Anwar’s Possible Void Is Something A Troubled Pakatan Can Ill Afford (Comment)

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 – Loyalists of Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have set the clock ticking as a reminder of their icon’s final appeal over his sodomy conviction. His party’s youth wing, Angkatan Muda Keadilan, had also launched a campaign, dubbed “Rakyat Hakim Negara” (People are the Nation’s Judges) in solidarity with him.

The climax will be a gathering at the Palace of Justice on Oct 28, the day the Federal Court will begin a two-day hearing on the appeal against his conviction. Going by popular belief, Anwar will be heading to jail to serve the five-year jail sentence imposed on him for sodomising his former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azalan, in 2008.

This is said to happen as early as on Oct 29 itself when the trial is expected to end and the latest before the end of the year. It’s a foregone conclusion, according to stories that are going around. In fact, people in his parliamentary constituency of Permatang Pauh in Penang are already talking about a by-election in December since the seat will automatically fall vacant should Anwar be sent to jail.

The countdown and solidarity campaign alone show that Anwar’s supporters are convinced that the Federal Court will uphold the Court of Appeal’s decision in finding him guilty of the offence, which to Anwar and his loyalists, like the first sodomy charge on which he was acquitted, is a mere political smear campaign.

The organisers are believed be using the countdown and campaign as platforms to convince more people that everything — from the time Anwar, then the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, was ousted in a 1998 power struggle, to his conviction on charges of sodomy that were later overturned and corruption to the present five-year jail sentence hovering over his head — are part of a political conspiracy against the 67-year-old politician.

It will mean the end of Anwar’s political career if his appeal is dismissed by the court; he will be 72 years old upon completion of the jail term. But there is a split in opinion that sending Anwar to jail will revive the kind of anti-government protests of the 1998 Reformasi days. By most counts, there will be pockets of protests and gatherings if Anwar has to serve the jail term, but the situation will not be like before, where his supporters took to the streets and caused chaos and damage to property in the name of “seeking justice”.

A lot of lessons have been learnt from the previous episodes. People today, even those who participated in the Reformasi demonstrations, feel more comfortable to speak their minds at the ballot box instead of the streets. More important though is what will the future of Pakatan Rakyat, the loose political co-operation of PKR, PAS and DAP, in Anwar’s absence as he is the unifying factor.

Anwar had managed to bring together three parties of differing ideals, ideologies and aims together to jointly challenge the ruling Barisan Nasional in electoral battles and on issues close to the hearts of Malaysians, such as corruption, justice and good governance. These three parties worked the ground well to win slightly over 50% of the popular vote in last year’s general election.

But of late, especially during and post Selangor Menteri Besar crisis, supporters of the three parties had been trading attacks against each other, leaving Anwar’s ability to keep the three parties together in question. Anwar handled poorly the crisis that is tearing Pakatan Rakyat apart. PAS and DAP, in particular, are still at odds, making political watchers wonder whether they are about to witness a repeat of the earlier failed political co-operation of Barisan Alternatif.

Then, DAP had left the three-member grouping after locking horns with PAS over the latter’s insistence to set up a theocratic Islamic state. Anwar’s absence may well be the start of the end of Pakatan Rakyat; unless another leader emerges to fill his shoes. An implosion of the Opposition pact is a scenario its political rivals await.

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