Asia Watch: A Fork In The Road
Sep 1, 2008 | Michael Shannon
Either the prime minister’s suite or a prison cell awaits Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim, depending on how events play out over the coming months. The opposition alliance headed by Anwar gained unprecedented support in a general election in March, breaking the ruling United Malay Nasional Organisation (UMNO)-led coalition’s two-thirds majority hold over parliament and wresting control over five of the federation’s 13 states, but he has since been charged with sodomising a 23-year old male aide – an accusation he says is politically motivated.
Anwar is not above fighting fire with fire though, and in Malaysia it seems one of the ultimate smears is to be linked with Israel or Jews in general. Even though Anwar was himself the subject of such allegations four months ago, according to an Islamic website, he is now allegedly accusing his country’s government of supporting the pro-Israel lobby in the US and Jewish groups inside Israel. “I have evidence proving that the government is backing the Jewish lobby in the US and some parties inside Israel,” Anwar apparently told IslamOnline.net.
The website reports that Anwar did not elaborate on the nature of the alleged support or his evidence. Going on recent form, it’s hard to see Malaysia’s stance on diplomatic ties with Israel changing anytime soon – pro forma condemnations of Israeli policy have issued from Kuala Lumpur at every Israeli-Arab flare-up in recent years. Of course, the previous leader of the ruling coalition Dr. Mahathir Mohamad memorably exited the stage in 2003 with claims that Jews rule the world by proxy, getting others to fight and die for them.
Anwar has also ridiculed accusations of being a US “lackey”. “These accusations are nothing but propaganda to tarnish the opponents’ reputation,” he said without hint of irony, citing his opposition to the US-led war on Iraq and the War on Terror. “But this does not mean I would engage in a war against the US.”
Confident both in his innocence and his growing political ascendancy, Anwar will shortly re-enter parliament after winning a by-election held on Aug. 26 for the seat of Permatang Pauh, which he held from 1982 until he was jailed on charges of sodomy and corruption in 1999 (the sodomy conviction was overturned in 2004). His wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, won the seat in his absence, then recently resigned in order to trigger the by-election and pave the way for her husband’s return to formal office.
Anwar has boldly predicted that upon his election to parliament, his alliance will secure enough parliamentary defections from the ruling coalition to topple Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s government and form his own administration by Sept. 16. The fly in the ointment is Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, whose allegations of sodomy could yet derail Anwar’s ambitions while on the cusp of power, in an eerie re-run of events ten years ago.
Philippines peace deal scrapped
After the intervention of the Philippines Supreme Court and two weeks of deadly clashes in the south, the Philippines Government has scrapped its controversial peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the most powerful rebel group in the largely Muslim south.
The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, signed in July between the government and the MILF, called for the establishment of a Muslim homeland in Mindanao. Christians living in Mindanao took to the streets in protest branding the agreement as a “sell out”, while some politicians declared it was “unconstitutional”. Then on Aug. 4, the Philippines Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the agreement, which had been scheduled for a high-profile signing ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 5.
With the deal scuppered at the 11th hour after years of negotiations, two rebel MILF commanders took up arms in defiance of the group’s leadership, killing Christian civilians, burning homes and farms, and looting. With an estimated 1,000 MILF rebels pitted against about twice as many Philippines armed forces in North Cotabato province, more than 100,000 people were made homeless due to the fighting.
As the smoke started to settle, voters in the region gave incumbent Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and Vice Governor Ansanddin Adiong fresh three-year mandates over the so-called Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Both winning candidates are allied to President Gloria Arroyo and have vowed to put peace, stability and economic development on the top of their agendas.
Meanwhile, the government has gone back to the drawing board and will seek a new agreement within the boundaries of the constitution. Crucial provisions in the draft agreement, including allowances for the possible establishment of Sharia law in the ARMM and the creation of the so-called Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), which would potentially give the MILF control over 700 villages in Christian-dominated areas of the ARMM, are likely to come under review.
Even if the agreement is finally adopted, it will take congress at least a year to pass the enabling legislation to hold the plebiscite, which will give villagers the choice to join or stay outside of the BJE. A long road lies ahead.