UPDATE2 When news broke that Defense Minister Zahid Hamidi had chickened out of a ride on the controversial Scorpene submarine at the 11th hour, there was a flurry of calls for Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to also withdraw.
Don't go, it's a trap! Remember Fuad Stephens! Remember the curse from the birthday cakes! were among the cries of protest from his supporters that included Pakatan Rakyat members.
But ride the Scorpene, which has cost Malaysian taxpayers a pretty penny and left the nation stuck with billion-ringgit debts for the next two decades at least, Guan Eng did. And keeping him company were PKR's Mansor Othman and DAP's P Ramasamy.
"I have another official function to attend to. They will definitely be back," Zahid told reporters this afternoon, sensing the unspoken question.
Guan Eng and team were slated to return from the dive and be back at the Hotel Awana Porto Malai around 4pm. But by late evening there was still no news of them and some confusion arose as to whether the Pakatan team had decided against proceeding without Zahid.
Sources also told Malaysia Chronicle that Guan Eng did change his mind, but by 7.48pm, his assistant had emailed photos of him and the other two leaders on board the Scorpene to the media. All three men appear to have returned safe and sound! (scroll below)
"Got call from Lim Guan Eng after his more than 90-minute Scorpene submarine dive with two deputies. Pity Zahid not with them," Guan Eng's father, Lim Kit Siang, the DAP adviser, broadcast on his Twitter.
Why let BN put us in a spot
If the Pakatan team had gone ahead and returned safely, then there would be nothing so sinister after all about Zahid's sudden withdrawal. Umno and BN would probably try to turn the situation on the Pakatan Rakyat led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.
But what is also deplorable is actually the arrogance that is becoming evident in so many Umno leaders of late. Not only do they feel they have the right to make abrupt U-turns as they wish despite having given clear assurances to the contrary, they now behave and speak with impunity, knowing that the courts and the police will surely take their sides and defend their wrong doings.
In the case of Zahid, he obviously thought nothing of leaving Guan Eng and team in the lurch. Given the BN's ruthless track record, many believe that Lim, Mansor and Ramasamy should not have taken the risk.
"It is not worth it. Guan Eng is a very influential leader. He is not just a fine politician but a man with ideas and a vision. Obviously, he would be a main target for the BN, not that I am saying they would resort to murder although we also have the Altantuya incident which really reeks of desperation," PKR vice president Chua Jui Meng told Malaysia Chronicle.
"But the fact is, accidents do happen. So if Zahid himself doesn't dare to take the risk, why should our Pakatan leaders have to put themselves on the spot. Of course, if something had happened to Guan Eng, Mansor and Ramasamy, you can be sure BN would have already lost themselves the next general election. But I think the lives of our leaders are more important."
Raising the memory of Fuad Stephens
Mohammad Fuad Stephens was the first Chief Minister of Sabah, and also the first Huguan Siou or Paramount Leader of the Kadazandusun community. In 1964, he stepped down as Chief Minister in order to become the first Malaysian federal cabinet member from Sabah
In 1973, Fuad was appointed as the governor of Sabah, known as the Yang di-Pertua Negara (the post was later known as Yang di-Pertua Negeri). He held this position until 1975. Later that same year, Fuad together with Harris Salleh formed a new political party called Berjaya and proceeded to win the 1976 state election, defeating Tun Mustapha's USNO.
Forty-four days later, he died in a plane crash, and till now, Sabahans have bitter memories of how and why he died. The suspicion is still strong that the Umno-led federal government was behind the crash as Fuad had allegedly wanted to pull Sabah out from the Federation due to a deadlock over negotiations for oil royalty.
Recently, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who was then the Finance minister and the architect of the Petronas Development Act 1974, recounted to the East Malaysian press of how he nearly died in that crash with Fuad. At the last moment, an official had quietly motioned him to leave the plane and under impression that he was needed to clear some matter or other, he did so. The revelation further bolstered the view of many Malaysians that Fuad was murdered.
The offer to Guan Eng and the Pakatan team to take a dive on the Scorpene came about 21 months ago, when the DAP leader slammed the government after it was reported that the two Scorpene subs, costing more than RM7 billion, were malfunctioning. Suddenly earlier this week, and also in conjunction with the LIMA 2011 event at Langkawi, Zahid offered to 'prove' to Guan Eng the Scorpenes could dive.
"Guan Eng telephoned me yesterday to say he was coming here. Although the submarine was to serve as a static exhibition at LIMA this time, I have nevertheless, asked that it give him a ride," Bernama reported Zahid as saying.
The national news agency also reported that "Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi will accompany Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng on a trip onboard the KD Tun Razak submarine on Friday, to disprove opposition allegations that it is unable to submerge."
Bernama also wrote that Zahid said: "he had sent invitations to all members of parliament (MP) and senators, including those in the opposition, to board the submarine and embark on a diving stint. The defence minister said that (apart from Lim) Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar had replied that she would not be able to participate in the submarine trip. He said those who talked (criticised) a lot were apparently, not brave enough to embark on a trip in the submarine."
The Altantuya murder link to Najib
The Scorpenes were ordered by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2002, when he was still the Defense minister. The purchase has been fraught with controversy since day one, with activists lambasting its high cost and unsuitability for the local terrain. Najib was also accused to taking a kickback of at least 114 million euros (RM570 million) from the deal through his proxy Abdul Razak Baginda. The subs were delivered last year.
In 2006, the nation was shocked when a Mongolian translator, Altantuya Shaariibuu, was found murdered in Malaysia after she purportedly came to collect her US$500,000 share of the Scorpene commission from Baginda. Two of Najib's former bodyguards have sentenced to hang for her killing but Malaysians are convinced the 'mastermind' has yet to be caught.
When accepting the offer of the Scorpene ride, Guan Eng pointed out that 21 months had elapsed since his query - more than enough time to repair the technical faults that had been present. However, he noted that corruption and controversy still dogged the ships even though the technical problems may have been resolved.
""Zahid's gesture also does not answer questions about the costly RM3.68 billion purchase and RM534 million service contract or 'commission' given to Perimekar Sdn Bhd," said Guan Eng.
The Penang chief minister, who is also the DAP secretary general, celebrated his 51st birthday on Thursday. Penang Umno members had sent him 5 cakes - four in the shape of human excreta and one in the shape of the number 4, which symbolizes death to the Chinese.