March 4, 2010
September 16, 2008 never happened and Anwar Ibrahim explains
by Aidila Razak
He nevertheless sees a sliver lining in the aborted takeover bid. “I thought the Sept 16 episode, although it did not happen, created the impression that we have a credible force which can offer an alternative (to BN).”
Being the incorrigible optimist that he once described himself, Anwar (left) views Sept 16 rather positively. “Yes, we did not succeed and some are disillusioned and disappointed. And some are wavering in their support because the process seems slightly delayed. But it will happen. Of course, it depends on Malaysians.”
Anwar attributed that failure to the Parliament speaker’ rejection of a vote of no-confidence in then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
“So we had a problem because the understanding with the MPs, particularly those in Sabah and Sarawak, was that they could only do it in Parliament, in one go, because otherwise, the harassment and intimidation would be unbearable for them.”
In this (fourth and last part of Malaysiakini’s) interview with Anwar last week, the opposition leader also defended Pakatan’s decision to delay the implementation of local council elections and the two-year track record of Pakatan state governments.
Excerpts of the interview follow, with content edited for language and brevity.
Malaysiakini: The last time we interviewed you, we were skeptical about Sept 16, but you told us to ‘wait and see’. We did, and nothing happened.
Anwar Ibrahim: I had (at that time) confided in (PAS president) Hadi Awang and (DAP leader Lim) Kit Siang, that we had the numbers and the decision was to write to then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (below) to secure an appointment to discuss the future of the country.
He used this to say that we didn’t tell him what we wanted to say specifically, but my thought was that you don’t go and tell a prime minister of a country that you want to sack him. So he refused (to give us an appointment). He didn’t reply to the letter.
We wrote another letter to the speaker of Parliament to ask for an immediate session for a vote of no-confidence. Practice requires him to get the agreement of the PM, and that was also ignored.
So we had a problem, because of the understanding with the MPs, particularly those in Sabah and Sarawak ,was that they could only do it in Parliament, in one go, because otherwise, the harassment and intimidation would be unbearable for them.
Some of them had officers coming to their house, and they faced intimidation from other instruments of the government. So we had to review and forestall it.
What happened to those who had agreed? Have you lost them?
We are still in touch. Some of them have reaffirmed their positions, some said ‘just wait and see’. What we promised was a peaceful transition, a change, and it will be in one go, because it is too much for them to bear, knowing the might (of BN) and their vulnerability in the face of the oppressive instruments of the BN.
It looks like the tables have been turned on you. With Perak, it went the other way. Did you see it coming, the fact that (then Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak) managed to organise a coup?
Probably not in specific terms, but the Pakatan leaders were aware. That’s why we took a very, very tough stance against Najib (left) as Prime Minister. Firstly, because of his failure to clear his name on the issue of the murder of Altantuya (Shaariibuu), massive corruption relating to Scorpene and Sukhoi jets.
So we thought it is very difficult to expect him to play a fair game, because it is his personal position and liberty at stake, and, if you see the speeches of Pakatan leaders before (Najib’s) appointment, many anticipated this.
Soon after, he clearly demonstrated his vicious manner towards the opposition – through parliament and threats, bribery, and we know this transcends political leaders, but also to bloggers and activists at different levels.
We’re talking about hundreds of millions of ringgit disbursed for this purpose, and more so because it involves two Perak state assemblypersons, who came and confided in me.
They said they were confronting this huge problem. I said, “You fight it” because the MB briefed me and said the legal advisor of the state and the lawyers told him they had a strong case.
What (the Perak assemblypersons) said was pertinent at that time. They said, “It’s okay for you. If you go to jail you will get a lot of support. For us, we have a problem. Secondly, we are under serious harassment.” I sensed that they were facing a lot of difficulties. We tried talking to them and not long after, they disappeared. One of the wives called me here at the office, and told me her husband disappeared.
I said, “Why don’t you make a police report?” and she said, “I can’t.” The next day, she said (her husband) was with Najib, but there had been no communication. So we knew that there was something going on, but we couldn’t do anything much because there was this threat – you either join UMNO and leave Pakatan and PKR, or you go to jail, and (the assemblypersons) have not denied this.
But do you agree that your credibility has suffered because of the failure of Sept 16?
I don’t know if it suffered but of course, I was questioned. Some were very disappointed. Okay, I mean, I cannot absolve myself completely, but as you know, we are dealing with a very oppressive regime.
They asked, “Why did you announce earlier?” The strength of the announcement is to make sure there will be a peaceful transition. You are dealing with this ruling clique who are, you know… you see the racist agenda that is permeating across the board.
I sense in my dealings with non-Malays that they don’t probably comprehend the severity of this racist impact on the Malay psyche.
You have judges, ustaz, civil servants saying, “Look, we are talking now about Malay survival. And Anwar is on the other side.”
To me it’s not hopeless, you still can (win over the Malays).You go to Jerantut, Malay heartland, or you go to Jeniang, pure Malay heartland and ten, twenty thousand Malays come out to listen (to us).
The BN papers acknowledge that they say it is out of curiosity, whatever. They are prepared to come to listen which means that they do not consider you a traitor to the Malay cause. I thought the September 16 episode, although it did not happen, created the impression that here we have a credible force which can offer an alternative (to BN). First 2008 and then September 16.
It will not be a Chinese government, and it will not cause civil strife. It was just a debate of whether it will happen or not. It is not about causing an explosion in this country. I view it positively. Yes, we did not succeed and some are disillusioned and disappointed.
And some are wavering in their support because the process seems slightly, slightly delayed. But it will happen. Of course, it depends on Malaysians.
Back then, the opposition had an advantage in terms of Internet warfare. Now it seems that there are a lot of UMNO bloggers and cybertroopers, playing a much more active role on the Internet and alternative media.
They are more in numbers but clearly less in terms of quality. What UMNO does is they buy them over. I know bloggers who change sides because they like the comfort – some taken as editors. You can sense the true face of these people. They’re not there for a cause; there is no sense of mission. After some time people will be able to gauge for themselves but we need to do more.
Credit goes to Selangor. TV Selangor which is able to penetrate a bit more. But the problem is still the rural areas. Can you imagine staying in Sungai Burung? Of course, there are some graduates there but mostly just villagers.
Sometimes they get pamphlets and from time to time they get Suara Keadilan and Harakah, but other than that it’s all government propaganda. The government knows this.
I heard this on the radio. A girl was saying, “Uncle, you have experienced the atrocities of the communists, (former communist leader) Chin Peng (right) and the rest.” And a man says, “Yes, they were atrocious, so many were killed…” so one and so forth.
Then the man says, “But now there are traitors among us, people like us, who have no understanding, who are doing this, protecting Chin Peng and forgetting the fact that so many were killed.”
So in that first round, the first few weeks we lose the battle. Then it will take weeks and months for us to recover. Have we recovered? To a large extent, yes, from the communist episode.
Then there is the ‘Allah’ episode. The first few weeks they win, all because of the media, but I don’t think they last for months. They were so sure that it was on the front page for weeks on Utusan (Malaysia), but now, (they are) completely quiet.
But your strategy is to go down (to the ground) yourself?
Not by myself, using the machinery.
Yes, but it means that there will always be stones to throw at you from time to time. You are now on the defensive, instead of the offensive, like when you were working towards September 16.
You are right. In fact in the last Pakatan meeting, (we decided that) the position is to attack, even on the sodomy charge, the issue is to attack Najib and (wife) Rosmah (left) for their conspiracy and dirty machinations.
(And) to revive the issue of Perak – although we have always been on the attack on that issue – and to revive the issue of PKFZ (Port Klang Free Zone).
I was in Felda Jerantut, and we said in the event that we are being attacked by foreign powers, we will line up our jets. The commanding officer says, “Start your engine” but nothing happens. He asks the pilots, “What’s happening?” and he says, “No, engine. In Uruguay.”
They know this. It’s quite interesting. You are right, we should move, and even if we are to explain issues, we must always be on the offensive.
There have also been complaints about the (opposition-held) states’ performances, and that some of the previous government’s practices are still in force. There are also unfulfilled election pledges like local council elections, which is a test for the Pakatan government. What’s your take on that?
I don’t think local government elections are the key thing for Pakatan. I am, as a matter of principle, for that. I have studied the report. It happens to be a very long report and a very contentious issue. I have discussed this quite a number of times informally with PAS leaders who have expressed concern over the cost of conducting elections.
The Election Commission will not be with us. We have to run it on our own. As agreed upon within Pakatan, once we get the parameters right, I think we can go along. Now, we have not got it, the cost, the mechanisms have not been worked out. To me, there is no turning back. This is a democratic principle.
But to say that this is the thing, we have not done it, therefore we have failed?
We could be faulted for delaying the study, it should be a priority. But we are governments under siege. Every single step of the way, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is there.
They have not gone to my office in Shah Alam yet. But this is ridiculous. Everyone is all tied up with procedures (because of this).
I went to a housing project in the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ), which didn’t have a certificate of fitness (CF). I told the MPAJ, “Bagilah… (Just issue it)” but they say “Oh no, there is a small part of form which has been filled up wrongly, so we cannot give it.”
So I asked if they can give a temporary one, they said, “Yes, but we cannot give a full CF because we are scared. What if MACC comes?” So they have this bogeyman (haunting them). Even to do the right thing – to give a CF for a house that is ready, everything is approved, so that people can move in.
But because of a small technicality in the form, they have to delay it for two weeks. They have that problem, but otherwise, you see Selangor now, compared to the past, has made major inroads.
Look at Penang . If you ask me, of course, I have had some experience in government, I say there are some things they can do faster, better. But to be fair to them, they have done remarkably well.
Even in Kedah, this quota issue is blown out of proportion. The fact that Menteri Besar, Azizan Abdul Razak (left) could get RM38 million extra from timber extraction for the same amount is remarkable.
Don’t underestimate it, because he too was under intense pressure from his supporters. “We want to the concession. We are in power.” But he said, “No, you pay RM19,000, compared to RM1,000 in the previous case.”
I would certainly highlight that because the major issue with our governments has been the issue of good governance, transparency and accountability, and to rid the state of corruption.