This week Video Journalist Mark Davis reports on the latest twists and turns in the political return of Malaysia's controversial opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim.
The resurgent politician has set September 16th as the day that he’ll have the numbers to topple the 51-year-old ruling party.
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Anwar's comeback has been remarkable. The former deputy PM who was beaten in police custody, jailed for corruption and sodomy and currently faces fresh sodomy charges, recently won an important by-election in a landslide.
Yet Anwar's march to power still faces major problems. Next week, his sodomy trial date will be announced. However as Davis reports, the country is reeling from the leaking of a doctor's report that says there's no evidence that Anwar sodomised his assistant, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.
The explicit and confronting notes from the doctor's medical examination of Azlan were published on the internet by a well-known Malaysian dissident. The government has since closed his website down, raided his home, confiscated his computers and charged him with sedition.
As for the doctor, he's fled to Burma in fear of his life. A second doctor – this one from a government hospital – backs up the aide's claim that was sodomised.
Mark Davis speaks to Anwar Ibrahim to get his take on these latest twists and turns, and Davis also reveals the lengths to which Anwar has gone to shore up support for him and his party.
Is Anwar Ibrahim going to shake things up and change the face of Malaysian politics forever?
In Malaysia, they call him Mr Unstoppable but even that doesn't really do justice to Anwar Ibrahim. A short time back, the former deputy prime minister spent six years in jail on corruption and sodomy charges, was badly beaten by police, barred from politics and is now facing more sodomy charges. Enough, you would reckon, to put any normal human being off public life for good. But despite all this, Anwar has fought his way back, determined to bring down the government and take control of the country. Here's Mark Davis.
REPORTER: Mark Davis
Two months ago Anwar Ibrahim was hiding in the Turkish Embassy, accused once again of sodomy and fearing that the nightmare of a decade ago was about to be replayed.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): They stripped me naked twice, measured my private parts and probed my insides. What else do they want to do? Isn’t that enough? I have been badly tortured, is this right?
A month ago, still free but with smears swirling around him, it seemed his public life was over. Exile or a quiet retirement or seemed his only options. But today he is stepping back into the ring.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): They claim to be helping the Malays. Which Malays? The in-laws, the ministers’ sons or the Malay people?
He is running in a local by-election to win a seat in Malaysia's parliament, to directly face the ministers he believes are conspiring with police to destroy him. Once there, he believes he has enough pledges from government defectors to join his PKR party and bring down the government that has so tormented him and ruled here for 51 years.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): If Anwar enters Parliament ‘we, God willing, will cross over to join the PKR.’
It is an optimistic plan, to say the least, and still suffering from the injuries of his former arrest, a heavy task to visit every corner of this electorate.
ANWAR IBRAHIM: It is extremely tiring for my back condition after the surgery, although I am able to move fast.
REPORTER: Do you have trouble walking up the stairs?
ANWAR IBRAHIM: Yes the stairs are a problem, but otherwise I am OK, but the schedules are punishing.
At every stop Anwar makes it clear that he is not just running to be a local member – he is running to be PM.
REPORTER: Obviously it is your ambition but is it a reasonable ambition?
ANWAR IBRAHIM: We have 84 now, we don’t need very much more and we have had serious commitments on condition that I make it to Parliament, so that is why you can see the entire resources of government – they are really..
REPORTER: They have to stop you, they have to stop you.
ANWAR IBRAHIM: They have to stop – my worry is I hope not at all cost. That is why you can see me stepping up the security, changing cars.. it is ridiculous.
Across town, a government party man is letting rip.
UMNO PARTY MEMBER, (Translation): Liar, liar. He still can’t answer where he was during the time in question.
Although there has been no trial or any detailed allegations yet, the ruling UMNO party is running with the assault charge as their primary campaign weapon. In tents like this in every village of the electorate of Permatang Pauh, in Penang, this video is running on a loop.
SAINFUL BUKHARI AZLAN, (Translation): In accordance with the preachings of Islam and following the advice of Muslim scholars and Muftis, I say that I was sodomised by Anwar bin Ibrahim.
The accuser, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, is swearing on the Koran that he was attacked by his former employer in June this year.
SAINFUL BUKHARI AZLAN, (Translation): I want to reiterate here that the incident happened without my permission.
In deeply religious Malaysia, even the hint of an allegation like this – although denied and still unproven – should be enough to finish off any candidate for public office. But, incredibly, the polls are suggesting that Anwar may win.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): You almost beat me to death, you broke my back- it’s fixed. You put me in jail for 6 years, caged me and treated me like a dog – I am out and I am fighting back, right?
The fact that Anwar is still standing – physically and politically – is remarkable. It seems his central message that the government is corrupt and only serves its cronies is still cutting through all the other noise. The manner in which evidence was fabricated against Anwar last time has made many voters suspicious of the justice system in Malaysia and Anwar's ribald humour has made it easier to laugh off the accusation.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): Answer me, don’t just carry on about men and women or whether you like playing in the front or up the back. Yes, this is dirty. They can’t win the politics so they play this way.
But the real key to Anwar's success is his ability to tap into the marginalised minorites of Malayasia – the Chinese and the Indians.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): All the children of Malaysia are our children, a Malay child is my child, a Chinese child is my child, an Indian child is my child.
More than a third of the population are not ethnic Malays. Chinese and Indian Malaysians have been historically shunned and silenced by the ruling UMNO party with its mantras about Malay rights and all the arms of the state to maintain them.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): When I say this, UMNO attacks me, they say this Anwar is a traitor, he degrades the Malays – Stupid.
After five decades of one party in power, Anwar's recent promise that within weeks he can topple the government and form a multi-ethnic democracy – unthinkable a year ago – has a heady allure.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): Give me two weeks , in September and we will head straight to Putra Jaya to govern.
And it would seem, despite the lofty ideals, Anwar is a skilled as any politician at keeping in touch with the common issues.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): When we reach Putra Jaya, we will form the government and the next day the price of oil will drop.
REPORTER: Do you think the Chinese are supporting you?
ANWAR IBRAHIM: Good support by the Chinese.
REPORTER: Why the Chinese do you think?
ANWAR IBRAHIM: I think the very racist campaign and policies of UMNO, they are beginning to get more desperate and when they become more desperate they become more racist.
His multi-ethnic vision may be selling amongst the Chinese and Indians but he still has to swing the Malays on board. As he is essentially denied television coverage, he has to do that village by village, and there's a lot of those in this part of Penang.
REPORTER: Where are we going now, do you know?
ANWAR IBRAHIM: I'm not sure. I had to ask him.
REPORTER: You’d better know the name of the village otherwise you will be in trouble.
ANWAR IBRAHIM: I made a mistake once, I mentioned a different village. I said I was just testing you guys to see if they were awake.
WAN AZIZA, ANWAR WIFE, (Translation): If you want to fight, fight on the real issues.
Anwar's wife, Wan Aziza, knows this electorate well. She is resigning her parliamentary seat to allow Anwar to run for it. A daunting prospect, given the heavy price she has already paid for his political involvement in the past.
WAN AZIZA (Translation): Ten years ago my children were aged from six to sixteen, for years they attended school not knowing that their father was in prison.
REPORTER: This must have been a very frightening moment when you heard the new allegations, where were you and how did you hear of them?
WAN AZIZA: I was actually I think in the car, when Anwar say that there are going to be new allegations, of course it was frightening to think that we have to go through all this again.
REPORTER: Did you have a moments thought that it could be true.
WAN AZIZA: No, of course not. He has been through this ten years ago. Not just men but women, like he is a sex maniac.
WAN AZIZA, (Translation): Terrible things are being said about my husband, as if I do not have feelings. As if my children don’t have feelings.
As yet, no evidence or any details of the allegations have been released and Anwar is holding his alibis and specific defences for the court room. But one document has just surfaced lending some credibility to Anwar's denial. R. Sivarasa, MP and Anwar legal adviser, holds the first report of the first doctor to see Saiful when he claimed he had been assaulted.
R. SIVARASA, MP: This was the first medical report and it is crucial. It clearly shows no physical assault took place. The patient claims that he was assaulted with a plastic item, no bleeding from rectum – all clean.
This was a damaging leak for the government and police. To make matters worse, the public soon discovered that the doctor had fled the country, saying he was concerned for his safety after being visited by Malaysian police. He has now reportedly sought refuge in Burma.
R. SIVARASA: He was concerned for his safety.
REPORTER: He prefers the safety and good governance of Burma by all reports.
R. SIVARASA: If he is there, if he is in Burma.
The doctor may have been wise to flee. The journalist who published the report on his website, Raja Petra, has just been raided by the police. Not many journalists get mobbed like this when they go out in public. Raja Petra, maverick journalist and member of the Malaysian royal family, posted the doctor's report on his blog, Malaysia Today – just one of a string of breaking stories that have embarrassed and outraged the government and given him a legion of fans across Malaysia.
MAN: It’s always like this. You can’t take him anywhere.
RAJA PETRA: We've got lawyers, journalists, government members.
With all his papers and equipment confiscated, Raja Petra is back online today with his fellow bloggers at the Sunflower restaurant, HQ for the alternative media in this election.
RAJA PETRA: We're just monitoring the government media. We are giving the other side of the story, honest reporting.
His 'honest reporting' has seen him imprisoned under the Internal Security Act before.
RAJA PETRA: Well I have accepted the fact that the government wants to put me in jail. We know how charges can be fabricated, if you wish – you know.
Now he is facing a slate of charges that could see him locked up for a decade. After a couple of years of relative freedom, charges of criminal defamation and sedition are now being prepared against Raja Petra, while the cold hand of state propaganda is tightening its grip on the mainstream media.
ANWAR IBRAHIM: Look at this – “Anwar is a sodomist”.
REPORTER: They’re saying that in print?
ANWAR IBRAHIM: Yes it is scurrilous.
There may be a shortage of crowds but no shortage of cameras for PM Abdullah Badawi. All of the UMNO big guns have come to town for this by-election. Projects, money and promises are flowing freely.
ABDULLAH BADAWI, PM: They wanted me to come. They have a problem, so I come.
REPORTER: Why is an important person like yourself here? Are you taking Anwar's threat seriously that he'll bring down the government?
It is a stunning turn of events that Badawi must now be considering the possibility that he may only have a few weeks left in power.
ABDULLAH BADAWI: Yes.
The interview isn't forthcoming and other ministers are also reluctant to talk. It seems that the government is starting to batten down the hatches as the Anwar campaign stays remarkably afloat.
As Saiful's video plays once again, Khairy Jamaluddin brings a certain star quality to the event. Khairy is a multimillionaire, an MP, the PM's son-in-law and reputedly the most powerful man in the government.
KHAIRY JAMALUDDIN, MP (Translation): Our brother Saiful has sworn with an open heart, without persuasion or any force from the government, without any conspiracy. If there is something bad about him, it must be said now. He is an ordinary candidate. He is dreaming of becoming Prime Minister of Malaysia, that is why this is about his credibility, credibility as a leader .
Khairy is often the focus of attacks by Anwar and the subject of Raja Petra's blogs. They portray him as enriching himself on government contracts and commissions. And tonight he is more than happy to repay the compliments.
KHAIRY JAMALUDDIN: If you talk about Anwar and his attacks on the government, it’s not just been policy, I mean his attack on the deputy prime minister, for instance, has been relentless and personal in nature. And so absolve themselves and say ‘we are holier than thou, we’re whiter than white, stop the personal attacks’. I think it’s a bit late for that.
The sodomy charges form the cornerstone of the UMNO attacks but there are other common themes as well.
REPORTER: Is Anwar an agent of America?
KHAIRY JAMALUDDIN: Well lets put it this way, his relations with the United States and the United States government has been well documented, since he was deputy prime minister and he is too close, too close to the Americans.
REPORTER: Is he an agent of the Jews, that is another one of your quotes.
KHAIRY JAMALUDDIN: well, he is too close to certain interests in the United States and certain interests that are aligned to certain factions.
REPORTER: Is he anti Malay?
KHAIRY JAMALUDDIN: Well his policy platform today, if you look at it today, I think leaves much to be desired as far as the Malay community is concerned.
REPORTER: Will you vote for him?
KAMAR AINIAH, LAW EXPERT: I'm his lawyer.
Kamar Ainiah, a sharia law expert, is handling Anwar's case in the religious courts. Anwar is now charging Saiful with slander. Whether he can overcome the poltical damage these accusations have caused or not, the Saiful affair is going to haunt Anwar for a long time to come.
REPORTER: So you could have a situation where Anwar is convicted in criminal court and Saiful is convicted for slander in religious court?
KAMAR AINIAH: Yes. But we don’t think that will happen.
Anwar’s legal ordeal has only just begun but for now he is sticking to his message about race, corruption and nepotism in Malaysia.
ANWAR IBRAHIM, (Translation): While they are taking bribes, I am fighting for justice for the Malays. They get contracts worth millions in the name of the Malays and give it to whom? Contracts worth millions to the in-laws.
It's election day and Anwar's party has issued a high alert after claiming a scam is unfolding involving the registration of illegal voters. Supporters discover five busloads of people from out of town, allegedly carrying false IDs and sent into vote for UMNO. They've surrounded and delivered the buses to the police. But the police arrests that follow take all by surprise. Two of the men who captured the buses are taken into captivity. Within moments of a crowd gathering to protest, the police respond predictably. Whatever the situation, no-one in Malaysia would dare stand their ground on the approach of the Malaysian riot squad.
As the votes start to come in, it seems that the crowds gathering outside the electoral office tell their own story. Anwar supporters gather in one half of the field, the other side is set aside for the government supporters. By early evening the trend is clear.
RAJA PETRA: This is a resounding rejection of those personal attacks and the people don’t want anything to do with that sort of politics anymore.
Anwar delivers a thumping victory, doubling the vote of his UMNO opponent and leaving little doubt that Malays have also voted for him in droves. A night of celebration but Anwar appears anxious – relieved at getting over the line perhaps, but he'd have little doubt that it is just the starting line that he's crossed.
Back in Kuala Lumpur, the aftermath of the election has bought a new headache for Raja Petra. The communications authority has blocked access to his website ‘Malaysia Today.’
REPORTER: What's happened?
RAJA PETRA: They've shut me down and then they say lets talk, I will not negotiate under duress.
Raja Petra believes that the authorities are closing in on him and others who've put themselves on the line for Anwar. It's not just the government who are now wondering whether Anwar is just bluffing in his claim that he can take power this month.
RAJA PETRA: well I suppose Anwar has to deliver, he has promised the nation -16th September – there is going to be a regime change, no one asked him to promise, no one gave him a deadline, no one said ‘Anwar, we want a new government on the 16th September,’ he volunteered that date, he committed that date and he repeated it. Come 16th September, which is Malaysia Day, if Anwar somehow, does not form a new government, I think that millions are not only going to be disappointed but they are totally going to lose confidence in him. Anwar’s credibility will take such a beating..
REPORTER: Well you have got through stage one, what is stage two?
ANWAR IBRAHIM: We are now in the midst of discussions and negotiations with the friendly parties and the members of parliament and it is very much on track.
Anwar is holding his cards close to his chest but he has no doubt that his coalition is holding and since the by-election, that he also has ethnic Malays on board his movement. The threat of September 16 isn’t phasing Khairy Jamaluddin.
KHAIRY JAMALUDDIN: Well of course as the day comes closer, a lot of rumours, a lot of chatter going about, but I think we know our legislature better than Anwar Ibrahim does and I believe that the 16th September will not happen and he has stated a lot of his credibility on this and it is for him to prove and not for us to prove anything.
It's Independence Day in Kuala Lumpur, and all of the state agencies are on parade, for 51 years they have marched for Malaysia, and for the UMNO party, one and the same for many. September 16 will see whether they are marching for new masters or perhaps chasing down the supporters of a failed, tilted power.
RAJA PETRA: If Anwar doesn't form the government, Anwar will be in gaol together with me.
Raja Petra was arrested without charge on September 12 under the Internal Security Act. The Act provides for renewable, two-year periods of detention without trial.