Saturday, December 11, 2010

OF BLACK EYES AND FORGED LETTERS

If PKR allows those in its midst to commit wrong with impunity now before it even governs the country, God knows what greater crimes would be committed if it occupies the seat of government.

By Dr. Malcolm Puthucherry

That day in September 1998 when Anwar Ibrahim was produced in court sporting a black eye and a bruised face after being assaulted during police custody was to me the day when Malaysia’s international reputation really hit a nadir. That such lawlessness could have happened within the precincts of those who had been entrusted to uphold the law was in itself shocking; that it was committed by the very person who headed the body so entrusted was an unmitigated outrage.

Yes, the perpetrator was punished in the court of law and had served his sentence but well after the last page has been turned on that dark episode, one just cannot help but wonder about the interplay of circumstances and mindsets that culminated in the ‘black eye’.


KL was rocked by a massive afternoon rally called by Anwar. The size of the rally was estimated to be about a hundred thousand people, simply unprecedented for an event which was banned by the police. The police went on to detain Anwar that very evening. Trial records showed that later in the night while blindfolded and handcuffed he was brutally assaulted by the country’s chief of police.

How easily it was that the professional disdain expected of every policeman for a law-breaker to mutate into malice reserved for one marked person. Perhaps that day’s mammoth rally was viewed as a blatant act of defiance against police authority for which the culprit must be made to pay.

Combine that malice with excessive zeal of one who is expected to abide by the rules in serving his master, whoever or whatever that master may be - country or minister or one’s own ego – and throw in a personal idiosyncrasy, say being prone to resort to force in solving problems and you’ll get an explosive mix indeed.

Thus, was born the black eye, not just for Anwar but also for the whole country.

But a crime of that magnitude could not have happened all of a sudden, in isolation with no evolutionary history. Simply put, a big monstrosity of a crime usually is perpetrated by a culprit who has in the past committed many other smaller crimes with impunity. ‘Impunity’ is the crucial word here. That is why every organization, society, community or nation seeks to identify wrong-doers within its midst and mete out the appropriate penalties against them. Their breaches of the law should not go unpunished lest they’ll be encouraged to commit even greater ones and ultimately give everyone the proverbial black eye.

Woe betide those who turn a blind eye or condone wrongdoings, however small those wrongful acts are. Fear may be an excuse but much less so if those who tolerate the criminal deeds are in positions of consequence bearing the twin burdens of leadership and trust.

Which brings to mind the current case of the alleged fraudulent letter issued by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) to dismiss the membership of one of its former deputy secretary-generals.

Assuming that the letter was forged, are there circumstantial parallels with the black eye case of 1998?

Yes, the party was in the unprecedented situation of holding ‘one member, one vote’ elections for office bearers at the divisional and national levels. 1998: unprecedented public rally. So, check.

The former deputy secretary-general has been alleged to indulge in anti-party activities and in defiance of the party leadership intended to run for the deputy presidency of the party. 1998: Anwar dismissed from government and party and in defiance, he held public rallies nationwide. So, check again.

What then of the mindset of the protagonists in the PKR case? Could disdain easily turn into malice towards the marked person? Certainly, as the marked person already was the subject of discussions in official meetings contemplating disciplinary action against him. He hardly bothered to hide his past anti-party stand and yet had the cheek to run for higher office in the party he so despised.

Could there have been overzealousness on the part of those who were entrusted to act against this marked person just as there was in 1998 with the police chief who took the law into his own hands? Again yes. The undisputed sentiment within the party’s leadership was that the ex-deputy secretary-general had forfeited his right to run due to his past conduct. This could well have created overzealousness within the party central administration to provide grounds for pulling the rug from underneath him. But how to accomplish that when the party’s own minutes of central leadership or political bureau meetings do not contain any resolution to discipline him, never mind sacking him from the party?

Thus was born PKR’s version of the 1998 Anwar black eye: a letter dated February 2009 informing the ex-deputy secretary-general that he had been sacked with immediate effect from the party was conveniently found within the party’s files of documentation.

The purported signatory of the said letter, a former secretary-general, has already lodged a police report saying that the letter is a cut and paste forgery, maybe even abusing his electronic signature on file. He confirmed by affidavit that the letter had neither his consent nor knowledge.

All available evidence supports his case: party meeting minutes of August 2009, six months after the date of the purported sacking letter, show that the ex-deputy secretary-general was still a member on the date of the meeting; party constitution does not permit a secretary-general on his own to sack any member and the said letter incredibly did not even state which meeting of the party leadership resolved to sack the ex-deputy secretary-general; a former deputy secretary-general in charge of disciplinary matters has stated he has never drafted such a letter nor was it ever brought to his attention during his tenure.

The reaction of the party leadership, apart from pleading ignorance over the origin of the letter in question and attacking any party member who speaks out of turn, has amazingly been muted. One gets the impression that they are not aware of or are wilfully ignoring the possible implications of the case on the party’s standing and the recent party elections.

Are they hoping that the issue will be labelled a ‘minor misdemeanour’ perpetrated by some incompetent staff? If so, then that is very scary indeed. This is a political organization hoping to capture the reins of government. It is when people are allowed to get away with wrong-doings, no matter how small, that they will sooner or later graduate to commit the even more serious and major crimes, especially when they are given greater authority and power. If PKR allows those in its midst to commit wrong with impunity now before it even governs the country, God knows what greater crimes would be committed if it occupies the seat of government.

Any reformist democrat can discern the parallels in both cases: the abuse of authority of the establishment to remove a voice screaming uncomfortable issues which were not in snyc with the majority in the home turf, by means of an illegal but “expeditious” act.

It is incumbent upon Anwar, having been a victim of such overzealousness in the “black eye” case, to see to it that such a sad episode is not repeated under his watch. Instead, he would have some pea-brained cohorts rationalising by spinning that that sacking is politically desirable. That is missing the point. The point is about transparency of good governance of a reformist party; the very things that PKR has been demanding of the government in power.

The good news to all of us is that the government is re-opening the black eye case of 1998. A whistle-blower retired from the power structure then has divulged administrative and substantive improprieties in the earlier investigation. Take this cue that the people are always conscious and demand that things should always be legal and proper when it touches the public domain.

PKR would do well to treat the issue of the alleged fraudulent letter seriously by having an impartial internal enquiry now, if it does not want to be given a black eye later by the voters and its coalition partners.

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