The stuff politicians are made of

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Of late, I have been receiving a lot of junk e-mails about this, that and the other. Apart from the ‘normal’ sexual performance enhancement, teen sex, Paris Hilton, etc. notifications, there are those anonymous ‘letters to the editor’ about Anwar Ibrahim, Ezam Mohd Nor and other Parti Keadilan Rakyat Youth Movement leaders about to join or rejoin Umno over the next couple of weeks.

I would delete those former e-mails without opening or reading them, but out of curiosity I would read the latter messages though I would not pick them up and carry them in the letters section of Malaysia Today. Of course, these letters are under pseudonyms, so one can never really tell who is behind them; so it would be safer to ignore them rather than take them as authentic letters to the editor.

Anyway, whether these e-mails about Anwar, Ezam and those others about to ‘defect’ to Umno are true or not are not really of particular concern to me. I too have heard such talk and the Khairy Chronicles have already revealed the negotiations going on behind the scenes.

Over the last year or so, Anwar has been very meticulous in explaining his stand; which is, his fight is with the opposition. Anwar has stressed to all and sundry that the future is with Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Umno is so corrupt and rotten that its days are numbered. It is only a matter of time, argued Anwar, when Umno would be relegated to the history books and would become a party of the past just like the many since the 1940s that are now water under the bridge.

Therefore, who are we to believe, the rumours or Anwar’s open declaration that he is committed to the opposition cause?

To understand Anwar’s ‘stand’, one has to reflect on the days of the 1970s and 1980s when he suddenly ‘turned’ from an Islamist firebrand, as the western press is fond of labelling him — and which saw him suffer a stint as an Internal Security Act detainee — to a member of the administration when he joined Umno. His entry into Umno saw a meteoric rise never before witnessed in Malaysian political history.

In 2002, the then Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in an interview in Japan, said he brought Anwar into Umno thinking that he could control the young Islamic youth leader and also to prevent him from falling into the hands of the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS). When he realised later that Anwar could not be controlled, he had no choice but to sack him, explained Dr Mahathir.

What is strange in this Japan interview is the explanation given by Dr Mahathir on why he brought Anwar into Umno then later sacked him.

Firstly, it was not Dr Mahathir but Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who brought Anwar into Umno. Dr Mahathir, in fact, at first refused to accept Anwar, but after some persuasion Tengku Razaleigh finally managed to get Dr Mahathir to soften his stand and agree to allow Anwar into Umno.

Therefore, from the very beginning, Dr Mahathir was sceptical about Anwar and would not have him in Umno’s ranks. In a way, Dr Mahathir did not trust Anwar and never did till the end.

But why then did Dr Mahathir groom Anwar as his successor? Did he, or was Anwar merely a line of defence against other more dangerous challengers to his position? In other words, Dr Mahathir did not really want Anwar as his successor but wanted to use Anwar to check the others eyeing the job.

In the mid-1980s, when Tengku Razaleigh made a bid for the Umno Presidency, it was Anwar who saved the day. For all intents and purposes, Tengku Razaleigh had won the Presidency but Anwar, who was then Umno’s Youth Leader, rallied the Youth Movement behind Dr Mahathir.

The Youth Movement was actually split between Anwar’s and Najib Tun Razak’s forces. Najib chose to remain ‘neutral’, which meant therefore that Tengku Razaleigh would get their support. Anwar, however, made a deal with Najib. Anwar offered to vacate the Youth Leader’s post and allow Najib to take over uncontested if he would throw his support behind Dr Mahathir. Anwar in turn went for a Vice President’s post.

The deal was too sweet for Najib to turn down and any politician worth his salt would grab the offer. So Najib took the deal and Dr Mahathir retained his post by a very narrow margin. Of course, some vote rigging had to be done as well to enhance his chances and everyone knows that Dr Mahathir actually lost to Tengku Razaleigh.

So you see; Dr Mahathir owed Anwar his Prime Ministership. So it was logical that he grooms the man who gave him his job as his successor. That, of course, changed when Dr Mahathir realised he may have to retire earlier than planned if he did not get rid of Anwar.

Secondly, Dr Mahathir never once mentioned in his Japan interview that he got rid of Anwar because of his alleged sexual misconduct. He, not Tengku Razaleigh, brought Anwar into Umno, said Dr Mahathir, because he did not want PAS to get him; and he got rid of Anwar because he could not be controlled.

In short, it is all about politics.

One must remember, in politics there are no friends, only comrades of the same agenda; rakan seperjuang, as the Malays would say. Lawan jadi kawan, kawan jadi lawan, the Malays would also say (foe becomes friend, friend becomes foe).

Anwar was a foe to Dr Mahathir and a friend to Tengku Razaleigh prior to 1982. Barely six years later and the roles reversed. Tengku Razaleigh then spent two terms in the opposition then rejoined the government; and Anwar exited soon after that and took Tengku Razaleigh’s place in the opposition. Even those who had said they would piss on Dr Mahathir’s grave when he dies, and even if they died and were reborn they would never rejoin Umno, did rejoin Umno and pledge allegiance to Dr Mahathir.

In politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies. Today’s ‘enemy of the state’ could be tomorrow’s Prime Minister and vice versa. Political parties are mere platforms, to be used to achieve the ends, whatever these ends may be. One should not be sentimental about political parties. It is not the party that is important but the agenda.

And what is Anwar’s agenda? In the 1970s it was something else. When he found he could not meet the objectives of his agenda outside the government and in opposition to it, he joined the government in the 1980s. While in the government he still could not fulfil his agenda fully due an obstacle named Dr Mahathir, so he made a bid to change that. But Dr Mahathir was just too wily a fox and the hunter soon became the hunted.

That was seven years ago. Anwar is now pushing 59. Though he may be 22 years younger than Dr Mahathir and five or six years younger than Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Anwar no longer enjoys the luxury of time and the advantage of youth like he did when he started out in Umno 23 years or so ago in 1982. If Anwar is still committed to his agenda, then he needs to find a fast track solution and that would have to be in Umno, not in the opposition.

Everyone knows the opposition would never form the government, at least not in this generation. If the opposition can become a strong, meaningful and credible opposition that in itself would be a Godsend. As it is now, the opposition seems to be going in only one direction, and that is downhill. So, like it or not, only the ruling party would offer you the platform in meeting the objectives of your agenda. As an opposition, you would be, as the Malays would say, anjing menyalak bukit (a dog barking at the mountain).

Will Anwar be considered a turncoat if he abandons the opposition for the greener pastures of the ruling party? Maybe and maybe not! If he joins the ruling party for his personal benefit and to further his political career, then many would disown him, in particular those who have suffered and sacrificed the last seven years for what they believe are noble aspirations to affect changes in this country. If Anwar opts out for a sweetener deal, then he would lose many friends. But if he joins the ruling party to fulfil his Reformasi agenda, then that is another thing altogether.

Would, however, Umno allow him back? More importantly, would Umno allow itself to be reformed? Many believe not. As starters, Anwar’s agenda is equality for all races, meritocracy and an end to the New Economic Policy (NEP). This runs contra to Umno’s Ketuanan Melayu agenda. From the word ‘go’, Anwar’s agenda would not go down well with the Umno crowd that is asking for Malay rights and privileges to be stepped up.

But while we look at all this, we must not only look at Anwar’s future in isolation. We must also take into consideration all those other personalities who over the last seven years have made it to the top. Take, for example, people like Najib. Since then, he has become the Deputy Prime Minister and therefore the logical successor to Abdullah Badawi. Will Najib just roll over and play dead and allow Anwar to take his place without a fight? Certainly not, and if Anwar wants Najib’s job he would have to fight for it, and rest assured Najib would give him a run for his money.

Abdullah Badawi would have to seriously consider this point before allowing Anwar back into Umno. If Anwar and Najib go head-to-head, say in 2007/2008, would we see a repeat of Umno’s history of 20 years ago (the Team A vs. Team B era)? Then again, if Anwar is allowed back into Umno, two things could probably happen. One is that Najib would get pissed and makes his move on Abdullah Badawi. Two is that Anwar would oust Najib then turn on Abdullah Badawi once he has securely planted himself as the number two.

Either way Abdullah Badawi would be at risk.

Abdullah Badawi’s safest bet would be to take his chances with Najib rather than take Anwar as an ally against Najib whereby he might later have to face Anwar as an even worse adversary. But then, it would all depend on whether Abdullah Badawi wishes to stay on as Prime Minister or whether he is quite happy with another term or term-and-a-half whereby he would then hand the reins to his successor. In that case, why does he need Anwar? Why not make a deal with Najib that he would hand him the Prime Ministership in 2010 or so if there is no challenge to his position?

This, of course, would only work if Abdullah Badawi is prepared to allow Najib to choose his own number two once he makes number one. If not, then Abdullah Badawi would have to ensure that there is a new number two who would comply to the line of succession after 2010, say someone like his son-in-law.

Yes, deals, deals, deals. This is what politics is all about. And 24 hours is a long time in politics. Five years till 2010 is even longer. And what they say today might mean nuts tomorrow. Did not Dr Mahathir publicly pledge that Anwar was to be his successor then three days later sacked him and put him in jail three weeks later? Did not Dr Mahathir say that Anwar is innocent of the allegations of sexual misconduct then a couple of days later say that Anwar is unfit to become Prime Minister and that he had known this for years? Did not some say they would never rejoin Umno even if they died and were reborn then rush back to Umno even before the spit on their lips dried?

Who knows, the present battle lines might even be redrawn by this Christmas. Today, we are talking about an Anwar-Abdullah alliance to fend a challenge by Najib. But we are not talking about Tengku Razaleigh. Could Tengku Razaleigh actually be the real kingmaker in the end? The one man who does not appear anywhere in the equation could actually be the dark horse, or white knight depending on how you view it.

But let’s talk about this on Christmas Eve when things would be much clearer by then.