Habibie and Mahathir’s ‘muktamad’ on Anwar’s Munich surgery
BJ Habibie, 3rd President of Indonesia, passed away yesterday night but WFTV remembers the episode to get Anwar Ibrahim out of Malaysia for a back operation rejected by Dr M.
That was in 2001, and then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad ended a move by Anwar, then in jail, to get treatment in Munich.
Here is a lesser-known episode because it was not reported in the local media. At that time, it was taboo for local newspapers to publish anything the government of the day did not want to read.
There were a lot of tractions on whether to let Anwar have surgery for a deteriorating back injury. It was not about which hospital or where else the surgery should take place.
It was whether he could have the surgery! That is how the situation was for the man who is to become the next PM of the country.
Rumours have it Anwar was beaten in jail on the very first day he entered the cell. We all know the story and who was behind the aggression.
The aggression led a black-eyed reformasi leader being brought to court and this became the symbol of the party that fought for his freedom.
However, there was more than the black eye. Anwar had suffered a back injury because of this ill-treatment. The government could not ignore this fact.
At the time of the calls by opposition leaders to let Anwar have surgery, Dr Mahathir was not listening.
He had a meeting with the opposition leaders on whether Anwar should have surgery or not. His response was negative.
We remember this tense moment at a media conference in 2001 where Dr Mahathir said in a loud tone: “Muktamad!” which resonated in the conference room.
That was the big news on national television and in the local newspapers. It was like a sort of victory dance for these media outlets. Mahathir says ‘Muktamad!’ as in a refusal by Dr M to allow Anwar to have surgery abroad.
The point is by the time the stories of how Anwar was suffering from back pain in jail became public, there were talks of allowing Anwar to leave Malaysia and have surgery in Munich.
Yes, why Munich of all places?
Lim Kit Siang wrote a blog post arguing that Abdullah Badawi should allow Anwar to have surgery in Germany.
But that was in 2004, before the general elections.
In the post, Lim wrote the DAP calls on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to allow former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to go to Munich, Germany for the endoscopic surgery “available only in Germany for his worsening spinal injuries.”
In 2001, Dr Mahathir made it clear he will never allow Anwar to leave the country for a surgery that could be done in Malaysia.
He said it to opposition leaders who met him to discuss the issue. Nevertheless, he changed his rigid stance on the matter.
Instead of forcing Anwar to have surgery at the Hospital KL, he would allow Anwar to have surgery in any hospitals in Malaysia.
The issue was more political to the government than taking up the health concerns of the opposition leader.
In truth, Dr Mahathir was worried that Anwar would never come back from Germany and would launch a western-led campaign against his government from Munich.
This was because it was seriously impossible for anyone to stand-up to Dr Mahathir and his Barisan Nasional regime in that period.
Hence, a freed Anwar from jail in Malaysia would have thoughts about toppling the BN from Munich. That thought must have crossed Dr M’s mind, hence the loud and clear ‘Muktamad!” in 2001.
The issue dragged on until after Dr Mahathir quit in 2003. And it became a problem in the hands of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the new Prime Minister.
By then, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)) and Computed Tomography (CT) scans confirmed that Anwar sustained two new back injuries: friction of a facet joint and a prolapse of another disc.
Abdullah Badawi did not want to be the PM who frees Anwar from jail and allow him to campaign from Germany.
But there were intense negotiations in 2001 to get Anwar out of jail and to do the operations in Germany.
We believe the former President of Indonesia had a hand in the talks. There were certainly emissaries sent to discuss the potential of allowing Anwar out of Malaysia.
We know of the story in which people from the Prime Minister’s office met with PKR and other intermediaries to discuss Anwar’s surgery in Germany.
Among a certain group of reformists, there were talks of a chance to topple the Dr M regime from Munich. This went all the way to Putrajaya.
They were saying the ‘men in black’ from the PM’s office met with PKR people to discuss the matter. They also said the former Indonesian President Habibie was aware of the talks.
But for the Mahathir government, it was a risky undertaking. They feared the close relationship between Anwar and Habibie.
The president passed away yesterday evening after undergoing intensive treatment since his admission to the Rumah Sakit Pusat Angkatan Darat Gatot Soebroto on Sept 1.
According to people close to Anwar Ibrahim, the two leaders had a very close relationship and Habibie was extremely worried about the Malaysia leader’s health.
After an operation in Germany, Habibie, who was living in the country had Anwar staying in his house to recuperate. Anwar has not forgotten Habibie’s friendship in his difficult years.
Following his release from prison in 2004, Anwar had a spinal operation in Munich and stayed at Habibie’s house.
“BJ Habibie was an individual I considered family, and he was very concerned about the suffering I went through while I finished my operation after being freed from prison.
He thanked Habibie and the former Indonesian president’s late wife Ainon for looking after him during that difficult time.
“He was a humble man, with lengthy and intelligent discourse and he was no ordinary politician,” recalled Anwar in a Facebook post.
“BJ Habibie spoke from confidence as well as from conscience. This was something unique from a great figure and a great leader who will surely be missed by all parties,” said Anwar.
He expressed condolences on behalf of his party PKR.
Tun Dr Mahathir also joined the list of people who issued condolences on the death of Habibie. He said he and Habibie were friends.
But we know how far was the relationship between Anwar and Habibie.