Keep your enemies close

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Around five years ago, while holidaying in Japan, Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad gave an interview that revealed much about his relationship with Anwar Ibrahim. Dr Mahathir has given hundreds or maybe thousands of interviews in his 22 years or so as Prime Minister. Of all the interviews he has given thus far, this particular interview somehow stuck in my mind.

The interview touched many issues, but when it came to the part about Anwar, Dr Mahathir said he brought Anwar into Umno in 1982 because he did not want him to join PAS.

Around the early 1980s, it was rumoured that Fadzil Nor was planning to let Anwar take over the Presidency of PAS after the resignation of Asri Muda. That was why Fadzil Nor preferred holding on to his Deputy’s post rather that take over the Presidency — and he allowed Yusof Rawa to became the ‘caretaker’ President while awaiting Anwar to make up his mind.

If Anwar had joined PAS it would have created a huge problem for Umno, explained Dr Mahathir. So be brought Anwar into Umno to prevent PAS from having him.

Then Dr Mahathir went on further: he thought once Anwar was in Umno he could be controlled. But he found out later that Anwar could not be controlled. Anwar refused to toe the line and was planning to challenge the Umno Presidency. So he had to get rid of him.

That was it. Nothing about sexual misconduct and nothing about how he had treated Anwar like a son. It was all about Anwar being an enemy. So he had to find ways to control him and he did this by bringing Anwar into Umno; and once that proved futile he then had to get rid of him.

In politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies. So keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer. Malays would say: hari ini kawan, esok lawan; hari ini lawan, esok kawan. Translated, this would mean ‘today friends, tomorrow enemies; today enemies, tomorrow friends’.

And that best describes politics. Politics is the art of the impossible (anything is possible in politics), and those Machiavellian politicians make the best politicians of all.

The Terengganu Chief Minister, Wan Mokhtar Ahmad, blocked Anwar Ibrahim from making any headway in Terengganu in the late-1980s-early-1990s. One day, when I went to meet Anwar, he grumbled, “What are you doing in Terengganu? How come I cannot get in? Can’t you even handle just eight divisions?”

Terengganu has only eight Umno divisions. But when the Umno Presidency and Deputy Presidency can be won or lost by a mere 40 votes, eight divisions are quite significant. This represents about 90 votes or so.

“Okay,” I asked Anwar. “How many divisions do you want me to get for you?”

“Even if you can get me half I am happy.”

“Alright, I will get you four divisions,” I assured Anwar.

I met Bakar Daud, the Kuala Terengganu division head and de facto Deputy Chief Minister. Considering I was a known PAS man plus Chairman of the Kolam mosque, a PAS mosque in Kuala Ibai — a great source of headache for the government — and therefore Bakar Daud’s enemy, it was not easy gaining his trust.

I may have been the enemy though as far as Bakar Daud was concerned, but he knew we had one thing in common. We both wanted Wan Mokhtar out of office, but for different reasons (he, so that he can take over, and I, so that PAS can take the state). So we became united by our mutual objective of seeing Wan Mokhtar retire from office.

Together with Roslan Awang Chik, Bakar Daud’s brother-in-law, I went to meet Noor Azam, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s political secretary, to discuss how Wan Mokhtar could be ousted so that Bakar Daud could replace him as the new Terengganu Chief Minister. This was the pay off for Bakar Daud’s support. (We certainly could not tell Noor Azam that we wanted Wan Mokhtar out for the benefit of PAS, so we had to say it was so that Bakar Daud could replace him).

Noor Azam assured us he would discuss this matter with the Prime Minister and would get back to us. That night I phoned Anwar, who was already in bed, and after apologising for waking him from his sleep, I explained what the phone call was about. Anwar said he would get back to me in about five minutes. He was going to phone Daim Zainuddin to seek his views.

A couple of minutes later Anwar called back; I was at his father’s house in Kampong Tunku then; and asked me to check where the Sultan of Pahang was. I called up Pekan and confirmed that he was there, then called Anwar back who said to leave the whole thing to him.

About three days later, Bakar Daud attended the football association meeting and the Sultan of Pahang, the association president, patted Bakar Daud on the back and congratulated him. Bakar Daud was taken aback and asked, “What for?”

“Daim spoke to me,” said the Sultan. “I told Daim I strongly support you as the next Terengganu Chief Minister.”

Bakar Daud was elated. He told me he does not mind even if in the end he never does become the Chief Minister. He was pleased with the effort and that in itself was enough.

Bakar Daud never did become the Chief Minister, but we did capture Kuala Terengganu. Anwar was able to walk into Kuala Terengganu at will, much to the chagrin of Wan Mokhtar who now viewed Bakar Daud as an ‘Anwar man’, and therefore very dangerous. Considering in Malaysia it is very hard to keep secrets, Wan Mokhtar probably had also been told that Anwar was behind the effort to push Bakar Daud up as the new Terengganu Chief Minister. (Or maybe Anwar sold Bakar Daud out by informing Wan Mokhtar about it; I never did find out).

In one swoop we also captured Pemuda Umno Terengganu when Zubir Embong (a Bakar Daud man) not only became the Member of Parliament for Kuala Terengganu but the Bank Simpanan Nasional Chairman as well. And the same went for the Member of Parliament for Marang, Rahman Bakar (Zubir Embong’s ‘partner-in-crime’), who was made the Majuikan Chairman, and Awang Jabar of Dungun who became a Parliamentary Secretary. Kuala Nerus, headed by Rashid Ngah, was another division we got on our side.

So, that’s it, four out of eight divisions (Kuala Terengganu, Kuala Nerus, Marang and Dungun) delivered plus the Terengganu Youth Movement thrown in as a bonus.

I was PAS. I was the enemy. But we had something all these Umno warlords wanted; positions of power and authority; which Anwar could offer them. And they in turn had something that we wanted, support of their divisions; whose votes Anwar needed. So we became temporary friends. Of course, after that, we became enemies again when there was no longer anything we needed from each other.

That is Machiavellian politics for you, the only kind of politics, also sometimes called pragmatic or real-politics. Would this be the ends justifying the means?

Oh, and I have related this story before, Wan Mokhtar was outraged that I had captured four of his eight divisions. In one Umno Supreme Council meeting, he pulled Anwar aside and asked Anwar whether it was he who had instructed me to make all these moves in Terengganu. Anwar, of course, denied he had anything to do with it and told Wan Mokhtar that I had acted entirely on my own without his knowledge (pandi-pandai dia sendiri). Anwar had signed my death warrant. After that Wan Mokhtar put a price on my head and his goons made their move to finish me off. I left Terengganu in 1994 with my tail between my legs, totally wiped out. (One Terengganu judge I had lunch with told me they were even contemplating using the ISA against me, and this was confirmed by Haji Yusoff, the Special Branch head of Terengganu, who showed me my thick file).

But that is politics for you and I do not hold any grudge for what Anwar did. He could have defended me, but that would mean he would antagonise Wan Mokhtar. So he disowned me and remained in Wan Mokhtar’s good books. I was after all a mere ‘Ghurkha’ and quite dispensable, as most Ghurkhas are.

The opposition coalition, Barisan Alternatif (BA), saw its heydays in 1999. Those were the days when PAS, DAP, PRM and keADILan were united by a common cause. Since then BA has been slowly going downhill, especially after DAP left the coalition and went solo. DAP should realise that it cannot do things single-handedly. It needs team effort. And PAS is a very significant party that cannot be ignored.

DAP does not have to regard PAS as its friend. It does not even have to love PAS. It can continue hating PAS if it so wishes. But DAP must remember that there is no such thing as permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics. There are only comrades of the moment, united only by a common cause and not out of love (rakan seperjuangan).

DAP must seriously consider returning to the opposition coalition. Better still: PAS, DAP and keADILan should consider merging into one party. What is DAP worried about? Is it worried that PAS will turn Malaysia into an Islamic State?

If PAS is on the outside, then that may happen. But if PAS and DAP are both in one party, then that would be very difficult, if not impossible to happen. Treat PAS as the enemy if that makes you happy. But keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. Once you are all in one party, then you have better control of your enemies.

For example, PAS has never contested more than one-third of the Parliament seats. And it has never won more than half this one-third. If PAS is independent, then they are free to contest every single seat and win two-thirds of the seats, if they can. But once they are within the same coalition or have merged into one party, you can ensure that they never contest more than 30% or 40% of the seats, which means they can never have the two-thirds majority required to turn Malaysia into an Islamic State.

It is puzzling why the DAP leaders do not see this. Even if PAS sweeps more than two-thirds of the state seats in any of the Muslim majority states like Kelantan, Terengganu, Perlis or Kedah, they still cannot turn those states into Islamic States without the required two-thirds majority in Parliament. So what is the big deal? Or is there more than meets the eye as to DAP’s move to leave the coalition? I am beginning to wonder if DAP has other motives in mind. I mean, the DAP leaders cannot really be that short-sighted can they? If I can see this why can’t they?

The best thing for DAP now is to keep their friends close and their enemies even closer, that is if PAS is perceived as the enemy as far as DAP is concerned.