thus calling up memories of 2000, when then-US Vice President Al Gore denounced Anwar’s previous trial for sodomy as a “mockery.”
The new charges seriously complicate Anwar’s plans to contest the by-election. Anwar has predicted he would take over as prime minister in September, sweeping the coalition that has ruled the country since 1957 from power.
However, Anwar must not just win that as-yet unnamed by-election but win it by a landslide. He might already have been facing political headwinds over the fact that the government is attempting to cushion the effect of the removal of petrol subsidies, a major thorn in the side of the public. A highly-publicized attempt to push through a no-confidence motion by the Sabah Progressive Party, a presumed ally, against Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi fizzled, with members of the party accusing the leadership of selling out.
Certainly Anwar’s difficulties give the BN some badly needed breathing space after it lost its two-thirds majority in the March 8 elections for the first time since independence. The defeat came after the once-impregnable political machine suffered through a marathon series of scandals, several of them involving Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who is under fire for unsubstantiated claims over his and his wife’s supposed involvement in the gruesome 2006 murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu and for reports of profiteering on defense contracts. There have also been persistent and convincing charges of endemic corruption in the country’s judiciary.
Anwar has named Najib Razak the culprit behind the alleged conspiracy to defame him with sodomy allegations. "You know we will announce a by-election this week. I will contest in the by-election, the police knew that," he told AFP. Najib has denied Anwar’s allegations, as has Prime Minister Badawi, who was actually instrumental in getting the charges reversed from Anwar’s 1999 sexual perversion conviction.
In any case, Anwar and his party have charged that Saiful was a mole planted by the BN. Photos of Saiful with government officials have been published in local media and the Internet. One showed the alleged victim with Khairil Annas Jusoh, one of Najib's aides, at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Others featured Shahrir Abdul Samad, domestic trade and consumer affairs minister, and Azalina Othman, tourism minister.
The youth’s family, however, countered that Saiful was a student leader and that it was normal for student leaders to meet with top government officials.
The local media have been cautious this time. In 1998, when Anwar was first arrested on sodomy brought by both his step-brother and his driver, the government-controlled press pronounced Anwar guilty before the trial even began. The New Straits Times suffered a sharp decline in circulation as a boycott was organized to protest against the paper’s biased reports.
Those charges were laid after former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad dumped Anwar as finance minister and deputy premier. Anwar spent six years in prison before being released after the sexual perversion charges were reversed by a Malaysian court.
The public seems to be regarding the current charges with suspicion. One longtime observer in Kuala Lumpur said that ethnic Malays, the constituency of the dominant pro-government United Malays National Organisation, are furious with the party and many regard the charges as fabricated. According to a readers' poll on the local news website, Malaysiakini, 94 percent of 900 respondents believe that the report is a "political conspiracy," although the site draws mostly opposition supporters and the results are likely to be skewed.
The BN so far has denied any involvement in Saiful's report.
"What Anwar is saying (about his life being in danger) may not be the gospel truth. We will have to confirm the validity of his claim. He is a good orator and prone to dramatics," Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar told local media. "It makes no difference if the person who complained against him is a VIP... Justice must be done to ensure the people feel safe and protected."
Ezam Mohd Nor, a former Anwar loyalist, told reporters: "Anwar should not make assumptions of a conspiracy because it is also not logical for the government to use the same method against the same man twice just to stop him from contesting for a parliamentary seat."
Ezam rejoined UMNO after falling out with Azmin Ali, a PKR vice-president who is widely seen to be Anwar's closest confidant. A political insider suggested that he may be behind this fresh round of sodomy allegations but he has vehemently denied it. "Maybe Ezam is trying to score points with his new paymasters," an insider told Asia Sentinel.
Meanwhile, investors are jittery. The Kuala Lumpur Composite Index (KLCI) plummeted 19.87 points or 1.7 percent, Forbes reported Wednesday. "The Malaysian market is being dragged down as the latest political drama has taken political uncertainties to a new level,'' Phua Kwee Hock, an analyst at SJ Securities, told Forbes. “The local market can be expected to drift listlessly in the coming months.''