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Friday, Sept 18
Anwar's political career not over yet
by M. Jegathesan

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 18 (AFP) - Despite being fired, accused of a multitude of crimes and kicked out of the ruling party earlier this month, political analysts and party members alike say the career of Anwar Ibrahim is far from over.

As he enters the second week of a tour to garner support for political reforms, Anwar, 51, faces a dilemma.

He can mobilise tens of thousands at the grassroots level, but does not enjoy the political machinery which came with his former job as deputy president of the United Malays National Organisaton (UMNO).

At the same time, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad -- who dismissed his former heir apparent as deputy premier and finance minister on September 2 -- is consolidating his hold over the ruling party and shows no sign of stepping down despite his 73 years, which includes 17 years in office.

Anwar, however, has time on his side.

''Mahathir himself was sacked from UMNO but he returned to active politics and then on to become premier. We cannot rule out Anwar's return,'' says a senior government official who has been closely monitoring the political drama unfold.

''You cannot say it is impossible for Anwar to return. But it will be an uphill task,'' said the official, who asked not to be named.

Mahathir was booted out of UMNO in 1969 for criticising its leadership but returned to the party in 1974.

The official said that party members may similarly decide to ''forgive and forget'' and that Anwar's career could spring back.

''Depending on the mood and with the old guard out of the scene, Anwar may return,'' the official said.

Anwar, who alleges a high-level conspiracy to destroy his career, is keeping his options open, meeting with leaders of opposition parties but refusing to commit himself to any broad-based alliance against Mahathir.

His commitment to UMNO is nevertheless open to question -- the former radical student leader and Islamic activist was only brought into the ruling party in 1982 after serving almost two years in jail for endangering national security.

Khoo Kay Kim, a historian at University Malaya, said it was ''difficult'' to say whether Anwar could be accepted back into the UMNO fold.

''It depends. UMNO is flexible enough to adjust from time to time,'' he said. ''We can't say Anwar is definitely out. It is an interesting game to watch.''

One member of the UMNO youth wing closely aligned to Anwar noted that police have still not formally charged him, adding weight to the conspiracy theory as his tour of the country gathers momentum.

''Grass-roots members now understand that there is injustice. The feeling of frustration is building up. There is no turning back. Anwar will go ahead in search of justice,'' he added.

And while grass-roots members have litle influence in the party, he said they could decide not to vote for UMNO in any general election, expected to be held either late this year or early next year.

''Some members may opt not to vote for the government. They will not cast their votes,'' he said.

Abdul Kadir Jasin, group editor of New Straits Times, said recently that Anwar should be given the chance to defend himself in court against the charges.

''If he wins, he not only clears his name, but can inflict the sweetest revenge on the people 'at the highest' level who had conspired against him. His time would return and theirs gone,'' he said.