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Arrest while PM holiday - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

18/1/2000 3:13 am Tue

Opposition Arrests as Prime Minister Is Off On A Holiday

Within eighteen hours after the Prime Minister left on a fortnight holiday overseas, three opposition politicians and a printer were arrested on sedition charges in what can only ensure an even more contested ground. The deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, takes responsibility, as Dato' (now Tan Sri) Musa Hitam did over the Memali incident in Kedah in the early 1980s. The Prime Minister has the knack of being out of the country in internal travails. When he remains, as in September 1998 when he sacked his deputy prime minister and orchestrated his expulsion from UMNO, his reputation gets tarnished. So, when he is asked about it, as invariably he would, at the Davos Forum in Switzerland later this month, he could glibly talk his way out. But this crackdown was not unexpected. When UMNO is nervous and in shell shock, as now, the opposition bears the brunt. But there seems to be more than a holiday for the Prime Minister: every National Front mentri besar and chief minister make their own way to join the Prime Minister. Why I do not know. But I suspect this has to do with the coming UMNO elections in May. The possibility of a 1987-like crackdown cannot be ruled out.

Those arrested yesterday are Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim's counsel and DAP deputy chairman, Mr Karpal Singh; the Parti Keadilan Nasional vice president, Ms Marina Yusoff; the editor of PAS' biweekly paper, Harakah, Mr Zulkifli Sulong; and the owner of the paper's printer, Mr Chea Lin Thye. Mr Singh is expected to be charged for insinuating in court during the Anwar trial, now going on, that "somebody out there" poisoned his client to "get rid of him". It is a minefield of a case that could well tax the resources of the Attorney General's Chambers. Ms Marina's offence is her alleged remarks in Penang that UMNO started the 1969 May 13 riots, which conflicts with the self-serving account of the then Prime Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman, and the government White Paper on it, and neither written after a full-scale enquiry into the riots. The Harakah editor and printer face charges over an article in its August 2 edition. The New Straits Times reports today that another opposition politician is expected to be charged soon. Another DAP leader and son of its chairman, Mr Lim Guan Eng, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for sedition and was released from jail last August.

But the speed with which these charges were brought when several detailed police reports made by Dato' Seri Anwar over corruption in high places remains under wraps raises once again. The arrest of Mr Singh in the midst of the trial and before the Prime Minister is due to appear as a witness when the case resumes later this month adds to this perception. So, it threatens to become, however justified and valid the charges, in the end, yet another milestone in this affair of He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost but refuses to. If Mr Singh should be charged, it should have been after the trial was over. Otherwise, the bitter political aftertaste would remain. As it is, his arrest could well impinge on his client's continued trial for s###my later this month. Somehow, one gets the impression that the political ramifications of these arrests was not thought through. Even if this is Dato' Seri Abdullah Badawi's baptism of fire.

M.G.G. Pillai