The Council of Najib
Angry grey clouds scudded across the sky over the huge green onion dome rising above the magnificent mock Moghul splendour of the prime minister’s office in Putrajaya. Thunder boomed as the howling wind whipped up the fluttering flags bringing with it the promise of rain. A late afternoon thunderstorm was about to unleash its fury on the land below but deep in the bowels of the building insulated from the capricious weather, a secret high level meeting was in progress.
Its seven participants are among the most powerful people in this nation of 28 million people. In the opulent chairman’s seat was the prime minister Najib Razak himself, to his right the deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin and to his left the ex-PM who would not retire, Tun Dr. Mahathir. The other four were home minister Hishamuddin, law minister Nazri Aziz, information minister Rais Yatim and the Attorney-General Gani Patail.
This was no ordinary Umno meeting called to discuss trite affairs of state but to deliberate on something far more important; the alleged violation of a private citizen’s back orifice which had engendered the involvement of the highest level of government. Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial had stretched to almost six months and was nearing its conclusion. A critical fork lay in the road ahead which required their deliberation and so the Council of Najib was convened.
Mahathir was addressing them again in his commanding gravelly tone, his authority no less diminished by his age or his retired status. “And I say it again, there are lots which could have been done better. There should have been other actors to support this case. In my time, we caught hold of three close associates of Anwar – his speechwriter Munwar, his adopted brother Sukma and even his wife’s tailor Mior – and we used the Special Branch to torture and extract false confessions from them to implicate Anwar in homosexual relationships. You need all these to support your case. I can’t understand why this wasn’t done this time! Have we grown soft?”
Najib sighed. He had invited Mahathir because he hoped to tap the old dictator’s experience in handling Anwar’s sodomy case 12 years ago but the old man seemed more interested in haranguing them on their lack of competence than in giving constructive criticism. “Tun”, he said evenly, “Times have changed. We can’t be catching innocent men to extract false confessions nowadays. It would create an unbearable scandal. The opposition is stronger now. Look how much problems Teoh Beng Hock’s case caused us?”
“But what’s important now is that Anwar’s trial is nearing the end and I’m sorry to say the prosecution hasn’t done a very good job convincing the public. Saiful’s testimony was practically torn apart by the defense. Grave doubts were casted on the DNA evidence by their experts and the two medical reports saying no evidence of penetration really gave us hell.”
Najib looked accusingly at Gani Patail. “Anwar came up with good alibis so the date and time of the offence had to be amended. This almost destroyed our case. Only the sternest instruction to the judge to carry on saved the day. I thought you had all the details taken care of, Gani?” he demanded.
Gani Patail’s face turned pale and beads of sweat appeared on his forehead despite the ample air-conditioning. “I-I-I knew about those alibis, Datuk Seri. We fixed the date and time on the advice of the police who said they can prove Anwar and Saiful were in the condo. We thought we could threaten and intimidate the witnesses not to testify but it didn’t work.”
Mathathir snorted derisively. “Bah! This wouldn’t have happened if I was in charge!”
Najib ignored the old man’s slight on his capability. “Now, what I want to discuss, is it safe to convict Anwar?” he asked.
Mahathir’s eyes widened with an incredulous expression on his wrinkled face.
Nazri spoke up. “Datuk Seri, in my opinion it is not safe to convict him. Our intelligence units report that only a small minority of hardcore Umno supporters believe he is guilty and only if we pay them. The huge majority thinks Anwar is a victim of political conspiracy. It would do BN great political damage to convict him.”
Mahathir looked like he was going to explode. “I-I can’t believe I’m hearing this!” he sputtered.
Nazri ignored him and continued, “There’s also Tengku Razaleigh. He’s been criticizing us like an opposition leader and even challenging us to sack him. I fear it may be the last straw if we convict Anwar and he may jump ship. This will give a huge psychological boost to the opposition”
“Why don’t we label him gay?” asked Mahathir viciously. “And you can join him in the opposition if you like.” There was clearly no love lost between him and Nazri.
“There are limits even for us!” Nazri shot back angrily. “The party will be destroyed. Don’t be surprised if even I jump ship before that happens.”
“Calm down,” Najib said soothingly. I’m sure Tun is not serious. About Tengku, we’ll cross the bridge if and when we come to it. He looked sternly across at the information minister. “What happened? Didn’t our newspapers and TV stations do good job?”
Rais Yatim fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m sorry, Datuk Seri. I’ve leaned heavily on the mass media we control to report the case to our advantage to damage and humiliate Anwar. I’ve also warned, threatened and cajoled the online world to step carefully but these bloggers seemed to have no fear. Utusan and New Straits Times have done a good job but this devil Anwar seems to be the Teflon Man which no dirt can stick”.
Mahathir growled again. “Compared to what our mass media did in 1998, what Utusan and NST have done now is nothing. Nothing! Back then, they really demonized and humiliated Anwar, no holds barred and no detail spared. We kicked him hard with no right of reply but now we seem to have grown soft”.
“Times have changed now, Tun.” Rais replied respectfully. “The public now have alternative news online and the mainstream media must maintain some decorum of balanced reporting if they want to survive. In fact, all the newspapers have reported a drop in circulation since the trial started.”
“So what do you think if we convict him?” Najib asked.
“Well, it will be hard to convince the public although not impossible,” said Rais, threading gingerly and trying to sense which answer would please his boss. “I could send out more cyber troopers to counter the online news and blogs. But the foreign press is really criticizing us. We can’t control that. Overall, I would say…I think…we can control. The general election is more than 2 years away and sentiment is sure to change by then.”
“Hah!” snorted Mahathir. “We had the 1999 election during Anwar’s sodomy trial which was stopped for one month. I still managed to get 2/3 majority. It’s how you manage things, Najib, it’s how you manage things!” stressed Mahathir, trying to pressure the prime minister.
“Times have changed but old minds still think the same. Old ways may not work anymore,” remarked Nazri softly as if to nobody in particular.
Mahathir turned to face Nazri, his eyes piercing like twin daggers. Before he could speak, Najib stepped in. He was secretly grateful for Nazri’s presence as a counterweight to Mahathir. “OK, what about civil unrest? Any chance of mass demos?”
This was Hishamuddin’s call. “Cousin Najib,” he intoned confidently, trying to flaunt his special relationship with the PM. “No fear of that. I’ve ordered one container of tear gas which will be here soon. Another 5 water canon trucks are already in Port Klang. I’ve also procured longer and stronger batons for the FRU whose numbers have been increased. I’ve been spending the rakyat’s money wisely. We are ready,” he smirked.
“OK, but go easy on the people, Hisham”, said Najib. “We don’t want too much violence. What do you think Muhyiddin?” he turned to his deputy who had been unusually quiet.
“Well, Datuk Seri, I think Tun Mahathir is right,” answered Muhyiddin. “We should just go ahead and convict him. After all the time and effort we can’t let Anwar get away just like that.” He glanced at the old man with a slight smile as Mahathir looked appreciatively at him.
The camaraderie between the two men was not lost on Najib. He would have to watch his back carefully against his deputy now. “OK, we convict. There will be anger, there will be outrage. We will be slammed left, right and centre. We need a diversion to score some brownie points with the people. Can anybody think of something?”
Outside the sky cried sheets of rain and the wind wailed in frenzied anguish. A tremendous bolt of lightning brightened the room for an instant and a deafening crash of thunder rend the air as if an angry god had roared its disapproval.
“Why don’t we prosecute Lingam?” offered Nazri. “The public has been baying for him to be charged. It will also take some pressure off the A-G.”
At this, Mahathir slammed the table. “Lingam is my lawyer. I will not allow it!” he roared.
Najib was quick to soothe the old man. “You must understand Nazri, if we put Lingam on trial we also put Tun Mahathir on trial. He appointed the judges. Any other ideas?”
“How about charging a big fish in PKFZ?” asked Gani Patail. “Chan Kong Choy the ex-transport minister exceeded his authority to issue two letters of guarantee.”
Najib thought for a while before he said, “No, it’s too messy. Ling Liong Sik before him also signed a letter of guarantee and we would have to prosecute him as well. This may collapse MCA. And don’t forget these big fishes may squeal. There are many in our party who would prefer things to be under wraps.”
“I have an idea, cousin Najib,” Hishamuddin spoke up. “We could sacrifice Samy Vellu. MACC has a file on him two inches thick from the Maika Telekom share scandal to AIMST university and stealing land for Tamil school among others. The Indians hate him but he refuses to go so it will be like killing two birds with one stone. The best thing is that he can’t pull down anybody from our party.”
Everybody agreed this was a good idea. There were chortles all around that the ‘old mandore’ was going to get it.
“What about the sentence?” asked Najib. “How long?”
“We don’t want the backlash to be too much,” said Nazri. “Just 6 months will be enough to disqualify him for running for public office for 5 years.”
“Six months!” sneered Mahathir sarcastically. “Listen to this small boy talk. All this work for 6 months! In my time, Anwar was sentenced to 9 years for sodomy and that was to be served consecutively to 6 years for abuse of power. If some fool judges hadn’t overturned the sodomy conviction, he would still be in jail right now.”
“I’m thinking 3 years,” said Najib.
Gani Patail said, “Please note, Datuk Seri, every prisoner is entitled to 1/3 remission for good behavior. 3 years means he will be out in 2 years. This means he will be out to organize the opposition against us in the 13th general election.”
“Aaah…,” exclaimed Najib, “I hadn’t thought of that. I think we should settle for 5 years then”.
Mahathir frowned and looked like he was about to say something but thought better of it.
“It’s decided then,” Najib continued. “Anwar will be sentenced to 5 years jail. Hah! The opposition had its day in court but we won the final round.” There were grins, back slaps and congratulations all around.
At that moment there was a furious knocking on the door. When the door was opened an aide rushed in, his hair disheveled and his face ashen. In between gasps he said, “Datuk Seri…Datuk Seri…bad news! Saiful Bukhari has been struck by lightning! He is still alive but he is deaf, dumb and paralyzed. His face is twisted into a grotesque expression.”
Najib rose from his chair, his face frozen in shock and his mouth opened in silent horror. The room seemed to rotate slowly and the voices of the others meld into babbling incoherence. A soft chuckling sound like coming from a great distance penetrated into his consciousness. In that sharp, stabbing moment, he knew he had lost.