As Malaysian opposition parties and social activists, emboldened by advances in the March general elections, prepared to hold a giant protest against recent oil price hike (petrol up 41%, diesel up 67%) in Kuala Lumpur on July 6, a series of disturbing events unfolded.
New allegations of "sodomy" were made against Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto leader of the People's Front (PR) opposition
alliance. Anwar had previously been arrested and jailed on similar charges but they were subsequently overturned by the courts. The new charges came as soon as his plans to re-enter parliament (through a by-election) were discovered by the ruling National Front (BN) government. Anwar has claimed he will have enough defections of MPs from the BN to form government by September.
On July 3, Anwar countered by releasing evidence that suggested that there was a high-level cover-up of involvement of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak in the investigation of a murder of a Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaaribuu, in October 2006. Police arrested and charged a prominent political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda — who has close ties with Najib — with her murder. Altantuya's body had been blown to bits using military-grade explosives in jungle near the capital.
The evidence suggested corrupt behaviour by Najib around a notorious multi-billion dollar deal to purchase submarines. Altantuya appears to have been killed because of her unspecified role in clinching this shady deal.
However, later that night the person who made the allegations against Najib in a sworn statement, Balasubramaniam, disappeared and remained uncontactable by Anwar's office. He suddenly resurfaced the next day and told a hastily called press conference: "I wish to retract all the statements that I have made (because they) are inaccurate and not the truth. I was compelled to affirm the ... declaration under duress." He refused to take any questions and disappeared again.
"Something must have happened to the man last night", said Sivarasa Rasiah, vice president of Anwar's Justice Party (PKR). "The inevitable conclusion is that he was intimidated by someone or a group of people ... connected to political figures who have an interest in seeing him make the retraction", he said. "This reaffirms our stand that there is a pattern of abuse in the system."
On July 3, a five-day joint military-police exercise was announced. At this announcement the police inspector-general Tan Sri Musa Hassan said military-police cooperation was crucial because political parties, non-governmental organisations and individuals were organising more illegal assemblies.
'Public order problems'
The chief cop said the exercise, to be conducted in the area of the capital, was to show that "public order problems" could be tackled by both forces. Asked if this meant that the armed forces would be used to tackle illegal assemblies, he said this would only be so if they were asked to intervene by the home ministry and an emergency declared.
Musa's statement was clearly meant to intimidate, Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) Secretary General S.Arutchelvan told Green Left Weekly on July 4. "It has convinced many in the opposition that the declaration of emergency rule is an immediate threat and, as a result, last night the PR parties decided to shift the venue of the July 6 protest to a sports stadium.
"We in the PSM and some others disagreed with this because we think that the best way to prevent emergency rule is by mobilising the greatest numbers on Sunday. But we lost the vote."
The PSM had earlier issued a statement entitled "Mobilise people's power to defend democracy", which called for the opposition parties and social activists to form a multi-ethnic volunteer "Peace Corps" to defuse any possible attempts by the ruling elite to use thugs to trigger racial clashes, as it did in 1969 when the opposition parties last made significant electoral gains. The government-provoked racial clashes were
then used as the excuse to declare an emergency and bring out the army against the people.
'Multi-ethnic peace corps
The PSM statement argued that opposition groups "have the resources and the support of the people to dampen down and stop ethnic attacks. We need to be ready to mobilise our members and supporters such that we can send multi-ethnic peace corps comprising of men and women to communities under threat of ethnic attacks by the thugs. These peace corps should mobilise the local communities concerned to organise joint patrols of the localities in question.
"While the Peace Corps maintain peace and order in the streets, the leaders of the PR can negotiate with the powers that be that the issue be resolved through legitimate parliamentary processes. There is no doubt that the breaking of the two thirds majority in parliament as well as the conquest of five states by the PR has propelled Malaysian politics into a new era", the PSM statement argued.
"However it is an era that has great risks as well. UMNO [the main party in the ruling BN] is now akin to an injured tiger. Still strong because it is still the largest single party in the country and it practically controls the levers of government at the federal level.
"However it faces the hitherto unthought of possibility of losing control of the federal government either at the next elections or even sooner if Anwar and the PR can induce enough BN MPs to cross over."