Anwar Ibrahim: Let us debate on economic and scandal issues for a better Malaysia rather than personal attacks

Economic debate or scandals town-hall, Najib will scamper

Written by Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

It looks like Prime Minister Najib Razak has been slapped with a new challenge after he rashly warned his arch rival Anwar Ibrahim that he possessed 'information' that could give the Opposition Leader a 'fever'. Anwar has now countered the PM with a warning of his own.

"Datuk Najib, let me remind him for the last time, if he raises personal issues again then I am willing to debate personal issues, but as a responsible politician, I would like to tell him no. Let us focus on economic issues,” Malaysian Insider quoted Anwar as saying in Tenang, where a by-election will be balloted at the end of this month.

Port Dickson and Isa Samad

But sad to say, Malaysians can be sure that this will be another debate that Najib – the ne'er-do-well scion of one of the country’s best-known political famililies - is likely to scurry from as fast as he can or his minders carry him.

Despite his relative youth, Najib has spent the past 33 years in cushy high-level government jobs. Now 57, the son of second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein, Najib never had to prove his mettle. The red carpet was always rolled out for him and he was always served the best.

Not surprisingly, corruption (of the large-scale sort) and sex scandals (always allegedly with the prettiest and the most nubile of starlets) have dogged his career.

“Don’t test me or I will tell them about Port Dickson,” the 63-year old Anwar had warned Najib as far back as in 2008 when he was contesting the Permatang Pauh seat and Najib was trying to create voter disgust against him with sodomy accusations.

It is ironical that some 2 1/2 years later, the latest ‘scandal-dare’ is being rehashed at the scene of another by-election - this time in Tenang, Johor, where Najib is relying on new Felda chairman Isa Samad to pull in the rural Malay vote for BN. Coincidentally, Isa is the man who allegedly held custody of the damning photos that showed Najib in a state of undress with a Malay actress popular at that time.

The scandal sheets had then been abuzz with his purported fling with Ziana Zain, and even now, a Google search with their names will raise thousands of results carrying all types of news reports, stories and speculation about their ‘link’ even though Najib was a married man and his wife none other than the controversial Rosmah Mansor.

It is strange that the mainstream media has never dared to ask Isa, who was at that time the Negri Sembilan chief minister, if the rumors were true.

Altantuya and 114 million euros

If they were to ask Najib, he would surely deny the speculation. The same as he has done with Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaarriibuu. Over and over again.

But Altantuya is more than just sex and lust. It is even more than large-scale corruption – perhaps to the tune of 114 million euros. It is also about murder – about a human life removed in a most cruel way.

Altantuya has haunted Najib since she was murdered in 2006. Any Malaysian you meet on the street will be able to recount the tale of how the beautiful 28-year old came to Kuala Lumpur, chased Najib’s close friend Razak Baginda for money, perhaps even tried to blackmail him for her share of illicit commission in a submarines purchase sanctioned by Najib and then ended up dead in a jungle clearing in nearby Selangor – shot in the head, pregnant and blown to bits with military-grade C4 explosives.

By comparison Anwar’s alleged sexcapades seem tame. Yes, sodomy is prohibited in Islam but Anwar was acquitted of sodomy charges pressed against him in 1998 by former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

How fake that trial was needs no raking up. Both Malaysians and the international community not only condemned the injustice of that persecution, it was so contrived it shook Umno to the core and the party has still not recovered from what was basically a power struggle between Mahathir and his ambitious but capable No. 2.

Beacuse of Sodomy I, Anwar the former deputy prime minister found himself sacked from Umno and a new party, PKR, was born. Mahathir's mistreatment of Anwar drained huge support from the BN, spilling into unprecedented voter support for the DAP and PAS.

But as usual, BN has chosen to close its eyes to this bit of history, preferring to take the easy way out by accusing Anwar and PKR of having no raison d’etre other than his sodomy trials. If they did their homework, they would realize that 1998 was the year a lot of Malaysians decided enough was enough. 'If they can do this to Anwar, no one is safe. We have to speak up' was a common refrain.

Sodomy II

Ten years later, that feeling grew even stronger. In 2008, BN lost 5 of the country’s 13 states and Najib faced the prospect of never being able to become prime minister.

He was then the deputy premier and trying to oust Abdullah Badawi, and Malaysian folklore has it that it was actually Badawi’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin who leaked out the juicy Altantuya tidbits to the press.

So it was with Rosmah that Najib was accused of cooking up Sodomy II and there are grounds to believe that this may have been the truth. Not only did Najib meet Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the complainant against Anwar, he actually tried to deny the meeting only to be forced to retract his words when photographs began surfacing in cyberspace.

Now, this particular point as well as the many other fundamental flaws in the Sodomy II case have been raised many times by Anwar, his lawyers and even by international lawmakers and the diplomatic corp. And to Malaysia’s great shame.

Yet, to ask Najib to allow the transparency clamored for by the public to flow through both the Altantuya and Sodomy II cases would be to ask him to hand over the Umno presidency to his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin. Already, the talk among many Umno watchers is that Muhyiddin is in an advanced stage of preparation to oust his boss.

Economic debate or scandals town-hall - do it professionally

But even if Najib cannot reopen the Altantuya case and allow lawyers to ask the bodyguards accused of killing her who instructed them to do so, or allow Anwar access to key information his lawyers need to prepare his defense, the PM can at least clear the air on these two vital issues in a public debate with Anwar.

Both cases actually pose the greatest risk to Najib’s own political survival, rather than Anwar's. Therefore, Najib should grab the opportunity to pin down his rival and rebuild his credibility with Malaysians. Even if not in the format of a debate, then a townhall of sorts. From body language alone, the people will have good idea as to who the liar really is.

Otherwise, if he chickens out again, Malaysians will continue to dismiss him as being the least useful and the most wastrel prime minister the country has ever had. In Malaysian English, they would complain Economic debate cannot, scandals town-hall also cannot.

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