Anwar gains upper hand as Najib is put on the defensive

Posted by SM Maulana
KUALA LUMPUR, July 7 ─ Malaysians may be left confused by the political mud-slinging last week, but one thing seems clear ─ opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has come out a winner in public perception.

And Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s reputation has been left somewhat dented after this bruising battle with Anwar, seen as his closest rival for the premiership of Malaysia.

The accusations and counter-accusations kept Malaysians agog with its twists and turns last week, and has polarised the country almost as bitterly as it did in 1998, when Anwar was first accused of sodomy.

Then, it was former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who sacked him over allegations that he had sodomised his employees.

Last week, it was Anwar’s aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan who made the accusation in a police report. The police have not made known their findings.

But many Malaysians have made up their minds. According to an independent survey last week, nearly 60 per cent believed it was part of a political conspiracy.

“It is no longer about who is telling the truth, or who is right or wrong. It is about public perception, and what people believe or want to believe,” political commentator Joceline Tan wrote in her column in The Star newspaper yesterday.

She noted that it was amazing how Anwar had managed to dictate events. He proved again just how astute he is at playing this political game.

His dawn rush to the Turkish Embassy for refuge on June 29 over alleged death threats immediately cast him as a victim.

The release of a photograph of Saiful with an aide of Najib further cemented the impression of a political conspiracy, and this was compounded by the deputy premier’s admission that the young man had seen him after the alleged sexual assault.

No doubt, Anwar already knew of this meeting. It is believed that his wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail had informed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi about this when she saw him to ask for a guarantee of her husband’s safety.

Najib had, in fact, volunteered information on his meeting with Saiful without being asked during a press conference.

Anwar upped the stakes when he released a statutory declaration by a private investigator alleging that Najib had sexual relations with a Mongolian woman who was later murdered. Najib denied the claims.

The woman’s lover, Abdul Razak Baginda, who is on trial for abetting her murder, is a close associate of Najib.

Anwar lost some of his gains, however, when the private investigator, P. Balasubramaniam, retracted his allegations a mere 24 hours later.

By the end of the week, the episode is less about Anwar’s alleged wrongdoing than him being seen as a victim of political conspiracy yet again.

“After all, politics is all about perception,” Wong Chun Wai, a top editor of The Star, wrote in his column.

A political analyst, who thinks that the truth may never be fully known, agrees that it has left Anwar with a distinct, even if unplanned, advantage.

“It gives him the upper hand, and has put the Barisan Nasional even more on the defensive,” he said.

The timing could not have been better for Anwar, so much so that some have accused him of orchestrating the whole sodomy accusation.

His repetitive claims that he was about to seize power through defections from the BN ranks were beginning to wear thin. Anwar’s credibility was increasingly being strained, and this was compounded by his inexplicable reluctance to contest a by-election that would allow him to re-enter Parliament.

He became eligible to contest in April after the expiry of a legal ban which arose from his conviction for corruption in 1999. One of his party’s MPs was meant to resign his seat to force a by-election.

He had claimed that he was about to do so when the sodomy accusation arose.

“Without this week’s events, Anwar may have lost momentum. But now, he has regained upper hand,” said the political analyst.

It may not bring him any closer to Malaysia’s top post ─ which he is eyeing ─ but it has weakened the BN. And put his closest rival Najib at a disadvantage.

Abdullah, who has been under pressure to resign after the March 8 polls left his administration severely weakened, has said he would hand over the job to Najib.

But while Najib has been left on the defensive, his strength within Umno appears to be intact.

The main setback for him now is that it has become untenable for him to take power until he regains credibility. ─ Singapore ST

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