The ‘I File’ exposes the hidden secret of Anwar

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We all recall that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was a major force behind the first Bersih rally, which made a lie of its profession of non-partisanship. However, if Jonathan Smith, the author of the The I-Filesis correct, then Anwar was also behind the Hindraf rally that rocked the nation at the end of 2007 and followed closely on Bersih.

Such is Smiths’s latest tale, which apparently covers Anwar’s attempt to turn street organising and tear gas into a means to political power, a return to his activist days in the 1970s and the days immediately after he failed to dislodge Mahathir in the late 1990s. As an aside, Smith also suggests that Anwar and his allies have been largely responsible for the funding of several other, nominally non-partisan NGOs and enterprises that have been stalking horses for the Opposition in recent years.

Smith seems very aware of the everyday happenings of modern Malaysia, which he says suggest contain echoes of Anwar’s attempt to return to power before GE12 … and in turn, echoes of Anwar’s time in Government.

The stories of both Bersih and Hindraf – the two rallies less than a month apart that shook Malaysia – begins as with so much else in this story with pre-existing structures corrupted by Anwar’s money machine. For Hindraf, the initial organisers were just a handful of men and women deeply exercised over the destruction of Hindu temples. With Bersih, a group of reformers and relatively unimportant Keadilan personages began discussing electoral reform by e-mail.

Anwar’s money changed all of that, beginning in late 2005.

It appears clear that Smith sees in Anwar a master of certain old tricks he deploys again and again, but who is unable to incorporate new tactics into his repertoire. He portrays Anwar as using the otherwise well-meaning and honest Bersih and Hindraf organisers as pawns whom his money and expertise eventually overwhelmed, and whom he threw aagainst Tun Abdullah Badawi’s Government as targeted missiles.

Smith seems especially keen on demonstrating the extent to which the rallies were intended as visual spectacles, seeking CNN attention, or what he calls “a CNN moment,” and taking advantage of satellite TV and internet as means of carrying a graphic message about and to Abdullah’s premiership. It is a message, Smith argues, that Anwar has attempted to send with each such mass rally, even up to Bersih 3.0, when Anwar and Azmin apparently ordered their supporters to charge the police barricades:

The point of a rally, or a riot, or a mob, is not to cause directly a government’s overthrow. It is to generate sympathy in the greater population for one’s cause. It is to generate that CNN moment, preferably with tear gas on camera. The marchers must be the demonstrative sacrifices to a brutal state, or the men and women who stayed at home will continue to stay at home. They must see their neighbours, their friends, their family bludgeoned and gassed, even though they may have attacked the police in the first place.

This was the motivation behind the Bersih rallies and the 2007 Hindraf rally. It is why Bersih 2.0 was turned into a provocation against the police, and why Anwar made his widely-viewed gesture to storm the barricades at Bersih 3.0. With the tools of power denied him, Anwar fell back on his old days of street rallies, just as he had when his coup attempt failed.

This “CNN moment,” Smith argues, was the rationale for having Hindraf start at the Petronas Towers (with a similar rally at the Batu Caves); why Bersih began as a march to the King to present purported grievances; and why the Hindraf rally was originally conceived as an attempt to embarrass the Government before the British by directing its conclusion to the British High Commission.

Smith also suggests that Anwar knew before these rallies began that they would degenerate into running battles with police forces, and indeed, Anwar was counting on exactly that outcome. This, Smith suggests, provided all of the elements Anwar needed to galvanise his followers and international opinion: peaceful marchers, bludgeoned and tear-gassed by police before national symbols of pride. All on CNN.

One wonders, if Smith is correct, if Anwar bothered to share these plans with those who took the tear gas and truncheons.

An interesting assertion here is that Anwar directed this entire effort through paid mat salleh professionals. While it is impossible for us to identify the truth of this assertion, a review of Bersih’s and Hindraf’s Wikipedia pages suggests he may have a point.

Smith also concludes that all of this chaos, while good for Anwar in the short-term, was disastrous for him in the longer-term, as it alerted foreign intelligence services to the possibility that an unrepentant street radical might be the next Prime Minister of Malaysia. This, Smith suggests, was the beginning of Anwar’s ultimate failure.

According to The choice, Smith has now brought us in his unorthodox history of Anwar Ibrahim from the 1970s to the eve of GE 12. For the rest of the story, it appears, we must wait for the next chapters of The I-Files.