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Najib on the charges against Anwar

Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim has his day in court

Editorial What Malaysia wants from Mahathir

ALONG WITH FOREIGN MINISTER (and fellow UMNO vice president) Abdullah Badawi, Education Minister Najib Tun Razak is often mentioned as the man likely to be the next UMNO deputy president and deputy PM. Like all top party men, Najib, 45, supports the government's actions against Anwar Ibrahim. But he has not been as rabidly partisan as some of the others. Najib, son of onetime deputy PMand PM Tun Abdul Razak, spoke with Asiaweek's Santha Oorjitham on Sept. 27, two days before Anwar Ibrahim was produced in court. Excerpts from their talk:

How have people reacted to the government's explanation of the reasons for Anwar's sacking?

There is the dynamics of politics. In that respect, people's views can change for better or for worse. With the initial shock of his sacking, people were not convinced at the early stage. But as more information goes to the ground and evidence [comes up] in the trial, the majority will accept there is a strong basis for the actions taken by the government and the prime minister.

Is there any possibility of rehabilitation or reconciliation for Anwar within UMNO?

If someone is expelled for political reasons and that political viewpoint becomes more fashionable later on, then he can come back - as Dr. Mahathir did. But this is quite unique, the first time we've had a case of this nature and magnitude. There is a stigma related to that activity [homosexuality].

What is UMNO doing to convince its members of its case?

We have managed to reduce the number of people in doubt. Sometimes it has been through big meetings, sometimes closed-door. The turning point was [former Inspector-General of Police] Hanif Omar's revelation - because he is held in high regard - that there was evidence [of Anwar's homosexuality] way back in 1993 and that the PM had dismissed it without asking for a probe.

How is the security situation?

The whole country is not engulfed. There are just pockets of demonstration in [Kuala Lumpur]. We have levers of institutions to deal with any disorder or destruction of property.

What do you think is the public opinion of Anwar now?

The crux will be the hearings in court, the witnesses and the government's case. It has to be very convincing and beyond doubt. Politics is about image and not so much about reality. In Anwar's case he has a very powerful personal image. It takes a lot for people to say that is not the real Anwar.

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