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FEATURE : THE ROAD AHEAD

THE ANWAR
FACTOR
FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER DATO SERI ANWAR IBRAHIM
INTRODUCED A NEW DYNAMIC TO THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE BY
RETURNING TO PARLIAMENT THIS YEAR AS OPPOSITION LEADER.
BUT HOW EFFECTIVE WILL HE BE SEATED ACROSS THE ESTABLISHMENT
THAT HE ONCE WAS A PART OF? WORDS EDDIN KHOO
IT WASN T SO MUCH A CASE OF HEADY incrimination and imprisonment of Anwar comprise the coterie of hit Anwar honchos, that
hubris as an unshakeable faith in that Ibrahim, the governing coalition, give or take a roundly backfired .
supposed constant of the Malaysian political state or two, was nevertheless returned with a Election result night commenced ordinarily
temperament̶ conventional wisdom ̶which secure two-thirds majority in parliament. enough as, but for a few surprises, seat
induced an almost delusional stupor among the The strategy of the governing coalition then after seat fell into the fold of the governing
governing Barisan Nasional coalition, defining proved largely predictable̶laud past successes, Barisan Nasional, ensuring a simple majority
its disposition and determining its attitude, exploit the demographics and concentrate all victory where it had, especially in recent
prior to the announcement of the General assault on the figure̶at this time still prohibited times, frequently been won but rarely
Elections of March 2008. from contesting the national elections and acknowledged̶in the East Malaysian states of
By the previous year s end̶2007̶public serving in an informal capacity as de facto leader Sabah and Sarawak.
life had witnessed the spectacle of tens of of a political party̶of Anwar Ibrahim. Events West of Borneo, however, proved
thousands taking to the streets in Kuala In American electoral parlance, the considerably more tentative as ensuing results,
Lumpur in at least two separate, sizeable subsequent campaign would have been throughout the peninsula, induced a stutter
demonstrations, extensively covered by the described as essentially negative ̶parry and among live news presenters of the national
world media but summarily denounced and stave off the issues at hand, lure detractors media and bafflement among experts invited
demonised, in the usual vernacular, by the from the woodwork to denounce perceived to offer standard analysis of the day s results.
relevant authorities and political figureheads. inconsistencies in the nemesis, and direct By the early hours of the next morning, even
So that even as the events preceding March personal attacks on character. There was, it the national media had begun to declare̶in
8th unravelled, the general mood among the was apparent, a prevailing sense of simply different measures of enthusiasm and
governing coalition was that conventional wishing Anwar Ibrahim away̶a yearning that fretting̶an electoral tsunami , following
wisdom would eventually prevail, and that appeared to infect even the occupant of the the loss of five principal states (and most
the voting collective, approaching polling day highest political position in the land when, just constituencies in the Federal Territory) to the
in 2008, would recognise they had, really, days before polls, he remarked, Who is Anwar Opposition Pakatan Rakyat, marking a seismic
already witnessed this general election before Ibrahim? I have forgotten him. shift in the popular vote and, most crucially,
- more specifically in 1999 when, following It proved a strategy, in the words of the affirming the now indelible presence of Anwar
the cataclysm of demonstrations, public erstwhile President of Gerakan, Tun Lim Keng Ibrahim at the centre of a radically transformed
outrage and distaste at the sacking, beating, Yaik, one of the several figures rounded up to political landscape in Malaysia. In the cruellest

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BUT NOW I AM
TALKING ABOUT THE
RIGHT OPTION FOR
THE PRESENT AND THE
FUTURE, FOR MALAYSIA
SEKARANG AND THE
NEW MALAYSIA WHICH
HAS TO BE A MULTI-
RACIAL ENTITY
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FEATURE : THE ROAD AHEAD

At his side: Datin


A leader Seri Wan Azizah
with charisma Wan Ismail

of ironies, victor was cast as vanquished̶a afforded by the new media̶notably the His vision of a multi-racial and an equitable
paradox captured in statement on one of the internet̶while summoning that now legendary Malaysia has been met, frequently, with its own
countless celebratory banners strung across the indefatigability for which he has always obstacles and interruptions, not least by the
country which read You forgot Anwar, now the been known, he worked the ground instead, constant need to offer reassurances to allay all
nation has forgotten you . articulating his vision, shaping the experience, constituencies. To Anwar doubters, his vision
Riposte from the governing coalition was cultivating a strategy, testing the collective is hardly a vision at all, merely the refractions
swift and not without credence. Prime Minister temperament through the various contemporary of opportunism by an opportunist who would
Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was quick to mediums and, most impressively, the traditional do anything to win̶as if there were anything
remind that a victory was still just that, a victory; avenue of the ceramah. inherently wrong in wanting to win, especially
that, in contemporary times, a two-thirds While his period in captivity, and the given that in the quest of shaping that vision he
parliamentary was a luxury few governments experience of smut and violence which preceded had everything to lose.
could afford and emphasising that, indeed, the it, were often dealt with in the form of asides A different governing principle remains a far
governing coalition were only a few seats away and with quite some humour on such occasions, reach for the Malaysian landscape, but following
from obtaining that coveted mark. There was manifest in the highly personalized and charged the events of March 8th this, at the very least, is
some credibility, also, in the observation that the engagement with the wider Malaysian public formative. In spite of the fact that some continue
electorate were not, in fact, voting for another was a deeper vindication. He appeared to to grapple with fundamental issues affecting
governing principle altogether, but simply beckon the words of the Shakespeare he read nation, state and populace that have come to the
expressing disenchantment for unfulfilled with zeal̶ If it be a sin to covet honour, I am fore, the trend towards further transformation
pledges and promises. Still, the stuff of data, the most offending soul ̶while articulating his of the political landscape is inexorable. As
analysis and scrutiny is only half the political ideas about the failures of the New Economic Anwar himself remarked in 2004;
story, with the other dimension being the more Policy, devising the New Economic Agenda, In all my experiences in university politics,
elusive realms of intuition, seizing the mood advocating justice for all̶bringing the case ABIM and UMNO, I had believed that the easier
of the collective, responding to an evolving of the marginalised rural communities of the option is to go through racial based politics. But

PICTURES DANNY LIM, WWW.ANWARIBRAHIM.COM, MEDIACORP PRESS TPDAY NEWSPAPER


psychology. Malay heartland to the attention of a gritty, now I am talking about the right option for the
It is here that Anwar Ibrahim perhaps urban Chinese audience in urban Kuala Lumpur, present and the future, for Malaysia sekarang
shines best, especially since his release while explaining the call for just and due and the new Malaysia which has to be a multi-
from imprisonment. His initial release from process for Kaliamma, the widow of M. Moorthy, racial entity. This is so much more difficult
captivity was met, initially, with a combined to an audience of Felda settlers. because you have to grapple with every issue,
sense of incredulity and curiosity on the If the transformation of the Malaysian argue every case, but that s how life is. Unless,
part of the national media who, for several political landscape can be attributed to Anwar of course, you choose an authoritarian system.
months, provided a healthy serving of Anwar- Ibrahim, it is largely due to the fact that he Then everyone keeps quiet and carries on with
speak before the falling of the veil and an has been able to harness an opposition, once whatever they do .
ensuing loud silence, that was broken, though driven by ideological disparities, into a workable The close of 2008 witnesses a system still
not infrequently, often only by a pejorative political alternative, replete, given the religious grappling with the now formal presence of
comment culled from here and there. and racial composition and power proportions, Anwar Ibrahim; a system that has, in recent
For Anwar whose time in prison was spent with its own innate checks and balances. months, even attempted to turn the world back
not only reading̶several times̶The Riverside His thumping victory in July s by-election in a decade on its praxis. But within the firm tide
Edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare Permatang Pauh and his return to parliament of change that has swept the world these past
(among others) but contemplating the very as Leader of the Opposition have further several months, the question confronting Anwar
redefinition of Malaysian politics, there was reconciled his hard-headed idealism with his Ibrahim is Can He? To which the answer, given
little time to be spent awaiting the graces of realization that worthwhile and durable politics a missed date or two, must surely be, He has
the national media. Seizing the opportunities can only be played out in the real world. been able to...so far . Q

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THE ROAD AHEAD
IN CONVERSATION WITH
DATO SERI ANWAR IBRAHIM
YOU EMERGED FROM PRISON FOUR YEARS INTIMATELY WITH A NATION IN RAPID SOCIAL
AGO CONSUMED, IN YOUR WORDS, WITH A AND POLITICAL TRANSFORMATION. WHAT, IN
GREATER PASSION FOR FREEDOM . SINCE THEN, YOUR EXPERIENCE, IS MALAYSIA S PRINCIPAL
HOW HAS THIS BEEN REALISED, IN PRACTICAL CHALLENGE? Fulfillment of the dispensation
TERMS, FOR YOU? The multi-ethnic People s vouchsafed the nation by the contents of the
Justice Party, forged during the 98 Reformasi Proclamation of Independence and the Merdeka
period, remains the best vehicle through Constitution of 1957. That process of fulfillment agenda to pursue the ideals of freedom,
which to pursue political and social reform of has been delayed, denied and mangled by 51 democracy and reform is greater than that
a sclerotic system. Our progress in a few short years of Barisan Nasional rule. The nation s which divides them into entities with seemingly
years has been enormous and unprecedented. principal challenge is how to bring about grand conflicting ideologies. There are bumps along
Our efforts, combined with the commitment of rectification to a process that has been ripped the road̶there have to be as we are sailing in
the other members of the opposition coalition, off the rails and needs to be put back on track. uncharted waters and coalitions do not build
has resonated with the latent concerns of themselves. But we ve made great progress and
the Malaysian electorate that expressed itself THE SUCCESS OF YOUR EFFORTS AT BECKONING I am confident about the future.
with seismic effect in the historic general THE ROLE OF MODERATOR AMONG PRINCIPAL
election of 8th March 2008, in which we more POLITICAL PARTIES OF THE OPPOSITION WAS AFTER MUCH ANALYSIS, RANGING FROM THE
than quadrupled our AFFIRMED IN THE EUPHORIC TO THE CYNICAL, ABOUT THE EVENTS
representation in Parliament MARCH 8TH ELECTIONS. OF MARCH 8TH, WHAT DO YOU, PERSONALLY,
and wrested control of four HOW DIFFICULT A ROLE BELIEVE TO BE THE MESSAGE SENT OUT BY
state governments from the HAS THAT BEEN? The VOTERS IN THE LAST ELECTION? The message
ruling party. difficulty lay in how is that they want the forms of political
to make opposition representation translated into the substance
SINCE YOUR RELEASE, political parties realize of democratic living. They want change to a
YOU HAVE TRAVELLED that that which unites moribund and sclerotic political culture that has
WIDELY AND ENGAGED them in a common brought one of Southeast Asia s most promising

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FEATURE : THE ROAD AHEAD
economies to declension and desuetude.
And I think most importantly̶there was an
awakening in this country̶people realized that
votes do matter and by exercising that right they
can play a part in charting the future course of
the nation. Anwar Ibrahim on
the opposite side
of the bench as
YOU HAVE TRIUMPHED IN A BY ELECTION opposition leader

AND MADE A CEREMONIOUS RETURN TO


PARLIAMENT AS LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION.
BUT HOW MUCH, REALLY, HAS CHANGED once emasculating and ossifying. Substantively
IN THE FUNDAMENTALS OF THE POLITICAL we are talking about an end to racial politics,
LANDSCAPE? The road on which emerging greater accountability, respect for the rule of
democracies travel is generally one-way and I law and a commitment to safeguarding basic
cannot see the nation going back from whence human rights.
it came. Politically so much has changed.
Autocratic action and oligarchic measures are THE WRITER V.S NAIPAUL ONCE DESCRIBED YOU
challenged at every turn. Corruption which AS A MAN WHO APPEARED TO BE THINKING
was before deemed acceptable is now fiercely THINGS THROUGH . WOULD YOU AGREE WITH
debated in Parliament and condemned on blogs, freedom, they need to express creativity and THAT? HAS THAT CHANGED? I think Naipaul, in
and among civil society. The undemocratic they want to compete and be active in shaping saying that, was giving expression to something
measures taken by the government are a future that is better than the past. Without the he would amplify in his 2001 Nobel Lecture
challenged̶and occasionally overturned. energy and idealism of the youth, no movement when he cited Marcel Proust s idea of artistic
Certainly the end goal includes structural reform for political and social change can hope to creation. Naipaul said that Proust s way of
like freedom of the press and the independence succeed. All the signs in Malaysia point to the proceeding was to intuit that indistinct melody
of the judiciary̶and for that one requires young being the harbingers of that change. he feels he was born with and bring it to
political power. But the movement for change fruition. Perhaps what Naipaul would have seen
is inexorable and the gains made thus far give YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN MANY EFFORTS in me a few decades ago was my struggle to
reason for much hope. AT RESOLVING CONFLICTS AND MODERATING flesh out the blurred memory of truths I early
CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES IN A in my life felt prompting and leading me. All of
MUCH HAS BEEN SAID OF THE INFLUENCE OF DEEPLY POLARISED WORLD. ARE THE DIVISIONS subsequent life was a sequel to that preamble.
THE YOUNG IN INDUCING CHANGE THE WORLD BLURRING OR HAVE THEY BECOME GREATER?
OVER; DO YOU BELIEVE THAT TO BE TRUE? WHY? Immanuel Kant said that progress would come YOU HAVE ALSO BEEN DESCRIBED AS AN
What is true the world over is no less pertinent to humanity through intellectual and moral INCURABLE IDEALIST . IS THERE STILL SPACE
to Malaysia. The younger generation senses the enlightenment or through the experience of FOR IDEALISM IN AN INCREASINGLY TACTILE
need for progress and for the nation to discard chaos. In a conflicted world, you cannot wait for WORLD? I believe that if you have an idea, and
the hang-ups of the past. Asian values̶the the exhaustion that follows on incessant conflict if it is good and true, it will soon create reality.
idea that Asian people must be subservient to build a newer world. You have to do it by the In other words, ideas have consequences and
to authority̶has no more traction on those relentless search for the better angels of the good ideas eventuate in salubrious realities.
plugged into a globalised world. They want human spirit that will douse conflict and allow Of course, harsh realities are always defeating
for the building of a better world. For that we ideals but ideals have a way of taking their
Change is brought
by the idealistic must recapture the spirit of engagement without revenge upon facts that momentarily imprison
and the questing ̶ which ideas perish and ideology drives mankind them. In Malaysia, we have long been captive
Anwar Ibrahim
further and further apart. to the dispiriting reality of the politics of race.
The idealistic among us struggled for liberation
THE CLARION CALL OF 2008̶FROM THE from its stultifying confines. Last March, at
ANTIPODES TO ACROSS THE ATLANTIC̶HAS the general election, the ideal of a race-free
BEEN ONE OF CHANGE . WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE politics wreaked vengeance on this reality.
CHANGE MEANS, IN SUBSTANTIVE TERMS? Now, all of post-election realities are sequel to
This change in substantive terms is actually the that liberation. But if there was no harkening
realization of what one s society is in dire need after that ideal of liberation, there would no
of at any one time. In Malaysia, it is the need emancipation from those grinding realities of
for the people s freedom from the bondage race. Change, then, is brought about by the
of a system that has held them in a thrall at idealistic and the questing. Q

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