26 August, 2006

Anwar's return

Anwar's return

The government's crisis, the opposition's opportunity

MALAYSIA'S opposition and much of the outside world saw Anwar Ibrahim as a political prisoner for the almost six years he spent in jail, until his release in 2004. Mr Anwar had been convicted on dubious charges of sodomy (a crime in Malaysia) but most analysts reckoned his real offence had been to present a challenge to the then prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, whose deputy he had been. The conviction was overturned after Mr Mahathir's retirement and Mr Anwar went to teach at an American university. But now he is back home and on the campaign trail, at a time of great tension in Malaysian politics and with an election perhaps only a year or so away.

In recent months, the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has been convulsed by the barrage of attacks Mr Mahathir has launched on the man he chose to succeed him as prime minister, Abdullah Badawi. Mr Mahathir accuses Mr Badawi of being weak, hints at graft in government circles and lambasts his successor for ditching some of his pet projects. Earlier this month Mr Mahathir sent letters to millions of UMNO members, accusing the leadership of obstructing him from speaking at party meetings. Mr Badawi's officials claim Mr Mahathir is plotting to topple the prime minister.

Could the government's crisis be the opposition's, and Mr Anwar's, opportunity? Mr Badawi won the last election, in 2004, by a landslide, partly by promising many of the political and economic reforms that Mr Anwar had called for from his jail cell. Little progress has been made on these, though Mr Badawi has taken the brave step of cutting fuel subsidies. In May's elections in the state of Sarawak, a stronghold of the UMNO-led governing coalition, opposition parties won eight of the 71 seats, up from just one last time.

Mr Anwar is touring the country, promoting his multiracial People's Justice Party, Keadilan. At a press conference on August 24th he claimed Malaysia's electoral rolls were riddled with fraud, giving the example of a tiny shack found to have 142 registered voters. Four days earlier, defying police attempts to ban it, he spoke to a rally of several thousand supporters in Kuala Lumpur. Mr Anwar asks many of the same questions Mr Mahathir poses about the government's competence and honesty. Unlike Mr Mahathir, he also attacks Malaysia's positive-discrimination policies for ethnic Malays.

To get anywhere, Mr Anwar must unite a disparate opposition. His party is small and largely Kuala Lumpur-based. It is led, officially, by Mr Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah, while he awaits the expiry of a ban on political office (on another dubious conviction, for corruption). The two main opposition groups, the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS, mainly Malay) and the Democratic Action Party (the DAP, mainly Chinese), distrust each other. Mr Anwar's attempts to get all three parties to agree a minimal common platform open him to the charge of trying to be all things to all people. Others fear that he is a dangerous opportunist, not above dabbling with Islamic extremism to satisfy his ambitions.

In any case, he has a huge mountain to climb. In the 2004 election the opposition got only 20 seats to the ruling coalition's 198. But Mr Anwar thinks that victory is possible. “We just have to work hard,” he says. A good showing at the next election could see the ruling coalition start to disintegrate, reckons Steven Gan, editor of Malaysiakini, a brave online newspaper.

While hoping that Mr Anwar will stay in opposition and build bridges between Malays and non-Malays, P. Ramasamy, a political scientist linked to the DAP, says Mr Anwar's best chance of becoming prime minister is to rejoin UMNO. If Mr Mahathir's attacks continue, Mr Badawi just might invite Mr Anwar back, as a more palatable way of shoring up his support than appeasing Mr Mahathir. Mr Anwar still has friends in his old party—but also enemies, especially those angling to be Mr Badawi's eventual successor. Mr Anwar insists that the question of his rejoining an “obsolete” UMNO “does not arise”. He notes, though, that it is unwise to preclude any possibility in politics.



PM Questions How Mahathir Could Have Obtained Secret Documents

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 (Bernama) -- Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Friday night expressed bewilderment as to how Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad could have obtained secret documents on Malaysia's offer to sell sand to Singapore as claimed by the former Prime Minister.

"He has the secret documents? How could he have obtained them?" the Prime Minister told reporters after chairing a meeting of Umno's Supreme Council here.

Abdullah was asked if the government would give a written assurance to Dr Mahathir to protect him from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) if he (Mahathir) revealed proof that Malaysia was the one who offered to sell sand to the republic during negotiations between Malaysia and Singapore for a bridge to be built to replace the existing causeway linking the island with Johor.

Abdullah earlier had asked why Mahathir should be afraid of action being taken under the OSA if he merely wanted to reveal the evidence.

"Why should we charge him under the OSA?" he asked.

Abdullah said the government had no problem in accepting the evidence from Mahathir if it was proven that the latter indeed had it.

"If he wants to hand it over, we don't have any problems with that," he said.

Dr Mahathir before this had said that he had with him documents that would show that it was Malaysia which offered to sell sand to Singapore but feared that action might be taken against him if he were to reveal them.



The World's Richest People 2006 - Forbes

The highest ranked Malaysian was Robert Kuok jointly at 114, but most of the time he is staying in Hong Kong. Got his start trading rice, sugar and wheat flour in Malaysia in 1949 and in Singapore in 1953. Today heads multinational Kuok Group with interests ranging from shipping to real estate to media. His Malaysia International Shipping Corporation is the leading dry bulk shipper in the Pacific basin; his Transmile Group, which transports freight by air, has landing rights in China and India. In Hong Kong owns modern warehouse and cargo distribution centers; and in China, plants for processing edible oils and 10 Coca-Cola bottling plants. The group also owns and manages extensive sugar and oil palm plantations, mills and refineries in Malaysia and Indonesia. Has 38 hotels throughout Asia Pacific including the luxurious Shangri-La.

Ananda Krishnan, Harvard Business School grad and former oil-trader, his holdings include Maxis Communications, Malaysia's largest cell-phone service provider, with more than six million subscribers; now entering the Indian cell-phone market. His Measat satellites help telecoms and broadcasters reach customers and audiences across Southeast Asia, China, South Asia and Australia. Also controls racetrack betting and lottery systems in Malaysia via Tanjong Public, was ranked jointly at 147. Genting's Lim Goh Tong at 245th.


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