AGORA

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.
EXPLOSIVES
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

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