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Wikileaks: Anwar may be convicted ‘at all cost’

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim may be convicted for sodomy – his second in 10 years – based on the assessment that he is a threat to Umno’s continued rule at least until the next general election.

The leaked US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks stated that Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Umno elites may decide that the political cost of prosecuting Anwar are “acceptable” and pursue the matter aggressively inside and outside court.

pkr congress agm kota baru 300510 anwar speechTheir overriding goal would be jailing Anwar and removing him permanently from politics, according to the 2009 diplomatic note classified as confidential by Mark D Clark, the political counselor at the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

“While asserting that this is purely a law enforcement matter, the government exerts political pressure as necessary, accepting reputational risks in the process, and achieves a conviction after months of high-profile drama in the courtroom,” said the cable, which was sent to the US State Department in Washington two years ago by ambassador James R Keith.

“The courts will hear and reject Anwar’s appeals in an expedited manner, well ahead of the next national elections in 2012 or 2013,” said the cable.

According to Keith, this scenario appeared to be in play during the initial months of the case and in the lead-up to Anwar’s September 2008 deadline to take over Putrajaya, although it has been less apparent since then.

The ambassador added that while recalling the deep “personal animosity” between Najib and Anwar, and the singular importance of the de facto PKR leader to the opposition coalition, this scenario remains plausible, even though Anwar’s immediate threat to Umno’s rule has passed.

Three political scenarios

The leaked cable titled ‘Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial II – a primer’ presented three potential scenarios as to the outcome of the court case.

Najib at Pandan Umno AGMIn these scenarios, the US Embassy had assumed that Najib would exercise the “deciding voice” on how and whether to proceed, though he also would need to weigh the opinions of other Umno ruling party elites.

In the first scenario, the government would seek a conviction against Anwar “at all cost”.

In the second scenario, Keith stated that the government may proceed with the prosecution but refrain from exerting undue pressure to achieve conviction.

This may happen as the government believes that the evidence presented and the court proceedings themselves will sufficiently damage Anwar’s reputation, outweighing harm to Najib’s credibility, Keith said.

However, a conviction remains the desired outcome, supported by sufficient evidence, but the government accepts some risk of a final verdict of innocence after all appeals are heard, he stressed.

“This scenario rests on the assumption of sufficiently clear evidence against Anwar that will swing public opinion in favour of the government even in the event of an eventual acquittal,” said Keith.

“Absent of greater information on the government’s evidence against Anwar, it is difficult to judge the prospects for this scenario,” he added.

Discharge not amounting to acquittal

Keith also presented a third ‘plausible’ scenario where the government may withdraw the case against the Permatang Pauh MP.

This is when Najib and Umno elites decide that the government’s case is not strong enough to pursue, entails unacceptable political costs, or is no longer necessary because of the diminished threat from Anwar.

In this scenario, the government withdraws the charges prior to the trial, or after the trial begins, possibly under conditions of “discharge not amounting to acquittal”, said Keith.

azlan“Lawyers tell us that such a discharge in theory would allow the government to reactivate the case at a future time, thus maintaining this as a lever over Anwar,” he said.

“Najib, confident that he can beat back an opposition challenge in the next election, attributes the original decision to prosecute to the previous administration of Abdullah Badawi and takes credit for respecting the rule of law in this high-profile case involving his determined political nemesis”.

In contrast to 2008, Najib who is currently secure in his position as Umno leader and prime minister, along with Anwar’s diminished threat, may make the third scenario a political possibility, added Keith.

However, some Umno elites, and perhaps Najib himself, may not want to give up the opportunity to remove Anwar from politics once and for all, he added.

Anwar’s sodomy trial, which is going into its second year, will resume next month with further testimony from the defence witnesses.

The opposition leader is charged of sodomising his former political aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, in a Kuala Lumpur condominium on June 26, 2008.

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