So near, yet so far

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s track record since his 2008 political comeback has been marked by missed opportunities. He is once again at a critical crossroads while his Pakatan Rakyat coalition struggles to find an alternative candidate for prime minister.

SMS orders have been flying from the PKR headquarters to its local leaders to produce the numbers tomorrow. Every PKR division has been ordered to gather 500 members and they have been told to wear black or white, the colours of mourning.

By Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Anwar Ibrahim looked a little tense during a packed press conference on Tuesday. He had a big week stretched ahead before his D-Day in court and he obviously had lots of things on his mind.

He kept his answers short and simple but managed to raise some eyebrows among reporters when he said that, “if I am jailed, involved in an accident or shot, we are prepared ….”.

What was he trying to say, some had asked. Who on earth would want to see him in an accident at this point in time? Surely not his supporters and the last thing his adversaries would want was to see him turned into a martyr.

The press conference ended quickly and he flashed a dazzling smile as he left the room. He was in a hurry to go home to change and leave for a ceramah in Muar, Johor, later that evening. The Muar event was the first of a string of ceramah to whip up sentiment over tomorrow’s court judgment and Anwar has since blazed through eight states in six days.

The ceramah have attracted sizeable crowds but the sodomy trial has been a long and winding process, stretched over three years and fraught with so many delays that ordinary folk have been lost in the legal maze.

But the temperature has gone up again with the impending court decision and Pakatan Rakyat’s threat of bringing 100,000 protesters into Kuala Lumpur.

PKR, especially, is hoping to repeat the street protests that followed Anwar’s sacking in 1998, to create a wave of sympathy for Anwar and a momentum against the Government.

The Pakatan coalition has been talking about an Arab Spring in Malaysia and tomorrow’s demonstration is seen as another step in that direction.

SMS orders have been flying from the PKR headquarters to its local leaders to produce the numbers tomorrow. Every PKR division has been ordered to gather 500 members and they have been told to wear black or white, the colours of mourning.

The Internet has been afire with conversation about the event, with the pro-Barisan Nasional side condemning the event as an attempt to subvert the judiciary and the pro-Pakatan side condemning those condemning the event.

More than 300 police reports have been lodged against the planned demonstration and the last one week has seen pages in Utusan Malaysia filled with news critical of Anwar and the demonstration.

“The verdict is still out there even though the general impression is that he can’t run. Monday will be a closure to the judicial process of a high-profile trial. With a general election ahead, it will also provide everyone an opportunity for political posturing,” said DAP’s Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi.

The official stand of Pakatan leaders is that the trial is a conspiracy to stop Anwar from becoming prime minister and they will stand by him.

Privately, they have been quite exasperated at the see-sawing political path of Anwar.

He has not shown the leadership they expected. They feel let down, many of them have watched the sex video and come to their own conclusions.

MPs from DAP have been given notice to attend and show moral support but, said Ooi, there is no signal to members to turn up in full force.

DAP knows that the Tahrir Square type of agitation is not the Chinese cup of tea and their response to the call to protest has been muted. They believe that if a government is to be overthrown, it should be via the ballot box rather than by Tahrir Square tactics and Malaysia is definitely not Egypt or Syria.

Besides, DAP is now the government in several states and it cannot be seen to actively encourage protests against court judgments. They would not want the same disruption repeated in their own backyard.

A leading PAS figure said their leaders would be present in court tomorrow, but PAS is not mobilising their members to make up the numbers.

“If you’re thinking of the Bersih type of crowd, that’s not going to be the case,” said the PAS leader.

Some had expected Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat to come out with a ringing endorsement for Anwar but the Kelantan Mentri Besar was in the news for another reason this week.

He was photographed presenting the keys to the house the state government had given to Kelantan football star Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, also known as Apek. Apek is a fantasy of many Malay girls and Nik Aziz advised him to “cepat kahwin” so as to avoid committing sin.

However, former Umno minister Tan Sri Kadir Sheikh Fadzir caused a stir when he gave an interview praising Anwar as a “great Malaysian leader”.

Ummi Hafilda Ali, the woman who had sparked off the first sodomy trial, called her own interview to renew her attacks on what she labelled the “3 As” – Anwar, his wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali who is Ummi’s brother.

Perhaps the most telling part is how Anwar is quite alone this time around as he went on his roadshow.

It was quite a different scenario from 1998 when Abim activists and religious figures from PAS lent their weight to his cause.

The PAS response to tomorrow’s decision has been rather complex.

Top PAS leaders, especially among the ulama group, have never been totally comfortable with the idea of Anwar as prime minister.

They hate the religious pluralism associated with Anwar; it is anathema to their idea of Islam as the one true religion.

Besides, they have everything to gain from a scenario without Anwar.

As the party’s Selangor leader Datuk Dr Hasan Ali put it, Datuk Seri Hadi Awang or Nik Aziz would be PAS’ choice for premiership.

It has been amid such complexity that blogger-in-exile Raja Petra Kamarudin or RPK gave a shattering interview about Anwar in several newspapers.

People are still digesting what he has said about Anwar being a liability to his coalition, the allusions to his sexuality and what appears to be RPK’s opposition to a Tahrir Square phenomenon in Malaysia.

The blogger has gone overnight from hero to zero among the very people who used to hang onto his every word.

This is basically the ABU segment – the cohort that is going to vote for Anything But Umno; they had loved him when he was telling them what they wanted to hear.

But what he is saying now is not what they want to hear, never mind if it is the reality, and they have thrashed him black and blue and accused him of selling out.

Said a pro-Pakatan academic: “My sense is that RPK is speaking his mind. I don’t believe he has been bought. He has seen the opportunities come and go for Anwar and (Anwar) has not withstood the test. I sense he is disappointed with Anwar and his leadership of PKR. I know many people who are pro-Pakatan and who do not disagree with what (RPK) said except they cannot come out and say it.”

While the Umno side recognises the political gains from RPK’s interview, they are not exactly comfortable with him.

RPK’s power of the pen is quite different from any other. He is a maverick and Umno is not sure where or who he will strike next.

Insiders say RPK is still with Pakatan although he burnt his bridges with Anwar more than a year ago.

He has attacked mainly Anwar. He has spared PAS and DAP and he has advocated Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah as the post-Anwar alternative.

All sorts of nasty stuff has been said about RPK sitting out the freezing winter of Manchester in Phuket.

He is not rolling in dough as some imagine; he is there on the goodwill of friends, staying in a US$40 (RM126) per day hotel.

RPK wants to come home, a move he thought would be possible only if Pakatan wins power.

He was banking on Anwar leading Pakatan to take over Putrajaya but he does not see that happening.

Anwar is damaged goods, he has squandered what could have been and RPK is simply saying it out loud.

Anwar’s post-2008 track record has been marked by missed opportunities and a lack of discipline in his personal life.

Even feng shui expert Joey Yap added his two-sen worth about Anwar’s future.

According to Yap, Anwar, who is a metal element, will apparently have to struggle in the Year of the Water Dragon.

Tomorrow’s protest will probably be the most videographed ever. Apart from the media coverage, the police intend to video everything to defend their actions.

The most curious part of the maelstrom is how the person who started the whole thing seems to have been forgotten.

Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the alleged victim in the case, has been eclipsed by all the political activity. The once effeminate-looking Saiful has grown into a rather handsome man.

He is pursuing a distant learning degree from Universiti Utara Malaysia and recently made the Dean’s list.

His life has changed irrevocably since the day he accused Anwar of sodomising him.

Regardless of whether the court agrees or disagrees with him, Saiful will never be able to live a normal life as we understand it.

The Prime Minister’s office has been a case of so near, yet so far where Anwar is concerned but, as the Malays say, if it is meant to be, it will be.

If it is not meant to be, then Pakatan will just have to move on to another prime minister candidate.