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It is no small irony that while Prime Minister Dr Mahathir was in London busy fulminating against gay culture, sparks were flying at home over allegations of yet another homosexual tryst in high places. One would have thought that sodomy as a political weapon had run its course but apparently not; in our hypocritically conservative nation, accusations of sodomy, whether trumped up or real, can have lethal political consequences.

Devilish and sinister

The public is being asked not to speculate about the video but that is like asking the sun not to rise.

While there are many questions about the video itself – including why a young and ambitious Parti Keadilan Rakyaat (PKR) member would want to admit to sodomy (a crime in Malaysia) when the video itself does not apparently conclusively identify him – Malaysians should be more concerned about who is behind it more than who is in it.

For one thing, the manner in which this whole sordid affair is playing out suggests that it is part of a wider political conspiracy. Something devilish and sinister is obviously going on behind the scenes.

Azmin, who has strongly denied being the other man in the video (as Haziq alleges), now seems to be hinting that Anwar, or people close to him, are behind the whole thing, pointing to the fact that whoever released the video had access to an apparently confidential party distribution list.

It is no secret, of course, that Anwar and Azmin are locked in a bitter power struggle. The acrimony between the two camps now runs so deep that the party, despite its denials, is all but paralysed. It is not unthinkable, therefore, that someone in Anwar’s team might have decided to go for the jugular.

But it may also be argued that Anwar has probably too much to lose at this juncture by moving against Azmin. Attacking Azmin in such vile manner would be seen as an open declaration of war against Azmin’s principal benefactor, Mahathir himself, something not to be taken lightly. After all, a succession plan that benefits Anwar is already in place and, though tenuous, given Mahathir’s Machiavellian ways, is Anwar’s best hope for becoming prime minister.

Adding fuel to the fire

In any case, Anwar is not the only one with an iron is this fire. It is entirely within the realm of possibilities that others outside of PKR might be fuelling the bitter divisions within the party for their own ends. Powerful people are determined to keep Anwar out of Putrajaya at all cost; if PKR implodes as a result of the on-going power struggle, Anwar’s claim to the throne becomes even more tenuous. Who gains the most if PKR breaks up is a question worth pondering.

Mahathir himself must share some of the blame for the current political turmoil. In pulling Azmin from Shah Alam (where Anwar was content to see him languish) to one of the most senior positions in Putrajaya, he must have known that it would seriously exacerbate tensions between the two PKR leaders. He also created a lot of acrimony and distrust by favouring the anti-Anwar faction when it came to the allocation of cabinet seats.

Whatever his reasons, it was seen as an attempt to keep Anwar off balance notwithstanding his repeated assurances that he would abide by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) consensus for Anwar to succeed him. A little uncertainty goes a long way in politics; certainly, it has taken tensions within PKR to new heights mostly at Anwar’s expense.

Preparing for the post-Mahathir era 

The intense power struggle going on behind the scenes, and not just between Anwar and Azmin, has now reached critical levels. As Lim Kit Siang and other PH leaders warned recently, the mushrooming scandal now threatens the stability of PH as well as its reform agenda.

Perhaps the time has now come for Mahathir to go beyond verbal assurances and take concrete steps to put an end to any doubt about the succession plan. One way to do that would be to invite Anwar into the cabinet by appointing him deputy prime minister with significant responsibilities.

Mahathir, with the strong support of other coalition leaders as well as the support of the people, helped changed the course of our nation’s history. Significant reforms and key appointees are already in place; it is time to prepare to move towards the post-Mahathir era. Having Anwar in harness and ready to assume leadership of PH when Mahathir steps down will remove uncertainty and ensure the future of Malaysia Baru.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |20st June 2019]