Do or die day for Anwar


Last year had more downs than ups for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Will the new year set him free or will it spell the end of his political career?

Joceline Tan, The Star

MANY people had thought that the courts would deliver another instant judgment on the fate of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

But the final stage of Anwar’s sodomy trial has been rather less than predictable. What was to have been a two-day hearing stretched to eight days. The Federal Court hearing ended on Nov 7 and everyone is still waiting for judgment day.

Anwar, on his part, has been doing quite a bit of travelling. Almost immediately after the case adjourned, he left for the United States for a speaking engagement at Georgetown University and to meet his supporters in San Francisco. Then he took his family for a long holiday in New Zealand.

All that travelling had sparked speculation that the de facto PKR leader might be planning to seek political refuge abroad in the event that the Federal Court rules against him. Anwar, 67, had told party colleagues in the past that he could not take another stint in prison because of his age. But his supporters said that running away is not in his books and he will be around to face the outcome.

Busy time

He is back home and has been quite active. There is a “Meet Anwar Selangor” event today at a hotel where he is hosting a dialogue on current issues with young people.

One of his first stops after returning was a mandatory round of the states affected by floods. He apologised for not going earlier and he has not resorted to pointing fingers like some of his peers in Pakatan Rakyat. Instead, he stressed that there should be less politics and more cooperation in helping those affected.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the man whom Anwar had tried to topple, had described last year as the most challenging in his political career. In a poignant new year message, the Prime Minister spoke of the tragedies that had befallen the nation but which also brought Malaysians together.

The year 2014 has not been very much better for Anwar. It has been more down than up for him. He took big risks and suffered big losses, politically speaking.

Lady Luck was not with him although a great deal of his problems had to do with lousy political strategy and relying on people who could not deliver. The Kajang Move not only damaged his party’s reputation but also dented the image of Pakatan.

On Thursday, his first-born Nurul Izzah’s divorce finally went through. It has been quite a high-profile divorce on account of who she is and her parents are said to be quite upset because they love her ex-husband.

Hearing for Anwar’s libel suit against Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman began recently and it has opened a can of worms for both sides. Anwar claimed that Anifah approached him after the 2008 general election while Anifah and other witnesses testified that they had been offered positions in the Government as well as huge sums of money to cross over.

“It shed light on the events leading to Sept 16. It is coming out of the horses’ mouth,” said a Penang lawyer.

Regardless of who approached who, it is also more evidence that the new politics is just a recycled form of the old politics. Or, as the Chinese like to say, “2×5 and 5×2, it still adds up to 10”.

Tragedy struck when Karpal Singh, his leading counsel for the sodomy case, died in a tragic road accident.

More bad news came when Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor revoked his “Datuk Seri” title last month. Anwar’s political games over the Selangor Mentri Besar issue had been deemed as questioning the integrity of the Sultan and the royal institution.

Anwar’s response was that it was no big deal because he has lots of other titles from his days in Umno. But no Malay politician can really move or be effective if he or she is in the bad books of the Palace.

His standing within PKR has not been the same since the party election. PKR is badly split by the three-way fight for the deputy president post and some party members are still upset over the way he meddled in the contest.

“The party is wounded. It has yet to recover, the cut was too deep,” said a former PKR assemblyman.

This was evident in the less-than-impressive show of force by party members during the Federal Court hearing. The crowd was a pale shadow of the days when mammoth crowds showed up to support him in court.

“I think he (Anwar) can feel it. The mood in the party is quite cold, they are less bothered than before,” said the above PKR politician.

PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli sent out letters to all the divisions last month to announce that he was organising a Justice Convention to foster unity in the party. He asked each of the 222 divisions to send 200 representatives each.

It was supposed to have taken place yesterday but in another letter dated Jan 2, Rafizi said the convention had been postponed in commiseration with the flood victims.

Party insiders said it was cancelled because of poor response. The event was evidently aimed at consolidating the mood for the impending court decision.

The anti-Rafizi group in PKR is getting tired of his habit of asking division leaders to send an unrealistic number of members for events. They pointed out that during last year’s party election, some divisions could barely muster 100 members to turn up and vote.

During the court hearing in November, he had asked for five busloads of members from each division. The end result was only several hundred people protesting outside the courthouse.

Rafizi’s critics said that he cannot move the ground and that he should swallow his pride and ask deputy president Azmin Ali for help in mobilising members in the Klang Valley. The power base in PKR is shifting towards Azmin. As Selangor Mentri Besar, Azmin has the clout to get people to turn up and show support for Anwar.

According to one lawyer, those who had expected an early judgment were being unrealistic. Judges, he said, also need to clear their leave at year’s end and take holidays with their family during the long school break.

Chief Judge Tun Arifin Zakaria, who is among the five judges presiding over the appeal, recently said the decision would be soon and that the parties involved would be notified two weeks before the judgment.

The news sent little tremors through the political circle, a sign that Anwar is not quite the spent force painted by his critics. The day of his judgment will be major, whether he is found innocent or guilty.

This man has dominated national politics for the last 16 years with his ambitions and political tenacity. Unfortunately, his personal life also made news alongside his politics.

The Federal Court hearing was full of the stuff that are not normally mentioned in polite society – anus, semen, KY jelly, soiled underwear and so on. But the shock appeal has worn off and the accuser, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, has almost become a side issue.

The spotlight at the last hearing was on the two leading legal personalities, prosecutor Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and defence counsel Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram. They are what some lawyers term the “Queen Counsel of Malaysia”.

The Star added to the drama with a front page report headlined, “Best for last – all set for the clash of the titans in court”.

Entertaining trial

Gopal is quite witty and had brushed off the controversy over his cross-over from Bench to counsel by saying: “I am like a taxi and must serve any passenger who hails me.”

The former Appeals Court judge is certainly no ordinary “taxi driver” and, from most accounts, it will be a very expensive taxi ride.

The two men are at the top of their game although those following their submissions thought they were equally well attuned to the political game. Their submissions, at times, sounded like some dramatic TV script rather than legal arguments and seemed aimed at the court of public opinion rather than a court of law.

Gopal was quite entertaining as he painted the trial as a political conspiracy against Anwar. Shafee reciprocated by drawing up a colourful picture of Anwar’s personality and his special relationship with Saiful.

All that is over and now comes the serious part. Many perceive this as a political trial but the Bench will have to decide based on the factual arguments.

Anwar has faced many big moments in his life but this could be his biggest because it could set him free to continue his quest to be the next Prime Minister or it could end his political career for good.