Anwar: No way are they sending me back to jail
exclusive The last time Malaysiakini sat down for a chat with Anwar Ibrahim, he was the man of the hour.
Fresh from a string of victories in the 2008 general election, he was then about to leave for Permatang Pauh to make his political comeback.
A year and a half later, however, his Pakatan Rakyat coalition is on the defensive. There is a new and more robust prime minister in charge. Pakatan lost Perak after BN engineered a number of defections.
Anwar himself is facing another controversial sodomy trial. But being an incorrigible optimist, he remains upbeat.
In this first of a four-part interview, he tells Malaysiakini about his battle to clear his reputation in a second sodomy charge leveled against him, which he concedes is a liability in the battle for Malay votes.
But unlike the Sodomy I trial 10 years ago, Anwar is confident of staying out of prison despite all the “dirty machinations” by BN.
He also said that, although Najib is a stronger opponent than his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Pak Lah), he does not hold a candle to his other adversary, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“Mahathir’s strength is that he fights things head on. Najib is never known to have the capacity to face up to things,” he explained.
Anwar said that Najib’s tactics of using Umno mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia and institutions such as the judiciary to smear him is a sign of “cowardice” and “sheer hypocrisy”.
“I know their personal lives, I was their friend…. Who is talking about morality here? In Islam – be it sodomy, adultery, drinking or corruption – who can pass the test? Name one person. Can Najib pass the test?” he asked.
Anwar served six years in prison for corruption and sodomy. He was freed in 2004 after his sodomy conviction was overturned by the Federal Court.
Excerpts of the interview follow. The content has been edited for language and brevity.
Malaysiakini: It seems that since Sept 16, 2008 Pakatan has lost momentum and that Najib, notwithstanding the Perak episode, has been coming up with initiatives that are getting media attention, thus giving BN the upper hand. Do you agree?
Anwar Ibrahim: I would say that in the first three months (of Najib’s term in office), yes. You have (the global public relations firm Apco Worldwide), fully-financed to craft this liberal image and (they are) temporarily successful.
So you have this façade of this nice guy trying to reform the country, and then you have this hidden agenda and black hand using all these powers – the Special Branch, the Malaysian Anti- Corruption Commission, the judiciary, (attorney-general) Abdul Gani Patail and the prosecution – to ‘beat up’ opposition leaders.
It’s not just Anwar, it’s (Kelantant Menteri Besar) Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, it’s (Penang Chief Minister Lim) Guan Eng. I think the more effective you are, the more the beatings. So I think the situation has changed dramatically.
Was he (Najib) successful in Perak? Yes, but only in taking over the government. But (was he) successful in terms of winning the hearts and minds of Perakians? I’m not sure.
(Was he) successful in trying to portray that he is the champion of the Malays, contrary to his public image and persona in his 1Malaysia concept? People know it is sheer hypocrisy, done to please some segments. I don’t think he is convincing anyone.
The only issue is now, to me, the battleground is the Malays, because they tend to repeat this in their incessant propaganda and mechanism using instruments like Utusan Malaysia. (This is) clearly racist. The true Umno agenda is in Utusan Malaysia, the façade is Najib’s 1Malaysia.
You mean to say that just because the Chinese and the Indians don’t read Utusan they are completely ignorant? No. So the battleground is among the Malays, which means we, particularly the Malay leaders … and I’ve said to (DAP leader Lim) Kit Siang and Guan Eng is that even the Chinese leaders need to go down, not only to court the support of the Malays but to show that here in Pakatan Rakyat we have a breed of Malays who remain committed to the Malay and Malaysian agenda, which we will have to explain.
We have Chinese leaders who say, ‘Look, this is the stark reality. We are not here to have a Chinese government’.
Do you think that Najib is a tougher opponent than Pak Lah?
Tougher in a sense that he is more vicious and ruthless. You can see it in the case of Perak. You saw that he was prepared to call (the former Perak Pakatan assemblypersons) to his house for days, which is not usual. I mean, he doesn’t care that people associate him with dirty machinations, because he thinks he has Apco to cover his international image.
(Najib) would have no qualms … look at the present case. That he could call up the young man, and (sodomy complainant Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, right) admit to meeting him before the (police) report….this is not done if you are any decent sort of political player. Stalin, Hitler, I don’t know. I have not heard or seen anything like this throughout my experience.
(As for) the judiciary, the (Perak) 5-0 decision in the Federal Court means that they don’t care. The way they dismissed the (royal) commission report in the VK Lingam case. You can name it, one after another.
Clearly, we are in for a tougher challenge, which is also a sign of desperation. I’m sure his advisers would tell him, ‘Look, we don’t have an option. The (BN) component parties are in complete disarray. We have to hold on to Umno, get these Malays, hold the base and threaten the rest’.
Would you put Najib on the same rank as Mahathir, in the way he is using state institutions?
Yes, in some ways, because Mahathir is a very strong influence (on Najib). I don’t see much difference, although Mahathir’s strength is that he fights things head on. Najib is never known of having the capacity to face up to things.
More subtle in a sense?
I don’t consider that subtlety. I consider it cowardice, because he has never in his entire political career had to face up to a challenge.
On one hand, he has 1Malaysia, and on the other he has Utusan. Some argue this is because of a split between him and deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin, who is seen close to Mahathir. Do you agree?
I don’t know, and I am not keen to comment on that. The rationale that Najib is a true Malaysian leader … and then there’s Utusan. Utusan is under him! It is totally naïve to think that here is the prime minister and president of Umno and he has no influence over the police, the AG, the judiciary and more so, the media.
The president of Umno has absolute control of the media, but more so Utusan because it is their mouthpiece. That, you can read, is the real Najib.
He wants to make sure to dilute some of the attacks because then he can turn around and say that he didn’t say anything. He didn’t say it, but Utusan (did and it) is under him. How do you deny it? Probably get some of his boys to say this might be Muhyiddin, that the prime minister has nothing to do with this.
So you think his fingerprints are there.
I am absolutely certain. I have been associated with Umno and I know how the prime minister and the president of the party controls (Utusan). It’s absolute.
Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor came up with a statement recently denying that she is the one pulling his strings. Knowing Najib as you do, do you agree?
She may be right. It’s not strings, we’re talking about ropes. [Laughs]
Rosmah and Najib have also been alleged to be involved in the ‘conspiracy’ levelled against you in the sodomy charge. How confident are you of winning the case?
I don’t know about winning, but they cannot even prefer a charge with compelling medical evidence. If they are determined, they have to fight it out, and it’s not easy.
They have to send Abdul Gani of all people, the most discredited AG in the region, to defend the issues of law and governance in Washington DC. They will send him to Australia, Turkey, Indonesia, Qatar … so I say, ‘Good. You send the AG as the roving ambassador and save the country’.
The Australian MPs are backing you quite strongly.
Not only the Australian MPs. Some do it quietly. I know of presidents and prime ministers of countries who have written to Najib and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
But based on the Sodomy I trial, it looks like they are hell-bent on getting you. Your bail wasn’t granted and you went straight to prison.
(Judge) Augustine Paul is gone, but then the same thing is happening now. You see the change of judges, the issue with the charges … they think they have improvised and are more sophisticated in the charge, but they made enormous blunders too.
In the first charge, no medical evidence was required. In the second charge, they had medical evidence but that has actually forestalled the process. They can smear, and they will continue to do that to my reputation, to my character, they have done that for the past 11 to 12 years. They have done everything. Not that I like it, I am actually sick of this.
It reflects the worst of characters, (those) who claim a moral position. The worst form of hypocrisy. I’m not saying this…this is (already) in the public domain. I know their personal lives, I was their friend. Don’t forget, I was deputy prime minister and had quite some powers, overseeing the Anti-Corruption Agency, and the Special Branch reported to me.
But what do I do? Do I choose to play their game? No, I don’t. They should thank me because I have not been provoked to the extent of opening up the cases that I know of. But that does not stop them.
I remain confident not because I am naïve and unrealistic, but it is a tough sell. Mahathir did so, and he just couldn’t be bothered, known to disregard every single rule. Of course, now, everything has been exposed in the Lingam tape. I have redeemed myself, I am vindicated. In fact, the Anwar case, for me, is strong enough.
Now we also have the billionaire list, which includes his son (Mokhzani). I don’t need to pick a fight with (Mahathir).
We have Najib, who wants to portray himself as a liberal man, a reformist. He can’t have this and at the same time think that Gani, the mediocre AG, will help resolve the problem. He can’t.
So I am confident. (DAP adviser) Dr Chen Man Hin, (told me), ‘Keep up the good fight’.
You are the central figure for Pakatan and PKR. Can the coalition and party hold it together if you go to prison?
I don’t think this is true, because many of the programmes, for example the ones that (DAP secretary-general Lim) Guan Eng (left) and (Penanti state assemblyperson Mansor Othman) organised in Permatang Pauh, they attracted a huge crowd even without me. In Perak, there are huge programmes.
But sometimes they do want to pull slightly larger crowds, (and) so okay, I can do that.
You’re confident that, without you, the party will survive?
So far, the programmes in Penang, Kedah, Perak are going on without me. And I’m not going to jail. No way are they sending me to jail. For doing what?
Even if you don’t go to jail, hypothetically, will the party be able to survive if you are out of the picture? Because you are a personality cult, people are in it because they support you.
Of course, people talk about it. But I was out of the picture for six years and things were still going on.
People were backing your fight for justice. If we take Anwar out of the equation, will PKR…
Don’t give them the idea of me going out of the picture. These guys are nasty. That’s why I’ve stepped up my security. It’s a bit annoying and people complain, they say, ‘We can’t even shake hands with him’. But we have our intelligence and people advise us, so I have my hands tied.
Relating to the sodomy charge, some people say, there is no smoke without fire. How do you react to that? People are saying that ‘perhaps…
No, this is tak baik (not right). You accuse the people, then you smear them, which is unprecedented. Nobody in Malaysia, or throughout the world (has done this). Look at history, Chinese history, Indian history, Muslim history, there is nothing…
It just shows how vicious, how dirty the machinations, how desperate these people are. So a (police) report has been made, should I be investigated? Yes. Should a charge be preferred? No.
You ask any legal expert, any Muslim expert, internationally, to look at the charge. The charge says, ‘Yes, the doctor said it’s conclusive, but we don’t think it’s conclusive’. What is this? It’s a joke.
Medical evidence is medical evidence. This is the first charge in the world that people know of where you can prefer against a person when there is medical examination and findings (against it). That’s it. Why this ‘smoke and fire’ and all that?
My friend, a doctor in Washington told me, ‘You can’t have pretty girls in your office because your wife will not approve. You cannot have young, handsome men because it will lead to suspicion’.
So I asked, ‘Then what happens?’
‘Have 70-year-old ladies as your secretaries’. [Laughs]
What Mahathir (right) did was to implant suspicion, and what Najib does is to reinforce this. But do you let these evil forces to succeed? Do you allow these dirty machinations to succeed?
Again, why this hypocrisy on personal lives and morality? Who is talking about morality here? In Islam – be it sodomy, adultery, drinking or corruption – who is talking about it now?
An immoral person cannot lead. But what is immorality in Islam? Who can pass the test? Name one person. Can Najib pass the test?
Speaking of campaigns, you are now being used as the poster boy for gay rights internationally. What do you think of that?
[Laughs] What do I do to them? I have quite a strict moral code myself but I don’t impose.
I know some Malay friends who (are known to drink, so) what do I do? Do I not be friends with them? No, but I say, ‘Please don’t drink in front of me because it will embarrass me and cause problems’. Why this pretentious manner of imposing a moral code?
You can preach nicely. My understanding of Islam is that. There is a clear (understanding) that is not for you to probe, peep and then publicise to humiliate people.
These are the works of rogues who are trying to show as if they are so pious. I mean come on, oh my God … you know these characters, their personal character