Malaysia reels as the allegations fly

Posted by SM Maulana

Simon Tisdall @ TheEdge

A NATIONAL drama involving leading government figures, conspiracy claims, personal smears, sodomy allegations and a grisly murder appears to be driving Malaysia towards its biggest political upheaval since independence in 1957.

Act one of this unfolding epic was played out in March’s general elections, when the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition suffered heavy losses at the hands of Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party and its allies. Although it held on to power, the Government’s parliamentary majority was slashed to 30 seats.

The results seriously wounded Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, already criticised as weak and uninspiring, and triggered a power struggle within his United Malays National Organisation.

With the party facing defeat for the first time since the British left, and with millions of dollars in contracts and patronage at stake, the plot has thickened in recent days.

First, Najib Razak, the ambitious Deputy Prime Minister and Mr Abdullah’s presumed heir, was linked in court testimony to the 2006 murder of a Mongolian translator with whom, it was claimed, he once had a sexual relationship. The killing of Altantuya Shaariibuu was particularly gruesome, her body having been blown to bits.

Then last week, a university drop-out told police he had been sodomised by Mr Anwar. The allegation was similar to claims made against the married father-of-six in 1998 after Mr Anwar, as deputy prime minister, fell out with the then prime minister, Mahathir Mohammad. Mr Anwar was beaten by police, tried, found guilty and jailed — only to have the verdict overturned after Dr Mahathir retired.

Mr Anwar has dismissed the allegation as a repeat attempt to smear him, part of a conspiracy that he said was hatched by Mr Najib and police officials to block his path to power. “He feared that I will use the Altantuya case against him to embarrass him and probably lead to his downfall,” he said this week.

Mr Najib denies involvement in any conspiracy and also denies any connection with the murdered Mongolian woman.

Tian Chua, the People’s Justice Party information chief and a new MP, said the sodomy claim had backfired. “The latest poll shows 60% of people think it’s nonsense, only 10% believe it’s true,” he said. “The Government did it to get some breathing space, to deflect attention from the crumbling of their party.”

Mr Tian said Mr Anwar had started legal proceedings against his accuser and against police involved in the previous case, 10 years ago. The Opposition leader would also begin a “national fightback tour” this weekend. “We are going on the offensive for the next 100 days,” Mr Tian said. The final act of the drama would come in September, when he predicted the Opposition would have enough parliamentary seats to defeat the Government.

Not everyone agrees that denouement is certain or likely. Mr Anwar’s political comeback has become one of the longest running shows in South-East Asia. Mr Abdullah has vowed to stay on. And Dr Mahathir reportedly suffered a mild heart attack yesterday. Amid the furore, cooler heads urge caution.

“I think we have to wait and reserve judgment until the police investigation (into the sodomy claim) is complete,” said a political analyst in Kuala Lumpur. “All of this is beginning to resemble a circus. We are becoming a laughing stock.”

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