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The Anwar Trial: The Worm Turns - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

22/2/2000 10:14 am Tue

The High Court trying the former deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar on s###my charges, when it sat on Friday (18 February 00), heard further legal arguments whether a man subpoenaed by the defence should appear. Because the man in question is the Prime Minister, every effort is made to ensure he does not appear. Mr Justice Ariffin Jaka has to decide, possibly on Monday, if he would. But Dato' Seri Anwar is convinced the Prime Minister would not as he told foreign journalists who turned up on Thursday hoping he would. Subtly, unconsciously, impercetibly, the defence now dominates the proceedings. The defence is focussed, as it was not in the earlier corruption trial, with the two lead counsel, Mr Karpal Singh and Mr Christopher Fernando, bring their considerable disparate forensic skills to deadly effect. The prosecution is scattered, occasionally trying the judge's patience. The well-ordered decorum has made way for a more relaxed atmosphere, the body language shifting control clearly to the defence. The judge is tense. A young counsel for the defence talked back to the judge with some heat that, in other circumstances, a citation for contempt would have been in order; but nothing happened. Scenes in the public gallery that would have brought a sharp judicial retort were allowed -- two foreigners, a diplomat and a journalist, were whispering to each other during proceedings, but all the judge did was to stare at them.

A taxi driver, there for two days as a witness, went back to work when told the arguments would take the whole morning. It did not. So, when he was called, he was not there. The judge bristled in anger, wanted to know why he was not there, amidst calls for an arrest warrant. Then, sheepishly, it turned out he was not subpoenaed, that he had turned up on his own volition when asked to. The defence promptly demanded if the court's anger at an absent unsubpoenaed witness should not also be directed at a subpoenaed witness who finds creative reasons not to? Quickly, Mr Karpal Singh pressed for the court to order the Prime Minister from making comments on his appearance and on the case as he often did. It is the first time since Dato' Seri's expulsion from UMNO that the Prime Minister is restrained by an institution of state. The trial, it seems to me, is tied up in a tangle so thick that it afflicts not Dato' Seri Anwar and his co-accused, but every institution involved in the trial: the state, its institutions, the Prime Minister. The prosecution behaves like one who realises he has just swallowed a spider. Any distinct political or legal advantage to ensure Dato' Seri Anwar's conviction is now counterproductive. The bitter residue the two trials leave behind outweighs any legal or political solution to the affair.

Mr Justice Ariffin is aware of this as Mr Justice Paul was not in the corruption trial. As a Malay, he is seeped in the enveloping cultural tradition which this case confronts, and his doubts intrude subconsciously more frequently into the case. It is not lost in the public gallery that a Filipino and an Indian representing a Malay confronts the Malay establishment. Rarely has a court been electrified by the overhanging undercurrents as this. But the real battle is not fought in that courtroom. The political future of this nation, the Prime Minister, the governing National Front coalition, UMNO depends to no small extent to the goings on in that courtroom. For the normally acquiescent Malay stood up to be counted at what he saw as the injustice to his deputy prime minister which defied the cultural insistence that a ruler must now humiliate his followers. The s###my trial is the latest of a litany that Dato' Seri Anwar had suffered since his fall from grace on 2 September 1998. The cultural import of Mr Justice Ariffin's carefully-worded order to the Prime Minister to stop discussing the case is more than the mild reprimand it is. Whatever battles the Prime Minister wins, and he has won every one in this drawn-out battle to destroy his once favourite protege, it looks, at this stage, it is Dato' Seri Anwar who wins the war. This hidden thread causes many sleepless nights.

M.G.G. Pillai