Far from being discredited in the public eye, ‘DSAI’ has grown much closer to the common people than when Mahathir made him a ‘martyr’ of sorts, writes Khoo Boo Teik
Imagine you were Anwar Ibrahim in September 1998. The pharaonic PM had turned off the lights on you (even cutting the power supply to your residence). On cue, the controlled media sensationalised your alleged immorality, never once referring to your reputed religiosity.
In self-preservation, the politicians ‘in the know’ shunned you like a pariah, forgetting that they used to flatter you as the ‘anointed successor’.
By hardnosed calculation, ‘smart money’ erased its memory of turning to you, as Finance Minister, to calm the financial market spooked by Mahathir’s ‘madness’ during the 1997 financial crisis.
Acting to orders, the police raided your home, captured you as if you were a terrorist, and hauled you to the IGP, who beat you into unconsciousness.
And then the Attorney-General and the judiciary lined up to send you to jail, first for six years and later for another nine years.
Would you not have thought at some point that it was all over? Or could you have endlessly resolved to start all over again? (See ‘All over? Or all over again?’, Aliran Monthly, September 1998)
You aren’t Anwar, of course; nor am I. Still we know that Anwar told the PM (aka Mahafiraun aka Mahazalim to Reformasi dissidents) to drop dead.
Anwar chose to start all over again: from Permatang Pauh he defiantly called for Reformasi.
He realised who had rallied to him. They were the common people, not BN’s YBs or the ‘fat cats’ who vanished when he was dumped.
He knew what his goals should be: justice, a clean political system and a better life for the common folk.
And out of the prison, from time to time, Anwar would smuggle ‘ideas’ on how to reorganise dissent against the ‘BN government’ (as the reliable Syed Husin Ali tells us in his memoirs).
The rest is history. But it is history that we’re making. It has carried us very far, past the BA’s disappointment in GE10, the Opposition’s debacle in GE11, and the tsunami of GE12.
With it, we’ve come to a crucial pre-GE13 moment. Now, it’s necessary to ask an exceptionally important question: How does Anwar appear to Umno?
To the UMNO leaders, Anwar must appear as a terrifying opponent. Najib Razak, Muhyiddin Yasin and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi were subordinate partners in Anwar’s winning ‘Wawasan Team’ in the 1993 UMNO election.
Not one of them spoke against his maltreatment. Rather they profited from his fall. After he returned to active politics, they hatched new plots against him. Yet their monopoly of state instruments, media and untold resources could not contain Anwar as the abandonment of Sodomy II amply showed.
Instead Anwar has outwitted them at almost every turn. Most recently, his bold Jelajah Merdeka breached UMNO’s former fortresses, even gaining symbolically from the petty vandalism committed against the Jelajah bus.
Look into his eye
As UMNO leaders fear the loss of power in GE13, they also fear retribution from an Anwar-led Pakatan government.
Who among the UMNO leaders, their staunchest allies, most favoured cronies, and most obedient senior civil servants would not lose sleep over fabricating charges against Anwar and Pakatan figures? Who among them would not have to explain how they had amassed riches beyond the possibilities of ‘fair dealings’ or a lifetime of honest toil?
From being Deputy PM and Finance Minister before, and probably from many sources today, Anwar knows enough about lop-sided contracts, sweetheart deals, mismanaged projects, and nepotistic awards to ruin many people who fancied themselves to tower above the law.
Anwar, who suffered a ‘black eye’ in 1998, has said that he won’t seek ‘an eye for an eye’. But if public anger mounts against ‘corruption, cronyism and nepotism’, what’s to stop the new government from investigating some of the most outrageous cases and prosecuting those involved?
At various ceramah, Anwar promised ‘closure’ and reconciliation. But that‘s cold comfort to UMNO leaders. They who honed their political instincts under Mahathir would not trust a politician to keep his election promises. Besides, they have peddled so many lurid tales of Anwar’s tainted character that they can’t possibly believe him now.
Catalyst of collapse
Thus far there’s no sign any UMNO leader can rationally consider the prospect of losing GE13 and regrouping to fight GE14. The February 2009 coup in Perak, the desperation to regain Selangor ‘at all costs’ and Najib’s belligerent call to defend Putrajaya to ‘the last drop of blood’ betray a deep fear that Anwar’s triumph will catalyse UMNO’s disintegration.
One reason lies in the UMNO leaders’ relationship with the voters: the former have no nobler vision than to trade 1Instantnoodles for nambikei on polling day. If UMNO should lose control of the purse-strings of power, so that lu tak boleh tolong gua, gua tak boleh tolong lu, then UMNO wouldn’t know how to reinvent itself as a viable opposition with a committed constituency.
Another reason is internal. As UMNO’s original mission of ‘Malay nationalism’ degenerated into cronyistic and nepotistic ‘Malay capitalism’, rivalry for patronage and largesse intensified UMNO’s factionalism. Consequently, every major political crisis after 1969 involved an UMNO crisis over shifting political and economic fortunes. Mahathir’s persecution of Anwar had that dimension, as did Mahathir’s later assault on Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Truly, GE13 is UMNO’s existential battle: Ini kalilah! If it’s ousted from Putrajaya, UMNO may not even have an ignoble mission to keep its membership intact.
What has UMNO not done to keep Anwar down and out? Its leaders have thrown every kind of calumny at Anwar. They have imprisoned him, tied him down to relentless prosecution, and tried to drive a wedge between him and PAS and DAP.
Yet, far from been discredited in the public eye, ‘DSAI’ has grown much closer to the common people than when Mahathir made him a ‘martyr’ of sorts. Today, burgeoning ceramah crowds warm to him when they hear him speak of their burdens, their problems, and their sufferings. They don’t heed his UMNO detractors who live far removed from the hoi polloi whose nambikei UMNO solicits.
For that matter, Anwar is not a figure of controversy in Pakatan. On the contrary he has become Pakatan’s undisputed leader in ways that no one from PKR, DAP or PAS can presently be.
When Mahathir set out to destroy Anwar in 1998, little did Mahathir suspect he’d only turn ‘DSAI’ into an icon of dissent who would return in the form of Reformasi to cause Mahathir’s ‘optional retirement’!
Ten years later, having learnt nothing from Mahathir’s failure, UMNO tried again to destroy Anwar only to watch him ride the tsunami to a hegemonic stature in national politics that no one from UMNO can aspire to.
What supreme historical irony!
When Anwar fell, apologists of the Mahathir regime derided Reformasi as being ‘merely about Anwar’. Today Anwar, Reformasi and the tsunami – not to mention BERSIH 2.0, HINDRAF, BERSIH 3.0, BERSIH Merdeka, and KL112 – have merged into one huge and inseparable spectre that haunts UMNO on the cusp of GE13.
Now imagine you’re Najib or any of his ilk in UMNO. Would you think that it’s all over? Would you ever be ready to start all over again?