A leaked diplomatic note from the US embassy in Malaysia to Washington has asserted that Anwar Ibrahim has in his possession evidence linking Prime Minister Najib Razak to the Altantuya murder, as well as kickbacks received from the purchase of Scorpene submarines in 2002 and Sukhoi jet-fighters in 2003.
According to the cable available on WikiLeaks, the Malaysian Opposition Leader was convinced that it was Najib’s aide-camp who had ordered two of the PM’s former body guards to kill Altanutya Shaariibuu. The Mongolian translator, who allegedly helped in the Scorpenes deal, was murdered in Malaysia in 2006 and Anwar also said she had been lovers with both Najib and his close friend Razak Baginda.
The cable from the American embassy also points to the corruption and rot already existing in the Abdullah Badawi administration and eventually hallmarking the tenure of Prime Minister Najib Razak. The abuse of power has not diminished but grown stronger as Najib fights to stay in power, entrenching itself even further into all arms of the government machinery, the civil service and the judiciary.
And this perhaps explains the Pandora Box of events currently being played out as Malaysia heads towards its 13th General Election, widely expected to be called later this year or early next year.
An excerpt from the cable dated January 24, 2007, said:
“Anwar asserted that DPM Najib’s aide-de-camp ordered the killing of Altantuya and that Anwar possessed firm evidence of the 2003 Sukhoi kick-back scheme.
Anwar claimed that Najib had been romantically involved with the Mongolian woman prior to her relationship with Abdul Razak Baginda (Najib’s confidante accused of abetting the woman’s murder), and implied that Altantuya had intended to incriminate Najib as well as Razak Baginda. Leaning forward and in a hushed voice, Anwar asserted that he had firm information that Najib’s aide-de-camp ordered the two members of Najib’s security detail (who are charged with murder) to kill Altantuya.”
Former Deputy Prime Minister and opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim told polchief during their January 18 meeting at Anwar’s Damansara home that high-level corruption had reached dangerous levels and had damaged the nation’s integrity.
Anwar raised as examples the alleged cover-up in the Altantuya murder case and kick-backs paid to fronts for DPM Najib Tun Razak for the procurement of French submarines and the 2003 purchase of Sukhoi aircraft. He felt emboldened to raise these matters in recent press conferences (picked up mainly by internet news services) because he possessed solid information, including documentary evidence in the case of the Sukhoi deal. Much of the information about the latter cases came directly from senior officials who met with Anwar, including the Director General of at least one ministry and a senior officer at the Central Bank.”
Sleepless nights for Najib
So, did Anwar know too much? Note that he had spoken to the US officials in 2007 and the concerted attacks against him began in 2008, allegedly spearheaded by Najib himself.
Is Anwar too great a threat to the political survival of UMNO, the largest party and in control of the country for the past 5 decades? Was it time to bring Anwar down again, especially after the 2008 election where he had led the opposition to unprecedented gains and almost succeeded in brokering a September 16 switch in federal power from the UMNO-led BN to the Pakatan?
No doubt the calls to constrain Anwar must have hit the roof in UMNO, where he was once their best-loved leader until his jailing and sacking on trumped-up sodomy charges by ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad in 1998.
In 2008, Najib – still a deputy prime minister – needed no encouragement to cook up a second round of sodomy charges to stymie his arch rival for the affections of the Malay community. Not only did Najib needed to consolidate his grip on PM’s chair, but giving him sleepless nights must have been the enormous worry that Anwar would expose his secrets to the world at large, leaving him with nothing but disgrace, failure and perhaps even jail time.
The US cable also supports the 2008 statutory declaration made by private investigator P Balasubramaniam, who has since spoken to the French investigators now finalising the Scorpenes probe into whether shipmaker DCN had bribed top Malaysian officials including Najib to seal the deal. Bala had revealed that it was Baginda who told him that Altantuya had been Najib’s lover before she was ‘passed’ onto Baginda.
Two bodyguards, who have since been sentenced to hang for Altantuya’s death, have also separately confirmed to the police that they were asked by Najib’s aide-de-camp to help Baginda. They told the court that Baginda had hired them to stop Altantuya from harassing him and his family. Altantuya herself in a letter admitted she was blackmailing Baginda. It has been reported that her share of the Scorpenes commission allegedly received by Baginda on Najib’s behalf amounted to US$500,000.
Baginda is no idiot. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from London’s City Polytechnic and gained a master’s degree in War Studies at King’s College, London. Initially charged with abetting Altantuya’s murder, he miraculously escaped prosecution, while the aide-de-camp was never even brought to court. It is little wonder that the Malaysian judiciary is suffering its worst crisis of confidence under the Najib administration.
Interestingly, it was also Baginda who told US officials of a plan to “nuke” Anwar in the late 1990s until he could no longer stand up politically. Coming from a long-time confidante Najib’s, the comments underscored Najib’s willingness to betray Anwar, even though they already had a political pact wherein he would be Deputy PM to Anwar’s PM should they succeed in ousting Mahathir in the UMNO elections.
Baginda, whi joined the Malaysian Armed Forces Defense College as a lecturer and was eventually promoted to head of strategic studies, later formed a think-tank called the Malaysian Strategic Research Centre. He also acted as Najib’s negotiator in the Scorpenes deal. Finally in 2002, amid huge public opposition due to the exorbitant price tag and unsuitability of the ships for patrolling Malaysia’s shallow coastline, the RM7 billion submarines deal was hammered through by Najib, who was then the Defense minister. Will Baginda also be the link or the “fronts”as the US cable put it, in the Sukhoi deal?
Duellists: Whose shot will hit the mark
September seems to be a month of awkward confluence for Najib. All ill-factors as far as he is concerned seem to be converging, such as the Scorpenes open court hearing, the summons to take the stand as a witness in Anwar’s sodomy trial, the global release of the latest and last batch of WikiLeaks that is bound to uncover even more shocking stories of his wheeling and dealing during his defense days.
To pre-empt the shit from hitting the fan, the UMNO-owned Utusan newspaper has carried a story insisting that Najib’s enemies were paying WikiLeaks in order to publish “slanderous” information about him.
“This is an example of slander that is deliberately created and then published onto websites such as WikiLeaks with the intention to influence the citizens. It is slander without any proof at all,” Ng Lum Yong, a former PKR member turned BN supporter, was quoted as saying in Utusan’s Friday edition.
Meanwhile, like duellists of olden days, Anwar and Najib continue their walk towards each other, waiting for the right moment to lift their guns and fire the final shot. Who will hit target or will both be taken down?
Given that Najib is the sitting PM, it is a given that he will imprison Anwar if his UMNO-BN wins GE-13. Sometimes, knowing too much can disadvantage a person, especially in a country like Malaysia, which is still much more an authoritarian state than a democracy where law and order and civil behaviour reign supreme.
But should Anwar’s bullet find its mark, whether Pakatan loses or wins GE-13, Najib can be sure that he will have to say goodbye not only to his PM’s chair but also the UMNO presidency.
In line to gain the most is Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. And the transformation of power structure in Malaysia is already happening.
Now that the debt drama is over for the moment, we can all safely retreat into what was once called the “dog days of summer” and chill out if the volatile weather allows us to. We can think back to that old song, “Summer time and the living is easy” even as we all know that for millions “the living” is anything but.
The House and Senate have become ghost-like chambers because all its members, so filled with strident indignation and inflexible talking points just a week ago, are now off on their paid vacations hyping their political war stories to their grandchildren.
Imbued with a sense of triumph, the Tea Party is huddling to come up with ongoing tactics to hold the system hostage while the party leaders plan the new “Super committee” with 12 chosen acolytes (how Biblical, that number 12!) to map the next round of fiscal blood-lettering.
All the superhero buzz in the movies and cartoons has no doubt influenced their choice of words and the pretence of the super wisdom of a few as a “Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction” is empanelled to become the next arena of combat with a chosen elite now dominating a factious process where an organised minority can outflank a slow moving majority.
So much for democracy
The lobbyists are already gearing up for the next battles, as the New York Times reported, “to figure out how to influence the panel to protect the programs and tax breaks from which they benefit”. The military contractors and health care industry operatives are digging in to defend their turf.
Meanwhile, the deal did not settle any problems and may have made them worse. The Hill newspaper reports, “The Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost more points in the last two weeks than it did after the House initially failed to approve a bailout of US banks at the height of the financial crisis in 2008″.
At the White House, the campaigning is set to go into overdrive with a bus tour of the devastated Midwest. Obama is saddling up to talk up the one need he has been downplaying for years – the need for jobs.
He is retooling as a born-again populist to champion the unemployed who may never find jobs again.
He is doing so in the face of new statistics that report the economy is in worse shape than it was before the recession.
Some 47 million Americans now qualify for food stamps, up 13 per cent from a year earlier. Unemployment is not budging and more and more job seekers are giving up after finding that if they have been out of work for more than six months, they can’t even get interviews for what jobs there are. Youth and minority unemployment are at depression levels. The ranks of the poor rise as those still working are squeezed as never before.
And housing? Eftnews.com reports, “Dragged down by such anchors as a bulging pipeline of foreclosures and a dearth of buyers, it will be many more months – if not years – before a housing market rebound takes hold”.
Yet the Commander-in-Chief, unlike the people who live in the region, won’t have problems with the cost of gassing up the bus. His “bundlers” are already at work shaking the money tree.
Money News reports: “A just-released study by the Centre for Responsive Politics shows that President Obama is relying more on Wall Street to fund his re-election this year than he did in 2008, according to CNBC, which obtained an advance copy of the report.
“Obama and the DNC combined are on pace to far exceed the amounts Obama raised from Wall Street donors in 2008, both in raw dollar amounts and as a percentage of what he raises overall.”
This may be why he has already thrown his progressive supporters in the words of one dissenting Democrat “under the bus” because he and his handlers calculate they may not like him now but they will vote for him in the end, or fear more gains by the far right.
Some on the right are reportedly going after the “bundlers” who broke fund-raising records in the Bush campaign, in essence talking far right while cultivating the old money centrists.
The “experts” predict that even in this time of economic decline, the political pumps will be well primed as the election draws closer and gains steam by sucking the media oxygen out of other stories with a press corpse that loves to cover politics like sporting events rich in polls and conflicting sound bites.
The newspapers are filled with stories about the nouveau rich gobbling up luxury goods and high priced cars.
Not everyone is hurting
Yet an increasing number of these people on all sides are reporting more dissatisfaction with all the politicians.
The National Journal reports on a new poll, “The survey … revealed a deep lack of faith among the public in Congress’ ability to get things done. When it comes to important problems facing the country, only seven per cent of respondents said they have a lot of confidence that Washington could make progress over the next year and 23 per cent said they have ‘no confidence at all’.”
Some liberals may finally be recognising that their immersion in partisan politics took their eyes off the economic ball with little or no grassroots organising. It seems clear that as the Tea Party pushed politicians from the right, there was no counterweight or unified effort on the left.
President Obama not only betrayed the activists of the left who championed his candidacy in 2008 but, also, his own legacy as a community organiser. He created, but then de-emphasised his “Organising for America” initiative to activate his base for traditional inside the beltway horse-trading.
He gave up on the “outside game” and let the right pick it up without a fight.
Now we are hearing about all kinds of plans by organisations like MoveOn – that became more of a money raising machine than a political movement – who are joining hands with fired Obama appointee Van Jones to build a ‘save the dream movement’ and express some visible support for the unemployed and millions losing homes and hope.
Former Vice President Al Gore is calling for a non-violent “American Spring” modelled on events in Tunisia and Egypt.
Keith Olbermann, the TV Anchor who left NBC to join Gore’s network Current cautions that “first the public has to get mad”.
Personally, I think the public is mad, but also depressed by the lack of leadership and a sense they can win. Popular calls to hold Wall Street accountable have gone nowhere as Wall Street money keeps politicians in tow and activists tweet each other into distraction. Activists rail at the president online but do little to get in his face and demand another course of action.
This may change in the fall but I am not holding my breath. It is easier, as we say, “to talk a good game” than play one
It never rains but it pours and it is pouring buckets now for Prime Minister Najib Razak. In comments that clearly showed he was distancing himself from his protege, ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad agreed with the findings of a recent survey showing Najib’s approval rating had plunged 6 percentage points to 59% from 65% three months ago in June.
Mahathir’s reaction is significant and ominous, given that many other UMNO and BN leaders have either disputed or dismissed the Merdeka Centre poll. Although 85 now, Mahathir is still ‘the‘ power broker to watch in UMNO, the country largest political party that has imposed its brand of authoritarian rule in Malaysia for the past 5 decades.
But the wily Mahathir was not ready yet to show a full hand. He was careful to blame Najib’s decline in popularity to the way the 58-year-old PM had mishandled the July 9 Bersih rally, in which Najib had sanctioned a Home Ministry ban on the movement for free and fair elections, even allowing the police to arrest anyone who wore yellow – the Bersih colour.
“This has been blamed on Datuk Seri Najib but I do not know what Datuk Seri Najib did by ordering that people could not wear yellow shirts. I do not think he would tell the police not to allow yellow shirts. But the fact is that those who wore yellow shirts were seen as enemies. This is a move by the Malaysian government and that gave a bad image to the government,” Malaysian Insider reported Mahathir as saying on Friday.
Blaming Bersih for a reason
But while acknowledging the bid to suppress Bersih triggered Najib’s downfall, Mahathir continued to blame the movement for trying to discredit the UMNO-led BN federal government.
This was the same disastrous tack taken by Najib, and it was this decision to adopt ham-fisted action unseen in decades that prompted nationwide as well as global disgust for his administration and leadership.
At the height of the Bersih persecutions, some observers had said Najib might have felt egged on to show he could play hard ball as well as Mahathir could. The older man had ruled Malaysia with a fist of iron for 22 years and during that time, he did not hestitate to install temporary emergency rule or to launch excessive crackdowns to jail political rivals.
“I feel that Bersih succeeded in achieving its mission to discredit the government’s image. They knew that if they did a demonstration, the government would place teams to prevent it. Because of this, the government’s image is affected because of its actions such as banning people from wearing yellow shirts and so on,” said Mahathir.
While acknowledging his influence in UMNO, Pakatan Rakyat leaders said Mahathir was an icon of the past and his views carried little weight with the Malaysian public in general. They disagreed with his criticism of Bersih and believed he would have taken the same hardline stance as Najib had if he were in power because that was his style.
“Mahathir can say whatever he wants now. Bersih is already over, and Najib has to take the blame and he deserves to. What we saw were seasoned players like Muhyiddin Yassin and Mahathir saying that Bersih was up to no good. They kept encouraging Najib and Hisham to be stern and the two cousins went overboard in their response. Did anyone in the UMNO elite even once advised Najib to stop, and don’t overreact?” PKR vice president Tian Chua toldMalaysia Chronicle.
“Now the Machiavellian Mahathir is saying, yes the slump in approval is Najib’s own fault but Bersih is still dirty and deserves to remain outlawed. In other words, there is no need for electoral reform. To me, that is conflicting and it is a signal to UMNO that he agrees that Najib should make way for Muhyiddin, but no way are we going to be allowed to clean up the voter system.”
Change of guard in UMNO inevitable
The 64-year Muhyiddin, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Education minister, is now in London for a 4-day official visit. A career politician from Johor, his low-profile style has not exactly taken Malaysians by storm. Neither has he captured their imagination. But Najib did not either.
Given the huge scandals dogging Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor, few Malaysians or UMNO members would be sorry to see the back of the extravagant couple, although they don’t expect much leadership or reforms from Muhyiddin either.
“Muhyiddin won’t be a breath of fresh air. But within UMNO, he is seen as the steadier option rather than Najib who has put his own interests first. There is also the question of Rosmah adding to his unpopularity,” Eddie Lee, a PKR veteran, told Malaysia Chronicle.
“For Malaysians, if UMNO wins GE-13, they already know there won’t be any changes coming from any UMNO in any case. So it doesn’t matter it is Muhyiddin. At least, there is less damage to the country’s international image and all the wild spending will be reduced. Most people also guess that Muhyiddin will be PM for one term only if UMNO win the GE, that is.”