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Pak Lah steps out of Mahathirs shadow

After taking over as premier, one of the thorniest question Pak Lah faced was what he would do about the Anwar Ibrahim problem.

Public perception has always been that Anwar was incarcerated because he challenged ex- premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad for power. It was in short, a uniquely Mahathir problem bequeathed to Pak Lah.

People who believed in Anwar's innocence would point to the convictions - notwithstanding the many shortcomings of evidence at trial. Even those who believed Anwar was tainted with sexual improprieties, as alleged, wonder why he alone had been selectively persecuted and the manner in how the state and propaganda juggernaut had been used to roll over one man who defied the political will of the then numero uno.

All, however, agreed that the man had been punished enough in all these five years of incarceration, and mercy if not justice, would dictate another course.

So how long could Pak Lah distance himself away from this Mahathir problem? He could not keep at the sidelines remaining non-committal by saying that it was not his administration's problem. As premier, he had the power to address the problem that he inherited.

Whilst it has often been speculated on how he would develop his own leadership style, fill in the big shoes of his predecessor and measure against the previous PM's record, the answer seems deceptively simple: just identify the shortcomings of the previous administration and do contrariwise.

Hence, where the previous administration had been picking bones with everyone else, the present one takes a softer and conciliatory approach. One now sees the warming up of relations with the US, and the opening of doors for Singapore's Temasek's entry into Tenaga, Malaysian Plantation etc.

And the less heated exchanges with Australia's John Howard. International fund managers and investors now look more favourably at the country in the wake of Anwar's release.

Where the previous administration has been criticised for police brutality and complicity, we now see that the Malaysian police has been taken to task by the Royal Commission and a major underworld figure, a Datuk no less, has been sent to the Simpang Renggam prision.

Where the previous administration has been criticised for excessive privatisation and cronyism, and the corruption that it breeds, the new administration has reviewed the 'unfair terms' of these privatisation projects, has commenced prosecution of high-profile cases and made the fight against corruption its main platform and banner during the last general election.

Where the previous administration has been criticised for compromising the institution of judiciary, the new administration has been seen to be 'hands off' culminating in the decision by the Federal Court to release Anwar.

To be diametrically different is the winning formula. There is no need to catch up and overtake the record and personality of the predecessor. It is sure fire success just to take the other way. It seems a simple way to address the problems bequeathed by the last administration.

Anwar's release is a signal that Pak Lah has walked away from the shadow of the ex-premier to strike boldly forward. One must feel secure and confident to do this and to countenance whatever political implications of Anwar's freedom.

On a another note, with Anwar vindicated of the sodomy charge, it is inconceivable how the charge of abuse of power will upon review still stand. Abuse of power is premised upon a person abusing his power for personal benefit and aggrandisement.

If the sodomy charge was determined by the Federal Court to be unproven, it will only lend credence to Anwar's contention that it either trumped up or, at best, misconceived in the first instance for which every man - and no less he, who had a reputation and position as deputy premier to protect - would do everything within his means to diffuse and avert.

Whatever the technicalities of law, in popular imagination, it is not abuse of power to use one's power to diffuse and avert an impending abuse of power! Commonsense also dictates that there is no point in the larger scheme of things to free Anwar of the sodomy charge and let the abuse of power charge stand.