Malaysian PM takes financial reins, purges his protégé
A broadeer crackdown is expected as Mahathir and his cronies strive to bolster their positions, writes JALIL HAMID
Civil rights groups expect a broader crackdown.
Former cabinet minister Anwar Ibrahim, once prime minister-in-waiting, was dealt a crippling blow on Friday when he was expelled from Malaysia's main party and hit by a wave of criminal allegations.
The expulsion was the final move in his stunning fall from grace, which came a day after his sacking as deputy prime minister and finance minister. Capping the break between prime minister and former protégé, Mahathir decided to keep the finance portfolio to himself.
Mahathir, intent on keeping a tight rein on power, said he did not plan to appoint a deputy to replace Anwar until after party elections next year.
Anwar's fall was captured in newspaper headlines that spelled out lurid allegations in police affidavits filed with a Kuala Lumpur court on Thursday.
"Ex-DPM implicated in sexual misconduct," read the headline in the New Straits Times, referring to the litany of allegations that several newspapers printed in full.
The claims circulated for more than a year, first in poison pen letters and then in a book, Fifty Reasons Why Anwar Cannot Become Prime Minister, but until Anwar fell newspapers kept their distance.
Now the press has abandoned restraint to give vent to allegations that police say could lead to indictment under the Internal Security Act and the Official Secrets Act.
The government controls the press tightly, and Mahathir had recently consolidated his grip by forcing out two editors who were seen as too close to Anwar.
Anwar, who had refused to step down as cabinet minister or party leader, said he was the victim of a conspiracy. He is considering his legal options. "My lawyers are looking into it," he told reporters as he walked from his home to a nearby mosque to pray.
Several dozen supporters followed Anwar, who was wearing sandals, a white tunic and a sarong.
On Thursday night, about 2 000 supporters cheered Anwar as he arrived at the meeting of the United Malays National Organisation's (Umno) leadership.
In a rare scene in Malaysia, some members of the angry crowd threw cigarette wrappers and paper at Mahathir as he left the meeting, and they shouted insults at other Umno leaders.
Human rights groups and opposition parties denounced Mahathir for failing to give a reason for sacking Anwar, and said the move could presage a crackdown.
"The total lack of transparency in this episode is a reflection of the utter contempt and disregard that the prime minister has for the view of the people of the country," the 15 groups said in a joint statement.
Among the organisations which signed the statement were Amnesty International, the opposition Democratic Action Party, the Malaysian Trade Union Congress and several women's groups and non-government organisations.
The groups said that if Anwar was guilty of serious crimes, he should be charged in open court and given a fair hearing.
"This action on the part of the prime minister once again raises the fear that oppressive laws such as the ISA and the OSA will be used to ensure the political survival of Mahathir and his cronies," the statement said. - Reuter.