Last edited: November 28, 2004

Malaysia Ruling Party Urged to Shun ‘Traitor’ Anwar

Reuters, September 22, 2004

By Liau Y-Sing

KUALA LUMPUR—A rising star of Malaysia’s main ruling party urged the organisation on Wednesday to close ranks against its most prominent dissident, Anwar Ibrahim, branding the former deputy premier a traitor.

The head of the youth wing of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) did not name Anwar, freed this month from almost six years in jail, but it was clear that the former deputy prime minister turned anti-government protester was his target.

“Let us not forget that this traitor had destroyed our unity, tarnished our image and damaged the country’s economy through demonstrations and street protests and begged for foreign intervention to serve his narrow political purposes,” Hishammuddin Hussein told the party’s annual assembly.

“Those who had opposed UMNO, those who had burned the UMNO flag and those who had mocked UMNO leaders, do not dream that you can return to UMNO, what more to be in the leadership of UMNO.”

His speech risked upsetting UMNO leaders, who do not want debate on Anwar to sidetrack the assembly, the first to be held under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Abdullah took power a year ago from veteran leader and UMNO strongman Mahathir Mohamad, whose sacking of Anwar six years ago prompted one of the most divisive chapters in Malaysian politics and split UMNO, which sees itself as the backbone of government.

 Anwar led street protests after his sacking, calling for an end to official corruption and cronyism. He was later jailed on what he called trumped-up charges of sodomy and corruption. He was freed on September 2 after a court quashed the sodomy count.

Anwar, in Germany recovering from back surgery, says he has no plans to return to UMNO. But he still has sympathisers in the party, which is widely viewed as the only real vehicle for Anwar to realise his long-held ambition to lead the country.

UMNO has produced every prime minister since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957.

Crackdown on Vote-Buying

A senior aide to Anwar said by phone from Munich, where Anwar is recuperating at a specialist back clinic, that the former UMNO leader-in-waiting had no plans to rejoin UMNO and was not interested in responding to Hishammuddin’s attack.

“I am very certain the grass-roots UMNO delegates are very unhappy at what happened today,” said Azmin Ali. “The majority of grass-roots leaders are still with him (Anwar). They know what happened to him for the last six years. There’s not much they can do but they know deep in their hearts what’s happening.”

But UMNO youth wing deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin disagreed.

“I will stand side by side with Hishammuddin in battling Keadilan if I have to,” Khairy, Prime Minister Abdullah’s son-in-law, said, referring to the pro-Anwar party.

The youngest son of Anwar’s nemesis, Mahathir, scored the highest vote in Wednesday’s contest for 20 seats in the youth wing’s executive council. “I think it’s a reflection of their thanks to my father,” said Mukhriz Mahathir.

Abdullah does not want the assembly sidetracked by Anwar and instead wants to show that UMNO has taken his anti-corruption message to heart and cracked down on vote-buying in elections for senior party posts.

There were signs on Wednesday that the crackdown, enforced with the help of party spies loyal to Abdullah, was being felt.

“I can really feel the difference. I don’t see people walking about offering cars and money. It looks a lot cleaner this time,” said Ramlah Abdul Rahman, 53, an UMNO delegate from Malacca.

“It used to be so bad in the past,” agreed Mohamad Asri Mahmud, 39, from Kelantan state. “I used to get phone calls at midnight from people wanting me to vote for them. I just couldn’t sleep. People really seem to be in fear of the new tough actions taken by the leadership.”

Hundreds of complaints have been made to the party and its relatively new disciplinary board has meted out suspensions.

(Additional reporting by Barani Krishnan and Mark Bendeich)

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