Monday, April 14, 2008

Malaysia Opposition Chief Anwar Ibrahim Rallies to Seek Top Post

When he emerged from prison four years ago, the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was a weakened and gaunt figure, all but written off by the Malaysian political elite.

But on Monday, Mr. Anwar, resurgent and confident after leading opposition parties to their strongest gains in a half century, will celebrate his political rehabilitation in front of a crowd expected to be in the thousands at a soccer stadium here.

During his nearly four decades in politics, Mr. Anwar, 60, has gone from being a radical Islamic student leader to deputy prime minister and then, after a highly political trial and a prison term, Malaysia’s dissident in chief. A ban on holding political office, imposed by the judge who in 1999 sentenced him to six years in prison for abuse of power, will expire Monday, allowing Mr. Anwar to pursue the job he has coveted for at least a decade: prime minister. “There’s no rush,” Mr. Anwar said in a recent interview in his office in a two-story suburban house outside Kuala Lumpur. “I don’t need to be prime minister tomorrow.”

Yet he and his allies have not dawdled since capturing five of the most populous and wealthy of Malaysia’s 13 states in the March 8 elections. The governing coalition won an uncomfortably slim 51 percent of the vote, and Mr. Anwar said he was wooing possible defectors. He needs only 30 members of Parliament to cross over to bring down the federal government. He also recently forged a pact among the three main opposition groups, called the People’s Alliance, to govern the states they control jointly.

The opposition’s gains have thrown the United Malays National Organization, which has governed Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957, into disarray.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, fighting for his political life, said Friday, “I will not remain for very long.” Governing party delegates from Penang, his home state, which the opposition captured in March, have called for him to step down. So have other influential party figures, including Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister who dismissed Mr. Anwar from the government in 1998 after a power struggle.

Mr. Abdullah is being challenged within the party by Razaleigh Hamzah, a prince from Kelantan, a northern state, and a former finance minister.

Mr. Razaleigh and Mr. Anwar offer starkly different visions for Malaysia. For the first time in decades, voters in multiethnic Malaysia are faced with a fundamental ideological choice of whether to continue with an authoritarian system largely segregated by race that has dominated politics here for decades, or to experiment with a more liberal democracy that treats ethnicity as secondary.

Mr. Razaleigh, 71, has couched his bid in the traditional language of Malay nationalism, appealing to the largest of the country’s three main ethnic groups. “We successfully vanquished the scheming colonizer and continued our struggle to claim independence armed only with a devoted spirit towards our race, religion, culture and homeland,” he said in his recent speech announcing his challenge to Mr. Abdullah.

Mr. Anwar, by contrast, promises profound changes to the country’s authoritarian laws and political system of ethnic segregation, in which each main ethnic group — Malay, Chinese and Indian — has traditionally had its own political party. His multiethnic partners have vowed to abolish a system that gives ethnic Malays discounts on houses, scholarships and a quota of 30 percent of shares in companies listed on the stock market.

Since his release from prison, Mr. Anwar has rarely missed an opportunity to call for “accountability and good governance” in Malaysia, where dissidents are regularly jailed without trial, students are barred from politics and government contracts are given to friends and allies of those in power.

He says his goal now is to put his words into action. The People’s Alliance has declared that government contracts in the states it controls are subject to open bidding. Government officers in Selangor, the wealthy state next to Kuala Lumpur, have been ordered to declare their assets.

In Perak, a large multiracial state in the north, the government is giving permanent land titles to the ethnic Chinese minority who previously received only fixed-term leases. In Penang, the People’s Alliance government is setting up interfaith councils to review disputed decisions and policies that hurt certain groups.

The People’s Alliance is breaking religious and ethnic taboos, redefining the relationship among Muslims, who form a majority of Malaysia’s 26 million people, and Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs and other groups. Mr. Anwar says he and his allies are trying to prove that they can reach decisions on the country’s thorniest issues.

Although Mr. Anwar is a Malay Muslim and his coalition includes a conservative Islamic party, one of the first major initiatives of the People’s Alliance was the approval of a giant, modern pig farm outside Kuala Lumpur to serve Chinese and other non-Muslim residents. Muslims consider pigs unclean, and the governing coalition has attacked the decision. “We will defend that,” Mr. Anwar said of the farm. “Even relatively contentious issues of the Muslims we are able to deal with.”

The corruption and sodomy charges brought against Mr. Anwar are considered by many here to have been trumped up. The sodomy conviction was overturned in 2004. And he has cultivated many friendships among world leaders. Still, he needs to win over detractors from all three major ethnic groups who say that his transformation from Islamic radical to champion of ethnic minorities smacks of expediency.

Ibrahim Suffian, director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling agency here, said Malaysians had refrained from voting for the opposition in the past because of a fear of the unknown. But he said he detected less fear in this election and almost no regret by voters afterward.

Mr. Anwar is ready to capitalize on the sentiment. He must be a member of Parliament to become prime minister, so he has not ruled out having a political ally resign from Parliament, then running in the ally’s place. If his People’s Alliance woos enough defectors to capture a majority in Parliament, he said, his wife, Azizah Ismail, who is a member of Parliament, could temporarily become prime minister.

“Malaysia after 50 years of independence must have a mature political system,” he said. (New York Times)

***** In essence we have two choices - racial discrimination, political corruption and cronyism in the name of bangsa, agama dan negara on one side or a more tolerant, people-friendly, honest and transparent government on the other. Not a difficult choice I presume, if you're not an umnoputera.
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Blogger kittykat46 said...

UMNO reform ? - Too little , too late.

Its not rocket science - they know what needs to be addressed

It is actually possible for UMNO and BN to neutralise Anwar Ibrahim - but it won't happen.

The type of reforms which ordinary Malaysians are demanding are just beyond the ability of UMNO, with its current membership profile, to deliver.

Bedol, Najib, Ku Li , Muhyiddin, etc. are still dancing around changes which are acceptable to UMNO's ranks - just look at the composition of the cabinet, and the refusal to directly address the injustice done to Tun Salleh Abbas.

The danger signs now are that UMNO will fight for its survival by moving far towards the "Ketuanan Melayu" corner. The outcome could well relegate UMNO to the Opposition benches, but nevertheless dangerous for the country as a whole.

11:35 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous SM said...

Be careful of the UMNOputras! They WILL use whatever means (no matter how crooked or evil) to get what they want.
They will have no problems in causing "blood shed" in the streets if it means they get back what they have lost in the last GE!
These are EVIL people who have tasted "blood" & they will not stop until they get their "pound of flesh"!

4:35 PM GMT+8  

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