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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jailing Anwar: What good would it do the BN?

Sulaiman Kamal | 3:48 PM | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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Cracks are beginning to show within Umno and Barisan Nasional as its leaders face mounting pressure on all fronts with speculation of an imminent general election setting the backdrop for renewed all-out offensive against Anwar Ibrahim.
Already daggers have been drawn against the charismatic PKR and Pakatan Rakyat leader, whom many within Umno still perceive as BN’s main threat in the next election and one they would like to see removed from the political equation at any cost.
Their concern appears well-founded bearing in mind that Anwar’s standing within Pakatan is still strong and he has not wavered in his role as the lynchpin of the opposition coalition despite the many trials and tribulations, most notably the ongoing sodomy trial the 64-year-old politician is currently facing.
With the trial drawing to a close, his detractors are already insistent that he is guilty. There are already calls from several members of parliament and former aides of Anwar who have offered themselves to be prosecution witnesses in his sodomy trial. This follows Anwar’s success in getting the court to allow his defence team to call 15 people, including the prime minister and his wife, as witnesses in the trial.

These detractors, with their own political agendas, are sharpening their knives in a desperate bid to outdo each other in assailing Anwar’s character and credibility in what analysts see as a desperate bid to contain any political fallout from the political conspiracies being waged against the Pakatan leader.
Trial revelations
Anwar’s political foes, however, appear to have been caught out by revelations in the sodomy trial particularly the DNA evidence which has dealt a gaping hole in the prosecution’s bid to nail the PKR leader. The prosecution team had been confident of its strategy after having refused to disclose material deemed by Anwar’s legal team as being crucial to his defence. These include its witness list, clinical notes of the doctors from Kuala Lumpur Hospital, witness’ statements and forensic samples for independent examination and verification.
It is the latter, particularly the DNA samples, that have turned the tide in Anwar’s favour. Australian consultant molecular geneticist Dr Brian Leslie McDonald told the Kuala Lumpur High Court that the samples taken from Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan were likely degraded before they were sent for analysis.
He pointed out blatant irregularities in obtaining the swabs and even went so far as to chide government chemist Dr Seah Lay Hong over discrepancies in the labelling of two bottles which contained swabs taken from Saiful for DNA analysis. Dr McDonald went so far as to say it was not an option for a scientist to assume what the date should be, adding “it’s a sackable offence”.
Another witness, Associate Professor Dr David Lawrence Noel Well, testified that it was rare to find sperm samples on rectal swabs taken 65 hours after sexual intercourse. The Australian forensics expert, the head of Forensic Medicine at the Victoria Institute of Forensic Medicine, said that in his experience, it was very rare to get a positive result if the specimen was taken after 65 hours.
With the politically-charged trial not going according to Barisan Nasional’s well-crafted script, Umno hardliners have ratcheted up their attacks on Anwar and Pakatan with almost non-stop attacks via the BN-controlled traditional media and by spinning its propaganda to camouflage the setbacks and failings of its leadership.
The dilemma of the Umno leaders
However the incessant attacks have raised questions even among some BN stalwarts if the Umno leadership has run out of ideas in formulating a game plan for the 13th general election which is looming ever closer on the horizon. Some have openly expressed frustration that Umno has got its priorities wrong by focusing its campaign solely on attacking Anwar whom they feel is a spent force.
Others have speculated that it could be Umno leaders’ ploy to demoralise and destroy PKR which has a lot of ex-Umno members in its ranks. They feel Umno’s attacks on Anwar will demoralise PKR members to switch loyalties back to Umno. The strategy does not appear to have gone down well within BN component parties, too, who feel more pertinent matters, notably the economy and bread-and-butter issues, are being compromised in Umno’s unrelenting blitz to once and for all get rid of Anwar and by default his PKR party.
Analysts view the Umno leadership’s Anwar-bashing as a manifestation of the personal rivalry between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, who once rose together through the ranks in Umno and the BN federal Cabinet. Najib is well aware of the charismatic Anwar’s potential to galvanise the grassroots within PKR and Pakatan, and concurs with his strategists that Anwar remains the main threat - perhaps not just for BN at the next elections but also to him as a Malay leader.
They say the move by Anwar’s defence team to subpoena Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor to testify in the sodomy trial has further upped the ante and the Umno president is now determined to contain any possible political fallout. Umno insiders say there is genuine concern in the party’s rank and file over possible damage the trial will have on Najib and the consequences to their candidates at the polls.
Umno insiders also say Najib’s obsession with vanquishing Anwar has also riled up the rest of BN and prefer him to grapple with more pertinent economic issues on the domestic front such as inflation, unemployment, rising prices, brain drain, massive corruption and perceived injustices in government policies.
BN facing dim prospects
There is speculation that BN’s prospects at the next general election are growing ever dimmer by the day with the coalition leadership at odds over a common political platform to tackle the many issues the country is facing. Many already fear that the next ‘political tsunami’ could well spell the end for the current crop of BN and Umno leaders.
Some Umno leaders have boldly told Najib to reconsider his strategy against Anwar, who is still widely perceived to be the glue that binds Pakatan and the only credible Malay leader still having a principled stand and integrity particularly with the dearth of talent in Umno. The prospect of Anwar being imprisoned in the sodomy trial could well trigger a bigger backlash not only in Umno but the BN as a whole. They have openly argued about the prospect of Anwar behind bars becoming a rallying cry for change on a similar scale as the ‘Anwar black eye episode’ particularly among the youth, dimming whatever political prospects the BN still holds.
Political developments in the country have already caught BN and Umno leaders in their slipstream and Najib and Umno’s credibility is wearing thin following the recent Bersih rally and the recent Malaya-never-a colony fiasco which have left many wondering if the BN leadership is caught in a political time warp that could cost them dear come the next general election.
After having come down hard on Bersih leaders, Najib finally acceded to many of their requests by agreeing to set up a parliamentary select committe to look into electoral reform which was the basic premise behind the Bersih rally. Others, particularly BN component party leaders, feel Najib had compromised in favour of Umno hardliners by failing to engage with Bersih rally organisers. It is widely perceived as a failed gambit by the prime minister’s detractors and one that sent a wrong signal to the rakyat.
Observers feel Najib could face a political whiplash in the event Anwar is found guilty in the sodomy trial and is imprisoned. Jailing the Pakatan leader would be perceived by the rakyat or populace as another dirty trick in the BN’s smear campaign and this may well translate into a loss of votes for Umno and BN, too, while it plays into PKR and Pakatan’s hands with growing sympathy for Anwar. The consequences they fear may well transcend communal politics and provide the beacon that Pakatan leaders are pinning their hopes on for the next political tsunami.
Focus on trial
All eyes are now on Anwar’s sodomy trial and how it will play out. This has prompted some Umno leaders to pressure Najib to call for early elections to contain the fallout while others would prefer Anwar being behind bars and what they hope would rob Pakatan of a visible leader to rally them to victory.
Analysts say Najib is presently leaning in favour of the latter as this would give him time to consolidate his hold within the party and rush through the electoral reforms, in whatever form, to avoid any backlash or claims of dirty campaigning. More importantly, what with the bearish global economic outlook the prime minister would like to see some initial return from his much-vaunted government transformation programme. Others see the state of the economy playing a pivotal role in any decision the prime minister makes on the date for the 13th general election.
However, Anwar’s fate is paradoxically linked to Najib’s. Calling a general election before Anwar’s trial reaches a conclusion could play into Najib’s detractors claims that the prime minister is panicking and trying to contain any political damage the trial may bring. The alternative scenario is even more daunting as the sight of Anwar behind bars may well raise a crescendo of protests, both at home and abroad, that the BN and Umno may well not be able to recover from even if the 13th general election is pushed right to end of the government’s mandate in 2013.
Many perceive Anwar’s sodomy the trial as unjust and the charges levelled against the former deputy prime minister and one time rising Umno star as trumped up and a grave injustice to the Pakatan leader. He and his wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, continue to hold sway over Pakatan despite the numerous challenges faced. Their constant presence at PKR and Pakatan rallies appears to electrify crowds and their influence on the political winds of change may prove immeasurable in the coming months.
There is also a rising clamour by BN component parties for Umno leaders to “get their heads out of the sand” and tackle the grave challenges looming over the horizon for the nation that could well force Najib to show his hand in setting a date for elections. Some BN leaders have even mulled the option of pulling out of the coalition to spare themselves the whiplash they fear is inevitably coming their way. So far the prime minister has managed to hold sway over them to sweep away the cracks that are slowly but surely emerging.
Those cracks may widen beyond repair if PKR and Pakatan ride on the wave of sympathy that Anwar will generate whichever way his trial goes.

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