In the court of public opinion, is Putrajaya or Umno fighting Anwar?

18 February 2015

There is a very fine line, between defending one’s party and excoriating political opponents in the battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate. And all the more so when it comes to a criminal case.

Sixteen years ago, the prosecution led by then Attorney-General, Tan Sri Mokhtar Abdullah and aided by Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, presented the state’s evidence against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and got him convicted and jailed for sodomy and abuse of power.

Umno and specifically then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was blamed for that episode. It cost the ruling Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) Terengganu in the 1999 general election.

But there was no roadshows to debunk political conspiracy theories by Anwar’s supporters. None. The prosecutors did their job and that was that, no matter the international outrage, public opprobrium and the weekend public protests.
Last week, the Federal Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s verdict to convict and jail Anwar for five years in another sodomy case. Again, Anwar said it was a political ploy to keep him and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) from capturing Putrajaya.

Again, there was international outrage, public opprobrium but not much public protests as most vented their spleen online and got back to their ordinary lives.

But this time, it was Umno lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah who led the prosecution at both the Court of Appeal and Federal Court levels. And this time, Umno decided to take Shafee on a roadshow to explain the verdict.

This time, Umno has crossed the fine line between defending the party against charges of political conspiracy in the case and prosecuting Anwar in the court of public opinion.

Anwar has been charged, convicted and jailed. Yet, why is there a need to get the deputy public prosecutor to explain the case to all and sundry? And even to diplomats?

The latest venture reeks of a government and a party that is not sure what their roles are in a judicial prosecution.

Putrajaya has presented its case and convinced the judges of Anwar’s guilt in both the Court of Appeal and Federal Court. Is there a need now to trot out the prosecutor and do the same in public?

Or even worse, cast aspersions to what the defence did or did not do in the trial?

Is that even the job of a public prosecutor, to further prosecute or persecute an accused beyond the law courts?

The late A-G Mokhtar Abdullah did not have to go beyond the courts to convince anyone that Anwar was guilty of a crime. His job was just to convince the judges.

His successor Gani decided to appoint Shafee to convince the judges in the appeal process in the second trial.

Shafee succeeded. So why does he have to present his case to the public now? Does he or Umno think it is a phyrric victory and therefore, they need to court public opinion now?

Shafee has done his job as deputy public prosecutor in the law courts, but taking his prosecution and the judgment on a roadshow just undermines his work.

It speaks of a party and a prosecutor trying too hard to finish off Anwar.

And it speaks of a generation of politicians and lawyers who do not have the finesses and intelligence of their predecessors in arguing a case in either the court of law or public opinion.

It also just furthers and fuels political conspiracies that Anwar had spoken of in the trial. Instead of putting Anwar away from the political stage, Umno and Shafee might have just revived the PKR chief’s career and appeal among a new generation of voters. – February 18, 2015.

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