Then there are the cases of Sukma Darmawan and Munawar Anees, Anwar's adopted brother and former speechwriter respectively. On Sept. 19, both pleaded guilty to being sodomized by Anwar and were sentenced to six months in prison. It was alleged that Sukma, an Indonesian immigrant, gave in to Anwar's homosexual advances because he felt indebted to the former deputy PM for helping him get Malaysian citizenship; Munawar consented because he feared losing his job. A Kuala Lumpur lawyer admits to being mystified by the claims. "Why Munawar, who has U.S. citizenship and a Ph.D. from an American university, would fear losing his job which pays half as much as his last job in the U.S. is a bit puzzling," he says.
Manjeet, who now also represents Munawar, says it is unusual that the two men, rather than being protected as victims of a sexual crime, were prosecuted instead. He cites a recent sodomy trial in which the alleged victim was not charged or even named in the newspapers. Manjeet points out other irregularities: Munawar's family was not informed when he would be charged, and the lawyer retained by his wife was not allowed to represent him. On Sept. 29, both men lodged an appeal against their sentences. And perhaps most significantly, Mahathir himself already declared, even before any charges were filed, that "I'm quite sure [Anwar] will be found guilty."
The heavy-handed tactics against Anwar and his followers have reminded the public of the government's authoritarian tendencies and added to the sense that corruption and injustice still prevail. Sensing the mood, a host of opposition parties, youth organizations and human-rights groups have gotten together to fight for political reform. On Sept. 27, Gagasan Demokratik Rakyat (Coalition for People's Democracy) came into being; the 18-member grouping includes opposition groups such as the Democratic Action Party and the Islamic Party of Malaysia, as well as the ABIM Muslim youth movement and human-rights advocates Suaram.
Many of the same organizations also formed the 13-member Gerakan Keadilan Rakyat Malaysia (Malaysian People's Movement for Justice), which calls for an independent judiciary and the abolition of the ISA. Activist Mohamed Nasir Hashim, whose (as-yet-unregistered) Socialist Party of Malaysia belongs to both groupings, admits to being no friend of Anwar, whom he remembers as having supported the ISA when he was in office. "But the way Anwar was sacked and then treated has become the issue," he says. "The detention, the character assassination - these things have been blatant." He adds: "The issue now goes beyond Anwar and has become an attack on the ISA. There have long been frustrations over many issues, including the economy, and this has every chance of snowballing."
Even within UMNO, the word is that the sacking of Anwar - and his subsequent vilification and maltreatment - has severely shaken many members. The Supreme Council is likely to discuss whether Mahathir should appoint a new deputy PM - or someone with a similar title like senior minister - in order to fill the vacuum and let the party's healing process begin. A national healing process, though, may be much harder to come by.n
- With reporting by Santha Oorjitham
and Arjuna Ranawana