Sunday, July 20, 2008

A high stakes game in Malaysian politics

I think enough has been written on the internet and elsewhere about the recent accusations against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. But, now living in Australia, I have been embarrassed how many people are aware of what has happened to DSAI over here. Why am I embarrassed by this? Well as a Muslim and married to a Malay, I have always tried to hold Malaysia up as, well not perfect, but certainly on the way to being a first class society. The recent elections and the Prime Minister's initial acceptance of them with apparent good grace was a credit to the maturity of the Malaysian nation and a sign that its democratic functions had come along way since 1969, when a similar election result led to riots, recently claimed to have been seeded by elements of the UMNO leadership. It's harder to make that case when the primary news story about Malaysia is about a man who has a serious chance of bringing a change of government by peaceful means being charged with such a bizarre offense.

The charge is so strange for several reasons. Firstly, the charge amounts to anal rape - sodomy without consent. Does anyone actually believe that someone like Anwar, who has clearly shown himself to be tenacious and driven towards taking the highest office in the land, would be silly enough to forcibly sodomize someone in a condo in KL, just when he was on the brink of a political comeback? If he were indeed homosexual, don't you think as a good looking bloke with plenty of money he would be able to find consensual partners, perhaps in Singapore or Western countries which he can easily visit? Of course I don't want to say that rapists never act stupidly, or imply that many do not enjoy the power they feel through sexually imposing themselves on others, but it certainly makes the case less credible given the history of the thing. What about the size difference between alleged perpetrator (60 year old man of short stature and known health problems) and alleged victim (23 year old man, tall and healthy)?

Ordinarily I would say that any allegation of rape should be investigated and I don't believe that Islamic rules of needing 4 witnesses to verify the act should preclude this given the alleged sex was forcible and not consensual. But it stinks to high heaven that the alleged victim apparently visited DPM Najib, a man who many Malaysians believe to have ordered a murder(Altantuya Shaariibu, for which his former associate is now on trial) just a few days before making the allegations. The fact that senior politicians have been involved in publicly commenting about the case is also suspicious. The fact that the police report hasn't been made available to Anwar's lawyers is also hard to understand.

I have come to the conclusion that the government will eventually tell the police to drop the charges against Anwar before the issue comes to trial. They will say that they have insufficient evidence to prosecute him although (they will say) there was strong evidence suggesting his involvement. They will do so because any conviction would be perceived as implausible and tainted, and would make Anwar a matyr and convince many Malaysians that the only way to change things is by drastic means. So why are they doing this then?

The government knows that it has lost the votes of many of the educated people who live in the urban areas. It knows that most Chinese and Indians couldn't give a damn whether the future PM is gay, and that many urban, educated Malays don't believe the charges and would rather have a PM who is accussed of being gay than one who is alleged to have used the police to murder a former lover, in any case. I believe this is all about winning back the traditional Malay heartland - those who don't read blogs, or English newspapers, and who are dependent on Berita Harian, Utusan or Metro for their source of information. They want to throw enough mud so that Anwar will not be able to form a coalition with a Malay majority - something which he needs to do to remove them from office. Hence the emphasis on asking for DNA - although educated people might understand that DNA is far from a silver bullet and seldom leads to a conviction, especially when several days have elapsed between the alleged incident and the alleged victim being medically examined, many others don't understand this and will find Anwar's refusal to submit DNA as evidence pointing towards his guilt.

The fact is that many in the government and those associated with it have more to lose than mere political office if the government changes. Some - like Najib for instance - have a very good chance of being convicted of serious crimes. Tun Dr Mahathir is another who knows that his associates, his children and above all his own legacy would be in serious danger should Anwar ever become PM. For these people, this is a fight to the death. It is certainly a lot more plausible that they would be behind these allegations than it is that Anwar would be stupid enough to derail his own political career in such a way at the very time he is making a comeback.