Power, Power, Power

Posted By SM Maulana

Ten years ago Malaysia erupted as a political face-off between two men deteriorated into vile moral lynching. Hindsight shows that the victors ended up more damaged than the victim, who heroically emerged from prison.

If there’s a conspiracy afoot, this lesson from 1998 appears not to have been learnt. Last weekend’s events cannot be separated from what transpired then. We will inevitably compare the two events – looking for parallels, differences and of course clues to how the respective scandals or frame-ups unfold.

So we’ll be dealing with a similar set of issues: the incredulity and anger of the majority of Malaysians; executive interference with the judiciary and the police; and the personalities of the key players as well as a political elite for whom power transition is an anathema.

Most of the non-political people I’ve talked to have rejected the latest accusations against Anwar out-of-hand. We cannot help but see the weekend’s events in the light of recent political developments and Anwar’s thrust for power. For many of us, 1998 was a shocking breach in Malaysian political culture – something that we never wished to revisit. It angered and embarrassed us – not because we loved Anwar, but because we believed in a modicum of decency. The black eye he sustained whilst in police detention shamed us, and last weekend’s revelations have sparked off many of these memories.

The second and interconnected issue is the weakened state of the judiciary. Given the furor generated by the V.K. Lingam tapes inquiry are we surprised that many feel disenchanted with the courts, especially over cases with a political complexion? While Datuk Zaid Ibrahim has set reforms in place, there’s no doubt that many in Umno resent his initiatives.

A key difference in 2008 is Abdullah. Most Malaysians have mocked Abdullah for his weak performance. Comparisons with his eagle-eyed predecessor have been unfavourable.

But it’s unlikely that Abdullah would stoop to such measures. Indeed he has always behaved like a gentleman: in 2004, he gracefully conceded to the Federal Court’s decision that led to Anwar’s early release.

Abdullah’s conciliatory and low-key personality means that the latest explosive development could have a lesser impact on Umno and Barisan
Nasional. To my mind, the key focus will instead be on how individuals within the security and legal apparatus deal with the case.

“He can be melodramatic, self-important, and at times wholly unreliable – his record in administration less impressive than many realise.”

The same is true of Najib, whose ongoing struggle to manage the fallout of the Altantuya murder trial has damaged his legitimacy as a prominent Umno leader.

If the authorities handle the case poorly and end up again turn Anwar into a martyr, I’m pretty sure he’ll end up as Prime Minister. To those who would advocate condemning him I’d urge caution. Added to Barisan’s limited standing given the recent oil price rise, public sympathy could be overwhelming.

Before last weekend I increasingly doubted whether Anwar actually had the numbers to crossover to secure the federal government. This explosive case has made the issue of the numbers secondary.

Finally, Anwar, the man: complex, ambitious, duplicitous, mercurial, brilliant. Shakespearean in his reach, it remains to be seen whether he’s a
tragic hero like Macbeth or a Henry V who assumes power and then leads with dignity and courage.

He has the ability to conjure up the most enthralling political rhetoric, sweeping away decades of Barisan’s “divide-and-rule” drivel. The existence of the Pakatan Rakyat is due to his extraordinary political skills.

But amid shimmering language and glitter is someone whose sense of innate destiny can get a little wearisome. He can be melodramatic, self-important, and at times wholly unreliable – his record in administration less impressive than many realise.

As we figure out what has really happened we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our political elite hasn’t come to terms with shifts in political power. Power isn’t God given: it ebbs and flows, and maybe Umno’s day is over, at least until the party can learn to respect the Malaysian people with more dignity. The current obsession with sodomy and C4 explosives is really just about power; which corrupts, and the absolute power that corrupts absolutely. (By KARIM RASLAN/ MySinchew)
( The opinions expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of MySinchew )

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