The prime minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed,
had his day of undivided attention on a foreign television programme when
CNN interviewed him "live" on one of its news programmes. The Anwar
Saga hung over the interview by Lorraine Hahn like the darkened clouds
we see nowadays over Kuala Lumpur, with the prime minister revealing only
such information as he can afford to give out, not because it would defy
the High Court's gag order but saying more could be fatal to his political
health. He made a few good points, but his body language was not
that of the Mahathir I have come to expect. The interview itself
appears to be a trade off, which has left CNN to soft pedal its coverage
on Malaysia in recent weeks. Even CNBC have decided that its finances
are more important than covering what should be covered. The government's
exasperation at the widespread coverage of the Anwar Saga, in Malaysia
and abroad, is inevitable: after all, it is not often, in normal
the deputy prime minister would ever get the kind of coverage -- in the Bolehland political belief that any coverage is better than no coverage (hence the jack-in-the-box comments, usually self-serving and irrelevant from those who need it badly to ensure their relection to the UMNO councils next June -- that the ousted deputy prime minister gets from his High Court trial.
He said nothing unexpected. He restated his position in front of the Apec summit. But the combative political spark we have come to expect from him is missing; it put paid once and for all any intention the prime minister had to ensure that his support came from within, not from a CNN broadcast. Reproducing the transcript in local newspapers and repeating them on the local radio and television networks is no substitute to taking Malaysians into his confidence, and addressing them directly. He seems to have decided he must depend on the non-Malay constituency, since the Malay community is unhappy and angry with him, to reburnish his international reputation. But that can only come with solid local support.
In fact, the CNN interview was the first when
Dr Mahathir's diffidence came through with such clarity. Comare that
ebullience confidence that Dato' Seri Anwar displays in court, sparring with the reporters, believing and behaving as if "walls do
not a prison make". Ex cathedra statements from him, on CNN and elsewhere, is no substitute from the superbly handly press agentry of Dato' Seri Anwar. In fact, Dato' Seri Anwar's written interview with TIME magazine took the sails out of Dr Mahathir's CNN interview. At least the TIME interview can be, and is, widely circulated; there is not even a tape of the CNN interview on sale for the masses to buy and read. Dato' Seri Anwar's second guessing damages the prime minister more than is admitted. To claims in parliament that the new prime ministerial residence, for instance, Anwar's retort that if the prime ministerial residence only cost RM17.5 million, as alleged in parliament, how is that that the official residence of the deputy prime minister -- which he spurned because of cost -- cost 2-1/2 times more? He now alleges a new prime ministerial jet costing RM200 million due to arrive any time now. Like the dramatic constitutional shift in the courts' jurisdiction ten years ago, we have yet to hear about this, and how was it that parliament was not informed of this? The government maintains a deafening silence on this. The CNN interview threw up a conundrum: the prisoner is the free man; and the free man the prisoner.