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Cablegate: Najib Fights Back; Weekend Protest Fails to Impress

VZCZCXRO0886
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHKL #0575/01 1891149
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 071149Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1306
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 0115
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0435
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 2571
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 KUALA LUMPUR 000575

SIPDIS

FOR EAP AND INR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/07/2028
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KDEM MY
SUBJECT: NAJIB FIGHTS BACK; WEEKEND PROTEST FAILS TO IMPRESS

REF: A. KUALA LUMPUR 572 - NAJIB IMPLICATED IN MURDER
B. KUALA LUMPUR 570 - GOM DELIVERS PROTEST TO USG
C. KUALA LUMPUR 563 - ANWAR ON OFFENSIVE
D. KUALA LUMPUR 557 - ANWAR TAKES REFUGE
E. KUALA LUMPUR 73 - PROSECUTOR DOWNBEAT ON MURDER
CASE
F. 07 KUALA LUMPUR 291 - ALTANTUYA MURDER

Classified By: Political Section Chief Mark D. Clark, reason 1.4 (b and
d).

Summary
-------

1. (C) As de facto Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim went on
the offensive last week, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun
Razak wasted no time in denying any link to the Altantuya
murder case, while diffusing another bombshell by admitting
he previously had met the man accusing Anwar of sodomy. On
July 4, the private investigator who had implicated Najib in
the murder case sat by silently as a lawyer read out a
retraction of his statement publicized only 24 hours earlier.
The rising political boil led to rumors of potential arrest
for Anwar the night of July 3. A major Opposition political
rally in the Kuala Lumpur vicinity failed to attract critical
mass, as some supporters took heed of police warnings and
talk of using the military to ensure order. U.S. remarks
related to the allegations against Anwar continued to
generate opportunistic GOM criticism, including a letter from
Foreign Minister Rais Yatim to the Secretary. Prime Minister
Abdullah felt it necessary to announce that his government is
stable, in the face of rumors to the contrary, while UMNO
leaders prepared themselves for party elections. A key
lieutenant for Anwar Ibrahim assessed that PM Abdullah did
not support use of emergency measures against the Opposition
at this time, and said Anwar would continue with public
rallies. End Summary.

Najib: I Met Anwar's Accuser, But Not Altantuya
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (C) DPM Najib wasted little time in defending himself
publicly following Anwar's July 3 press conference featuring
private investigator Balasubramaniam and his explosive sworn
statement linking Najib to the murder of Mongolian national
Altantuya. Speaking with reporters, Najib explicitly denied
ever meeting Altantuya, and suggested Anwar's public
revelations were an attempt to distract the public from the
sodomy allegations against the Opposition leader. Najib,
however, admitted that he had met Anwar's accuser, Saiful
Bukhari Azlan, who had come to Najib's home several days
before filing a police complaint, but this did not reflect a
conspiracy. In a July 30 interview, Najib had insisted he
was not involved in the case at all, while Opposition sources
told us they had evidence and witnesses to the contrary
(suggesting to us that Najib corrected the public record in
order to preempt another disclosure by Anwar).

ISA Fears
---------

3. (C) In the immediate aftermath of the private
investigator's statement tying Najib to the Mongolian murder
victim, swirling rumors regarding Opposition protests, and
public statements by the police alluding to a possible role
for the military in maintaining order, Opposition sources
told us Anwar feared he could be arrested under the Internal
Security Act (ISA) as early as the evening of July 3. As a
precaution, Anwar completed a number of legal declarations
with his lawyer during the July 3 afternoon. To mitigate
risks that the planned July 6 anti-government rally could
provide a pretext for a security crackdown, the Opposition
decided to shift the venue from an open park to an enclosed
stadium in Shah Alam in line with a request from police.

Investigator's 24-Hour Turn-Around
----------------------------------

4. (C) Najib's camp appeared to conduct a major
counterstrike on July 4, as Balasubramaniam sat in a hastily
arranged press conference beside a lawyer who read out a
retraction of the private investigator's statement that he
publicized only 24 hours earlier. The PI's new statutory
declaration refutes all allegations connected to Najib,
explicitly repeating each of the statements now declared
false, and states that the earlier affidavit was completed
under duress. Balasubramaniam remained silent and glum in
the quick press encounter, in contrast to his open demeanor
the previous day. His about-face occurred after being called
to a police station on July 3, shortly after the Anwar press
conference. Following his retraction, Balasubramaniam with
his immediate family disappeared from public view, with some
rumors that he is abroad.

Tepid Turnout for Key Rally
---------------------------

5. (C) Rumored plans by the Opposition to stage a protest
march in Kuala Lumpur on July 4 after Friday Muslim prayers
failed to materialize, though police briefing detained two
activists at the National Mosque. Anwar traveled to
Opposition-held Penang on Saturday, July 5, to preside over
an Opposition rally there which drew an estimated 30,000
supporters. The big Opposition event, however, was slated
for Sunday, July 6, in Shah Alam in Selangor state, also in
Opposition hands. Police issued warnings regarding the
illegal nature of the July 6 rally, and set up road-blocks in
the vicinity, actions that deterred attendance; however,
police did not otherwise attempt to stop the event. The
all-day affair, at one time billed as a "million-man" rally,
attracted only a modest turnout of some 20,000, less than the
50,000 capacity of the stadium. Anwar exhorted the crowd to
throw out PM Abdullah's National Front (BN), but did not
mention his earlier deadline of September 16 to bring down
the government through the defection of BN members of
parliament. The greatest stir of the rally came earlier in
the day when a rock band singer flashed his buttocks to the
audience during a performance, outraging the crowd and
causing some conservative Muslim participants from the
Islamist PAS party to abandon the stadium.

U.S. Remarks in the Mix
-----------------------

6. (SBU) GOM and UMNO party officials continued to criticize
both the U.S. and Anwar over the State Department Spokesman's
June 30 remarks affirming our support for rule of law in
light of the sodomy allegations against the Opposition
leader. Foreign Minister Rais Yatim over the weekend
confirmed that he had sent a letter of protest to Secretary
Rice over U.S. interference in Malaysia's internal affairs.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar called Anwar America's
"snitch." Education Minister and UMNO Youth leader
Hishammuddin said the UMNO Youth wing would protest at the
U.S. Embassy, as well as at the Turkish embassy (for
sheltering Anwar June 29-30) and the Singapore high
commission (for articles published in Singapore critical of
DPM Najib's wife, Rosmah). Some 40-50 persons, purportedly
from the Muslim Consumers Association, demonstrated briefly
and peacefully at the U.S. Embassy on July 4; some carried
signs equating the U.S. and Anwar with Zionism. (Note: We
forwarded the Foreign Minister's July 4 letter to EAP/MTS.
Despite the high-level criticism, we enjoyed good Malaysian
official turnout at our Independence Day reception, held on
July 3. End Note.)

Prime Minister: Everything Under Control
-----------------------------------------

7. (SBU) With the political scene buffeted by the
Anwar-Najib maelstrom, and respected international media
beginning to remark on Malaysia's "turmoil," as did the Asian
Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Abdullah tried to
publicly reassure citizens and the international community
alike. On July 3, Abdullah publicly stressed, "this
government is a stable government, please believe that....
Don't panic about what is happening." On July 6, the PM's
comments turned more defense and emotional, as he hit out at
"rampant" "slandering" and Opposition protests. "I don't see
the rationale for the continued demonstrations, or to play
politics purely to create instability that could jeopardize
the people's safety and it is also aimed at toppling the
government elected by the people," Abdullah told reporters.

UMNO in Election Mode
---------------------

8. (SBU) Meanwhile, PM Abdullah's dominant UMNO party
officially begins its election cycle in 10 days time, with
the first phase, party branch elections, scheduled July
17-August 24. Most senior UMNO leaders are devoting
increasing time, particularly their weekends, to contact work
with their respective party branches and divisions. While
elections for the presidency, deputy presidency and other
national leadership positions do not take place until
December, successful candidates must lay the ground work now
to ensure their nominations later in the process. For
example, internet journalists reported on July 7 that all 13
UMNO division leaders in Abdullah's home state of Penang had
already decided to nominate Abdullah for reelection as party
president, a move supposedly intended to forestall a push by
Najib's supporters.

Down from the Boiling Point, for Now
------------------------------------

9. (C) Polchief met on July 7 with Sivarasa Rasiah, vice
president in Anwar's Peoples Justice Party (PKR) and one of
Anwar's lawyers. Sivarasa said last week's political scene
was volatile and "boiling," but the situation now had calmed
down to a "simmer." He downplayed the immediate risk of the
GOM employing emergency measures, such as ISA detention for
Anwar and other opposition leaders, in large part because he
believed PM Abdullah was not supportive of such measures at
this stage. Even though the police could arrest and hold
Anwar for a period of 60 days, Abdullah would need to be on
board with the decision. Second, Sivarasa argued that use of
ISA against Anwar also entailed a willingness to declare a
state of emergency to contain and tamp down street protests
that would erupt, a step that again Abdullah, but also the
King and fellow traditional rulers and perhaps the security
forces were not backing at this time.

10. (C) Sivarasa said Anwar would continue holding rallies,
particularly in Opposition-held states, but would be careful
to minimize the risk of these getting out of hand and
creating a pretext for harsh government action. Sivarasa
acknowledged that in the July 6 rally Anwar had not mentioned
his now famous September 16 deadline for bringing down the BN
government, and Sivarasa appeared to imply that this date did
not reflect a particular plan, at least not one that he was
privy to. Sivarasa downplayed the possibility of Anwar
contesting in a by-election in the near future.

11. (C) The PKR VP and lawyer thought that the police
investigation into the sodomy allegations against Anwar had
failed to turn up enough information for prosecutors to
justify an actual indictment, though the police would never
speak up to clear Anwar's name and the allegations, or an
open investigation, would linger. Sivarasa stated that
private investigator Balasubramaniam had confided in him,
along with a number of others, some two months ago regarding
information linking Najib to the Altantuya murder case.
Anwar would bring forward these witnesses to
Balasubramaniam's remarks when needed.

Comment
-------

12. (C) Last week's palatable political tension, stoked by
Anwar's offensive in face of the sodomy investigation and GOM
counterattacks, has receded somewhat as of today. The
under-attended Opposition rally of July 6, considered by
itself, failed to impress or convey a sense of popular
momentum. BN leaders, Najib in particular, have been quick
to conclude that the rally's failure to attract a packed
crowd reflects a lack of support for Anwar. Police warnings
and reference to bringing in the military to ensure order no
doubt dampened enthusiasm among Opposition supporters. The
political status quo threatens Anwar and plays into Najib's
hands, however, suggesting that the Opposition leader will
come out with fresh challenges to the BN government.

13. (C) Najib and UMNO may have suffered longer term blows
to their public credibility in the exchange of allegations
with Anwar. Detailed revelations about Najib, even retracted
the next day, will tend confirm the widespread public belief
that the DPM is linked to the Altantuya murder. The
allegations against Anwar, however, appear as a repeat of the
politically-motivated charges of 1998, even to those who put
some stock in the reports. For Najib this comes at the
inopportune time with the start of the UMNO election cycle,
and will dampen the possibility his camp can generate enough
grassroots backing for a Najib bid to replace Abdullah as
party leader come December.

KEITH

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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