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Popular Malaysian lawyer fighting for his political life

Date: 25 Nov 1999
Time: 19:18:43


Popular Malaysian lawyer fighting for his political life

PENANG, Malaysia, Nov 25 (AFP) - A popular Malaysian opposition politician and human rights lawyer defending ousted deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim is himself fighting an uphill battle to enter parliament for a sixth five-year term.

Karpal Singh, 60, faces the juggernaut of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's National Front coalition which he says wants to unseat him at all costs.

But the silver-haired and bearded Karpal, the deputy chairman of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), says his "tiger" spirit will pull him through the polls again next Monday.

"I want to tell my opponent to be careful of the tiger which has so far eaten up five hunters already," said Karpal at a rally late Wednesday in his constituency of Jelutong on Penang island.

"Now the tiger is very hungry," Karpal thundered to the crowd of a few thousand, beating his chest as beads of sweat raced down his cheeks.

"Eat Mahathir first" came a shout from the crowd.

"But his meat is not palatable," Karpal shot back, drawing laughter.

Karpal, one of relatively few MPs to challenge the government during his 21-year stint in parliament, several times had to be forcibly carried out of the House for not yielding his ground.

Although he is facing a novice in the National Front's 39-year-old lawyer Lee Kah Choon, DAP officials say Mahathir's party has pooled immense resources to oust Karpal from parliament.

Mahathir has charged that Karpal has misused his power in court during the Anwar trial to act like a politician rather than a lawyer. Government supporters have accused him of ignoring the day-to-day complaints of his constituents.

Karpal, perhaps Malaysia's most famous lawyer, is among the leading counsel in Anwar's case following his erstwhile rival's sacking from the cabinet in September last year and subsequent imprisonment for abuse of power.

Karpal and his son Jagdeep Singh, who is making his maiden attempt to enter parliament, are also defending Anwar in an ongoing sodomy trial.

Karpal Singh said although Anwar was once his rival, he took up his case because "I cannot compromise on principles" and "I cannot tolerate oppression."

Anwar, the candidate for prime minister of the Alternative Front opposition coalition, says he is the victim of a political conspiracy orchestrated by Mahathir, his former mentor.

"Anwar's case highlights the need for a strong opposition to clip the powers of Mahathir," said Karpal. Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail spoke in the lawyer's support at the rally.

Karpal has consistently taken on court cases that test the constitutional rights of citizens since he became a lawyer in 1969, when Malaysia's worst racial riots in history drew him into politics.

The Singapore-trained Karpal once issued a rare court summons against the Malaysian king but lost the case in 1986.

Among his biggest achievements as a lawyer was saving a 14-year-old boy from the hangman's noose for possession of a firearm.

The boy was charged under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA), under which Karpal himself had been held in detention twice without trial.

Karpal fought his 1987 ISA detention in court, won on a technicality and was released from prison but Mahathir had him rearrested the same day and released him only 10 months later.

Karpal, a father of five, has successfully defended a dozen Westerners on serious drug charges, which under Malaysian law carry the mandatory death penalty.

He has no immediate plans to retire. "A lawyer dies in the saddle," he once said.

Last changed: November 25, 1999