The Financial Times’s Assif Shameen spoke to Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s opposition leader, about the sodomy charges that he faces and his intent to return to politics. The following is an edited transcript of the interview............
Financial Times: There are reports that you will be arrested and charged imminently. Clearly, you don’t think they have a case?
Anwar Ibrahim: First of all, with all the evidence that is now before them, I don’t see any reason why the authorities should continue with these investigations of alleged sodomy. There is this medical report, which is authentic, very clear. A doctor who examined the accuser clearly ruled out any alleged sodomy.
In any other system where there is justice and fairness, the powers would have by now shut down the investigations and cleared my name. But here in Malaysia, in our so-called police state, it is the intent of the officials, particularly the Inspector General of Police, Musa Hassan, which seems to matter most. This is the same man who was involved in my case in 1998 when I was blind folded and brutally assaulted. I have filed a complaint against him citing his involvement. But instead of addressing pressing economic problems like soaring inflation, the government is trying to divert public attention with this filthy sodomy charade.
Financial Times: The government says it must proceed with the sodomy complaint in accordance with law. If you are innocent, as you say, why not just cooperate with investigators?
Anwar Ibrahim: I am cooperating and I have cooperated. Even though I was never shown a copy of the complaint filed by the accuser or officially told exactly what I am being accused of, I have cooperated with the police and tried to answer all their questions. You have probably heard the reports of how they came to arrest me, how I was forced to strip at a government and how I was forced to stay in a cell overnight. All this was staged to humiliate me. On my part, I have provided them fool-proof evidence, alibi. There are no grounds whatsoever for them to proceed any further.
On the other hand, there is compelling evidence of a deliberate and persistent attempt to incriminate me. Why else would they not show me a copy of my accuser’s complaint after six weeks? Why else do they insist on my DNA or blood samples after they have seen a medical report that clearly says that the accuser was never sodomised? Because they want to fabricate evidence. This is what they did in 1998. Just look at their track record. The players are same, the police chief, the attorney general. Same people using same tricks.
Financial Times: Why do you think the authorities are doing this to you?
Anwar Ibrahim: Because they are terrified. Because their corrupt system is crumbling. You see, these are desperate people. They have decided that they must finish the man who stands between them and power. You must realise the ruling party [Barisan Nasional coalition] lost badly in the March election. It was their worst showing ever. They were humiliated. They won just half of the total votes and even that was after they had disallowed the use of indelible ink which would have stopped cheating. I see this as a political ploy and a personal vendetta by the Police chief and his political masters whose main aim is to disbar me from active politics for life.
Financial Times: You said last weekend that you will soon trigger a by-election to re-enter parliament and move a motion of no confidence in the government before mid-September. Do you have enough defectors from the ruling party to pull the rug?
Anwar Ibrahim: I will announce next week exactly when and where I will contest. But yes, I am now ready to re-enter parliament. I was disbarred from contesting during the March general elections but now I am able to contest.I am confident that when we do move the motion, we will have the numbers. You see, the reason why they are making all these accusations against me is precisely because they know their days are numbered. We have the numbers. We have the support. They want to stop me before we throw them out.
Financial Times: Your opposition Pakatan coalition has been described as a dysfunctional group riddled with in-fighting. Indeed, the Islamist group PAS has talked with the ruling UMNO-led group about power sharing. Can the Pakatan coalition hold while you are tied up answering criminal charges in court?
Anwar Ibrahim: Yes, our coalition will hold and remain united. In any coalition there are bound to be some disagreements. We are also a new coalition and I admit there have been some teething problems. But I am in touch with the leaders of PAS and our other partner, DAP, almost on a daily basis. We are united in our goal to have a more open, transparent, fair and just system. I am aware that some PAS people met with UMNO leaders soon after the March elections. But PAS leaders have assured me that they have no desire of leaving the Pakatan (coalition) and joining (the ruling coalition) Barisan or merging with UMNO. They have kept me informed of their meetings with UMNO.
What has happened in the last few weeks is that government-controlled media through careful leaks, manipulation and distortion of statements has created this fairy tale that PAS and UMNO are about to merge or share power. Having lost the support of the people, UMNO is now trying to divide our coalition. But let me tell you: PAS is not joining UMNO. There are currently no ongoing talks of power sharing at any level between UMNO and PAS. If UMNO leaders believe they can rely on PAS or other members of Pakatan to save their sinking ship, they are dreaming. UMNO leaders want to lure PAS only because they are eager to regain control of the state governments which used to award their cronies all the lucrative contracts and they are willing to team up even with a party they have demonised all these years. But PAS leaders are wiser.
Financial Times: You have been outspoken about the removal of fuel subsidies and how high inflation, sluggish economic growth and falling investments are hurting Malaysia. How bad is it?
Anwar Ibrahim: It’s actually getting worse. I have been going around the country on this road show to explain the issues and people come up to me complaining how they can no longer make ends meet. It’s not just the fuel prices but food and other essentials. Government ministers say the people should just change their lifestyles if they think inflation is a problem, instead of providing solutions. An inflation of 7.7 per cent is the highest it has been in decades, the Ringgit is weakening, unemployment is rising, there is a big budget deficit, stock market is down 20 per cent this year. All the indicators are bad. This year growth might fall to 4 per cent. There is global economic slowdown and the US is in a recession.
It’s quite sad because Malaysia is the only oil exporting country in Asia. We were supposed to benefit from this boom in commodities. But they have been squandering everything. There is no transparency with Petronas [state oil company]. Nobody knows where all the billions of profits go. Malaysia is losing its competitiveness at a time when India, China, Vietnam are coming up. Foreign investments are falling and factories are moving to China or Vietnam. There is no long term planning or vision. Our ministers waste most of their time in political intrigue instead of trying to help make the country more competitive. That’s why people support our call for change.
Financial Times: What happens if you are indeed arrested and charged?
Anwar Ibrahim: As I said, they really have no case. Every 10 years they seem to recycle the same filth. I was sacked from the government, arrested, blindfolded, assaulted and thrown in jail. After six years, a court found me “not guilty.” The track record of these people is well known. They will stop at nothing, they have a track record of fabricating evidence and threatening witnesses. The Attorney General is the same man who was involved in my case in 1998. But this not 1998 when we had iron-fist rule of (then Prime Minister) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad). They may control the mainstream media but there are now other avenues for people to find the truth. There is internet, YouTube, mobile phones, text messages. All the surveys and opinion polls conducted in recent weeks show that 70 to 80 per cent of Malaysians believe that these allegations are part of a larger political conspiracy to get me out of the picture.
I am encouraged by the support I have received from all over the country. But government ministers are already thumbing their nose at international opinion or foreign leaders who have expressed concern at the way the whole thing has been handled. Their attitude is: so what if the whole world thinks we are wrong, as long as the end justifies the means, we will do it. They don’t care if Malaysia becomes a laughing stock and nobody invests here, as long as they remain in power.
I am innocent and I am confident that I will clear my name.