Is Anwar trying to buy time seeking royal pardon?

Zubaidah Abu Bakar

The move to seek a royal pardon for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is a family initiative, says his daughter, Nurul Nuha Anwar. Despite the Federal Court upholding the guilty verdict, Nurul Nuha says the family still believed her father was innocent of the sodomy charge and is being detained as a political prisoner. 

Zubaidah Abu Bakar, The Rakyat Post

MANY were caught by surprise to learn that the family of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had filed for a royal pardon against his sodomy conviction at the last minute.

Most Pakatan Rakyat leaders and supporters of the loose Opposition pact, too, did not see this coming until they were alerted about it via online reports on Tuesday afternoon.

To their knowledge, the Opposition leader, from statements issued by various parties, had refused to seek a pardon from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as such a move was tantamount to admission of guilt of the offence Anwar had categorically denied.

Moreover, Anwar had not instructed his lawyers to petition a pardon on his behalf when they met him in Sungai Buloh prison where he is serving his five-year jail term for sodomising his former aide.

It was a family initiative, so said his daughter, Nurul Nuha Anwar, in a statement released to the media.

Despite the Federal Court upholding the guilty verdict, Nurul Nuha said the family still believed her father was innocent and was being detained as a political prisoner.

The petition sent to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, according to the statement, was based on principles of justice and attempts to slander Anwar.

It was widely believed earlier, from statements made by various quarters, that seeking a royal pardon was out of the question for Anwar.

In fact, most people had been convinced that no such petition would be sought after one of his lawyers, Sivarasa Rasiah, reportedly said just a day earlier that Anwar’s legal team would apply for a review of the decision, as provided under the Federal Court Rules, since a judicial review was not possible for a criminal conviction.

The general understanding was that Anwar would eventually lose his Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat and a by-election would follow suit.

Political parties from across the divide were so certain of an impending by-election that they started preparations on the ground, even discussing possible candidates to contest in the turf that has been in control of Anwar and his wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, for over three decades.

Anwar first won the seat in 1982 and retained it in subsequent general elections in 1986, 1990, 1995 and the 2013 general elections and in a by-election held in August 2008 after Wan Azizah vacated the seat for him to make a political comeback.

Wan Azizah, who is PKR president, won the seat in the 1999, 2004 and 2008 general elections, during which time Anwar was serving his time for Sodomy 1.

There have been interesting theories on why a decision as such was made at the last minute, since seeking a royal pardon normally implied an admission of guilt to the Sodomy 2 charge.

Moreover, there is only a slim chance of Anwar being granted a pardon since a recommendation from the government is needed.

There are those who believed Anwar was trying to buy time. He wanted to hang on to his Permatang Pauh seat and remain as Opposition leader for as long as he could and this again could be yet another attempt on his part, as “the one keeping the pact together”, to ensure Pakatan Rakyat would continue to be on track in its march to Putrajaya.

It may also be a delay tactic to avoid the Election Commission from holding the by-election simultaneously with the March 22 Chempaka state by-election since the Permatang Pauh seat can only be declared vacant if the king dismisses the family’s petition.

Pakatan Rakyat had experienced difficulties in facing the might of Barisan Nasional’s machinery when the pact had to split its resources during simultaneous by-elections in the past.

Both Chempaka and Permatang Pauh are important seats — Chempaka fell vacant following the death of the revered Tok Guru Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and the seat has to be retained with the highest winning majority possible as proof that the demise of the political icon had not resulted in a decrease in support for PAS, and Pakatan Rakyat in general.

The other reason for seeking a royal pardon could be an attempt to cool simmering temperatures within Pakatan Rakyat where two of its components— PAS and DAP — are at loggerheads over the proposed implementation of hudud in Kelantan.

Supporters of three components of the loose Opposition pact are also currently speculating on who should replace Anwar as the country’s parliamentary Opposition leader.

As much as PKR likes to think that the post of Opposition leader should be a leader from its stable, PAS and DAP, too, are interested in the position.

A suggestion that a candidate from PAS be allowed to contest the seat instead of one from PKR had also sparked discussions on the ground on the likely candidate should a by-election be called; one of the three state seats in Permatang Pauh — Permatang Pasir— is held by PAS while the other two — Seberang Jaya and Penanti — are PKR’s.

Whatever reason that Anwar’s family members cited to support their decision in seeking royal intervention, they were exercising what is allowed for them under the law.

As pointed out by PKR vice-president Tian Chua, the petition was submitted under Rule 113, Prison Rules 2000, which states that a prisoner can file a petition to the Agong as soon as possible after a conviction.

After that, a convict can petition the king three years from the date of conviction, and after that in two-year lapses.

The family’s decision is also supported by PKR, which no doubt will continue efforts “to seek justice” for Anwar, its de facto leader.