Malaysia and Internet abuzz over hour-long meeting at PM's residence
By Leslie Lopez
KUALA LUMPUR: A secret meeting between Prime Minister Najib Razak and his political nemesis, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, is likely to send shock waves through Umno and the opposition alliance.
The meeting some time last month has put Datuk Seri Najib in an awkward spot, as he will be under pressure from his party to explain why its president bothered to meet the man Umno despises as a traitor to the politically dominant Malay community.
But analysts say that there is also a downside for Datuk Seri Anwar because it will raise questions among his political allies in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition about his commitment to their opposition alliance.
'There are so many permutations to this meeting. But on paper, this meeting does benefit Anwar because there is recognition that he is the opposition leader and someone the government needs to deal with,' said a senior Umno leader, who asked not to be named.
The hush-hush meeting has attracted a lot of attention in Malaysia because, while Mr Najib is the current premier, PR has made it clear that it wants to take over the federal government by the next election and install Mr Anwar as PM.
Political sources from the Najib and Anwar camps have confirmed that the two politicians met at the prime minister's residence in the administrative capital of Putrajaya.
The sources remain vague about what transpired at the session, which lasted just over an hour. The meeting, they said, was initiated by Mr Najib.
Opposition MP Jeff Ooi 'tweeted' on online networking tool Twitter about the meeting, after reading a news report about it, wondering if the meeting was meant to 'foster BN-Opposition cooperation'.
If so, he said 'hawks within Umno didn't show it. Racism-stoking Umno mouthpieces didn't report it', though Mr Ooi did not rule out such an outcome to the pow-wow.
The Internet was abuzz over the meeting, with arguments over whether Mr Najib or Mr Anwar came out as the weaker-looking party by meeting his rival face to face.
Sources within the Najib camp said the meeting was simply to deliver a message that the government and opposition need to work together to deal with the economy. They said the incessant politicking that has dragged on since last year's general election has severely damaged Malaysia's image as a destination for foreign capital.
Mr Anwar is head of the three-party PR alliance and also the appointed Parliamentary Opposition Leader.
The sources close to the Premier said Mr Najib gave Mr Anwar the assurance that he would not discriminate against the four states currently controlled by the opposition.
Close aides to Mr Anwar generally agree with this account of the meeting, but they note that Mr Najib was reluctant to give assurances that he would accept a two-party system taking root.
Mr Anwar also sought a commitment that the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition would halt its campaign of destabilising opposition-led states.
He also sought assurances against a repeat of the political fiasco in Perak last March when the defection of three PR state representatives led to the downfall of the opposition alliance.
But Mr Najib was non-committal, one political aide close to Mr Anwar said.
The sources also said that both leaders touched on two other sensitive topics: Mr Najib's alleged links to a former Mongolian interpreter who was murdered, and the sodomy charges Mr Anwar is facing.
A senior politician close to the Premier said 'it would be understandable that these two issues would have been discussed'. But he declined to elaborate.
[On the face of it, this was a good initiative, but not taken far enough. For the PM and the leader of the opposition to agree that these are difficult times requiring unusual cooperation is a good thing. What they need to do next is to make a public announcement - that for the good of M'sia they would be setting aside the politics and working to bring M'sia out of the economic crisis.]