DIGOS CITY—When Tawi-Tawi Rep. Nur Jaafar was interviewed by the Sabah-based Daily Express on Sunday, he warned that the Sabah “intrusion” by armed followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was developing into a major political issue in Malaysia, which is gearing for general elections not later than June 27.
Media reports from Kuala Lumpur indicate that this has become a reality, with the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition accusing each other of orchestrating the Sabah situation for political gains after Philippine intelligence sources said a Malaysian opposition stalwart allied with Anwar Ibrahim had met with Kiram days before the Sabah entry.
Progovernment TV3 and Utusan Malaysia even ran a commentary by an unidentified author, which listed “10 indications that Anwar Ibrahim had architected [sic] the land grab by the sultan of Sulu.” The article accused Anwar of being a “manipulator par excellence and so skilled that he convinced several hundred fighters from Philippines to hide out in Lahad Datu and die for his cause.”
In the early years of his political career, Anwar, then an official of the the United Malays National Organization (Umno), was being groomed by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad as his successor. Their relationship, however, eventually soured and Anwar was jailed on charges of sodomy.
Since then, Anwar has been on the forefront of the opposition, earning the ire of his former colleagues at Umno and their supporters.
The Bahasa daily Utusan Malaysia went even further when it printed a blog that claimed a “member of the Malaysian political opposition allied with Anwar Ibrahim” had met with Jamalul and promised the opposition’s support for his claim on Sabah.
TV3 used 30 minutes of its “Buletin Utama” program to discuss Anwar’s supposed links to the Lahad Datu “intrusion.” It also dedicated a similar period to demolish Tian Chua, vice president of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), for claiming the intrusion was a political play by leaders of Umno, the dominant party in the BN.
Anwar, PKR head and representative of Permatang Pauh to the Malaysian Parliament, was quoted by The New Straits Times (NST) as saying he had asked his lawyers to study the possibility of suing the two media outfits.
“These are highly irresponsible statements. They are purely cheap political gimmicks to create uncertainties and to apportion the blame [on us], to deflect from the utter weakness and failure of the leadership in this country,” he said in the NST interview.
Anwar, in the succeeding days of the standoff, had repeatedly denied the claims and said Utusan was allowing itself to be used by Umno for its political gains. He said he never met with any member of the Kiram family or their emissaries.
“[And] even if I have met [them], what is the issue? Who in the government has not met Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Al Haj Murad Ebrahim or (Moro National Liberation Front leader) Nur Misuari?” he asked in another interview printed by the Malaysia Today.
“What is important is: Was there any discussion or encouragement or tacit approval [from me] for the insurgency or the encroachment into our borders?” Anwar said.
In retaliation for dragging Anwar into the Sabah bloodbath, Tian was reported by the Borneo Post as having said that on the contrary, Umno orchestrated the gun battle “with armed intruders” in Lahad Datu.
Tian said it was a “planned conspiracy of the UMNO government to divert attention and intimidate the people,” especially in Sabah, which is fast becoming opposition territory.
The PKR is being helped in Sabah by another opposition leader, Jeffrey Kitingan, a brother of Prime Minister Najib Razak-ally Joseph Pairin Kitingan.
Azmin Ali, another party stalwart, was also quoted by Borneo Insider as saying “the allegations were made in an attempt to weaken the growing support of Sabahans for the opposition.”
He challenged Anwar’s accusers to “produce proof.”
“All these are baseless accusations and attempts to divert attention from the real issue, which is the people’s safety,” he said. “Malaysians wanted to know the prime minister’s and home minister’s explanation on their handling of the standoff.”
“We ask: Don’t shift the people’s attention, how the safety of our seas and territory can be breached,” Azmin said.
Najib, in a report carried by state media Bernama, trashed the allegations about Umno’s role in the Sabah crisis as “a despicable political game by the opposition to garner the people’s support in view of the approaching general election.”
“They (the opposition) are accusing the government of staging a drama. We (the government) did not do any such thing. We never politicize our security because it involves human lives,” Najib also told a news conference during a ceremony honoring as heroes the two Malaysian commandos killed in Lahad Datu on Friday.
Najib accused PKR politicians of being “merciless and had no regard for humanitarian values” as they were “prepared to commit despicable acts and tell lies, and they could not be accepted as leaders.”
“We must say that all the security forces would be defended because they are risking their lives. The nation’s fighters should be acclaimed, not humiliated and debunked. So, do not play politics on the question of security,” the prime minister said.
He disclosed that a joint investigation by the Malaysian intelligence agency and its Philippine counterpart had started on claims that the Sabah incident was instigated by some politicians.
Najib said he, too, was puzzled at the timing of the “intrusion” because it took place as Malaysia’s political atmosphere was heating up due to the general elections.
“We want to know more on the claim. President Aquino is also interested to know,” he said.