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  MALAYSIA
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     Anwar -- traitor or victim?
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  Straits Times Interactive      Friday, September 4 1998
 

   Mahathir decided to sack his No 2 after satisfying
   himself that his deputy was unfit to lead, say
   sources close to the Prime Minister

   FOR nearly a year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri
   Dr Mahathir Mohamad refused to believe that
   his hand-picked successor was involved in immoral
   sexual activities.

   He scolded a Cabinet minister and chased him
   out of the office for bringing news of unsubstantiated
   allegations and gossip.

   Says an aide: "The minister was his close aide for
   over 15 years but he just dismissed him."

   When a widely-circulated poison-pen letter detailing
   his deputy's inappropriate behaviour was making
   the rounds, he ordered the police to arrest its author
   and others believed to be behind it.

   Publicly, he rubbished the allegations and told
   delegates at the Umno general assembly last year
   to stop believing slander.

   The turning point came when several people,
   including a high-ranking executive of a public-listed
   company, came forward with allegations about
   Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's homosexuality and
   philandering ways.

   They put their names to affidavits despite being
   warned by police that they could be charged
   under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

   To satisfy himself, Dr Mahathir spoke to each
   of the seven witnesses alone, hoping to pick
   out discrepancies in their testimonies.

   Said the aide: "He was shocked at the vivid details
   and their unwavering decision to stick to their
   stories despite being challenged."

   One witness alleged that the Deputy Prime Minister
   had unnatural sex with him.

   Another said his wife became the target of Datuk
   Anwar's amorous advances.

   These same witnesses recounted their stories on
   Tuesday night at a hush-hush gathering of chief
   ministers and mentris besar at the Prime Minister's
   official residence.

   According to senior Umno officials, the chief
   ministers also heard a tape recording of a flirtatious
   conversation between Datuk Anwar, who is married
   with six children, and the wife of a divisional Umno
   leader.

   The party leaders hold considerable sway on the
   ground and will be instrumental in convincing party
   members that Dr Mahathir was left with no choice
   but to sack his deputy.

   They were also briefed on classified documents
   found at the residence and office of Magnum director
   S. Nallakaruppan, an Anwar associate.

   Sources said history weighed heavily on the Premier's
   mind and stopped him from moving earlier against
   his deputy.

   Two deputy prime ministers, Tan Sri Musa Hitam
   and Tun Ghaffar Baba, left government under a
   cloud of controversy. Said another Mahathir aide:
   "He said that people would point their finger at him
   and say that it is Dr Mahathir who cannot work with
   his DPMs. That is why his No 2s always resign."

   The 72-year-old leader was also mindful that his
   No 2 had built up considerable influence and a
   support base in the party since being persuaded
   to join Umno in 1982.

   Over the years, the former student radical who was
   held under the ISA in the 70s for masterminding
   demonstrations has wowed many with his oratory
   and deep understanding of Islam.

   His moderate lifestyle and background as a Muslim
   leader also went down very well with the party rank
   and file.

   At the end of the day, it was his public posture as
   a leader of high moral standing which also cost him
   dearly.

   Dr Mahathir told his inner circle that it was
   untenable for "someone who has been groomed to
   be the leader of Malaysia" to have these tendencies.

   So untenable that he cancelled his trip to the Non-
   Aligned Movement meeting in South Africa this
   week because he could not stand the idea of
   appointing him as the Acting Prime Minister.

   An aide to Dr Mahathir said: "Do you actually
   think that he cancelled the trip because he was tired?

   "His schedule at home over the last few days has
   been more taxing.

   "A leader who preaches from the pulpit and then
   does these things cannot hold the reins of power."

   It is believed that Umno power brokers Education
   Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Foreign
   Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi threw their
   lot behind Dr Mahathir after listening to the evidence.

   Datuk Najib's aide told The Straits Times: "Mahathir
   put his name and reputation on the line when he
   brought Anwar into the party.

   "He put his reputation on the line when he promoted
   him.

   "He put his reputation on the line by sacking him.
   He has much to lose. That is good enough for Datuk
   Najib."

   Datuk Anwar's aides scoff at the idea that
   Dr Mahathir acted with a heavy heart.

   They said a plan was hatched a few months ago
   to discredit the No 2 and force him out of government.

   The turning point came at a Johor Umno convention
   on Sibu Island where Datuk Anwar made his now-
   infamous speech, warning Malaysia could go down
   the road of Indonesia if political reforms were not
   taken.

   His camp said this speech spooked Dr Mahathir, who
   feared a Suharto-type overthrow was being planned.

   To make matters worse, there were widespread
   rumours that 30 Umno MPs sympathetic to Datuk
   Anwar were going to ask the Premier to resign.

   Matters came to a head at the Umno general
   assembly.

   Datuk Anwar's attempts to undermine Dr Mahathir's
   presidency backfired.

   Attacks by his allies on alleged corruption and
   nepotism in the government were viewed as a
   direct assault on Dr Mahathir.

   That sparked almost immediate retaliation.

   In rapid succession, the Premier reduced his
   deputy's influence in government.

   He appointed his trusted lieutenant, Tun Daim
   Zainuddin, as a special-functions minister and
   forced the resignation of two powerful newspaper
   editors known to be Anwar loyalists.

   Around the same time, his deputy was confronted
   with renewed accusations of sexual misconduct.

   His aides say the plan to remove him was drawn
   up once "fear had been created by some parties"
   that he was going to mount a challenge to
   Dr Mahathir's presidency of the party next year.

   They say party veterans went around the country
   sullying his reputation by accusing him of being
   an immoral leader.

   At a closed-door session in Kota Baru recently, a
   party veteran said while Muslims could take up
   to four wives if they were not satisfied with one,
   they should not have relations with another man.

   Others blamed Datuk Anwar's economic policies
   for the severe contraction of the economy. Said
   an aide on Wednesday night:

   "We saw the build-up. It was just a matter of time.
   Our people were being questioned by police. All
   sorts of pressure."

   At the press conference yesterday, Datuk Anwar
   also suggested he was a pawn in a well thought-out
   plan.

   He said now that currency controls were in place
   and the economy insulated, it was safe for his
   enemies to move against him.

   In this way,there would be minimal effect on the
   economy when news of his sacking became known
   in the international market.

   "I was not prepared to resign as I was already
   aware of a pact or conspiracy at the highest level
   to ruin me, " he said.

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    Copyright ) 1998 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.
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