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Mahathir’s 'face-saving' formula for Anwar? 'Real story' joins fray against 'Untold Story'

Publish date: Mon, 29 May 2023, 09:03 AM

The recently launched movie on Anwar Ibrahim which sparked controversy over claims of his supporters artificially propping up its ratings has also led to a flurry of narratives challenging the version of events depicted in the film. 

According to the makers of "Anwar: The Untold Story", the movie tells what happened in the years running up to Anwar's fall from grace in 1998, when he was sacked from the Cabinet by then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad over allegations of immorality.

Anwar's supporters gave rave reviews of the film although some dismissed it as a crude propaganda attempt ahead of critical elections in six states while film critics described it as filled with "cringey" dialogue and poor acting.

The movie also attracted attention after revelations of free screenings for civil servants and students, and pictures of empty cinema halls despite claims of sold-out shows. 

In recent days, however, exchanges on social media have shifted focus to narratives challenging the film's depiction of Anwar as a leader who paid a high price for opposing corruption in Mahathir's government.

They include a clip of a speech by a former associate of Anwar, detailing the events in the weeks and days leading up to Sept 2, 1998 - the day Mahathir sacked his one-time successor from all government posts. 

The clip, widely circulated on WhatsApp as well as TikTok, shows Ibrahim Ali giving his version of behind-the-scenes incidents which took place before Anwar's dismissal.

Ibrahim, a former Kelantan Umno strongman, was close to Anwar during their involvement in the student protests of the 1970s which resulted in two years for both under the Internal Security Act at the Kamunting detention centre.

Middleman for Mahathir and Anwar

In the nine-minute clip, Ibrahim recalls a meeting with Mahathir at a horse-riding club in Kuala Lumpur six months before Anwar's sacking on Sept 2, 1998, where the then prime minister confronted him with questions on the allegations of sexual misconduct against his deputy.

"I said, why is Dato (Mahathir) asking me? (He replied) You have known him a long time, and you were in Kamunting for two years," Ibrahim said in the undated clip. 

Ibrahim said during their meeting, Mahathir also shared details about Anwar as furnished by intelligence sources and others, including Hanif Omar, who had then retired as the police inspector-general.

Ibrahim said following his meeting with Mahathir, he kept a distance from Anwar, but received a rare call from him just two days before Sept 2, asking for an urgent meeting.

When he arrived at Anwar's house, Ibrahim said the deputy prime minister broke down and hugged him, and apologised for ignoring him.

"I said, what's going on? (He said) Don't you know, Dr Mahathir wants to sack me within the next few days." 

Ibrahim said Anwar asked him to meet Mahathir with the aim of convincing the prime minister to change his mind, adding that Anwar was hopeful that Mahathir would give him "another chance".

Ibrahim said he made way to Sri Perdana, the official residence of the prime minister then in Kuala Lumpur.

He said he was refused entry by the police, but that he told them to call the house. 

He said when the phone was answered by Mahathir's wife, Dr Siti Hasmah Ali, he pleaded with her to allow him to meet her husband.

Later in the house, Ibrahim said he broke down when Mahathir appeared, hugging the prime minister and pleading with him to "give Anwar another chance".

Ibrahim said Mahathir then asked him whether Anwar had requested him to come. 

'Face-saving' for Anwar

Ibrahim said the prime minister then proposed a way out for Anwar which would save face, to prevent the allegations from becoming public knowledge.

"It's like this, Ibrahim: you go back and meet with Anwar, and tell him to write his resignation letter. 

"(Write in this letter) that he resigned because he did not agree with the economic policies and financial matters at the time, because our country was being attacked by rogue currency speculators," Ibrahim quoted Mahathir as saying, referring to the Asian financial crisis which saw the ringgit plunging against the US dollar from about RM2.40 in 1997 to an all-time low of RM4.88 by January 1998.

A day before sacking Anwar, Mahathir announced that the ringgit would be pegged to 3.80 to the dollar, a move he said would shield it from currency speculators. 

The move was criticised by economists as well as the International Monetary Fund, although the body in 2002 praised Mahathir's handling of the economic crisis.

During his meeting, Ibrahim said Mahathir told him that Anwar could cite economic disagreements instead of allegations of immorality as a reason for his resignation.

"No problem. Of course, people will be angry with me. I will take responsibility," he further quoted Mahathir as saying. 

Ibrahim said Mahathir then told him that he had interviewed many people before being convinced that his deputy was not morally fit to take over the top office.

Ibrahim said he made one final appeal on behalf of Anwar, which Mahathir flatly rejected. 

"No, Ibrahim!" he recalled Mahathir as saying. "Let me be destroyed. I will not ruin the country to give him the position of prime minister." 

In 2000, Anwar was sentenced to nine years in prison for sodomising his adopted brother Sukma Darmawan. He was released in 2004 after winning a Federal Court appeal, although the bench maintained in its judgment that the homosexual act did occur, remarks which Anwar failed to expunge.

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