Thursday, May 01, 2008

Seven Questions: Anwar Ibrahim

Bill Clinton once styled himself the “comeback kid,” but he has nothing on Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim. Two weeks ago, the former deputy prime minister turned political prisoner was officially cleared to reenter politics, and many think he could become his country’s next prime minister. He spoke to Foreign Policy about his return to power and how former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad thought he could break him

Foreign Policy: When will you seek political office?

Anwar Ibrahim: I can now. The issue is when do I want to do it. [The opposition alliance] has five state governments with one federal territory, six regions that are the key regions. We have to make sure that they are managed well and transparently. There are a lot of things that need to be done because we are not just improving the performance of the previous government. I want to ensure that the coalition will stick together, and there is the responsibility of taking over the government. That is more pressing than my personally running for a seat in the Parliament, because that would deflect attention. But I am not discounting [my running for office]. We are still looking at it and it can even be soon.

FP: What explains your coalition’s strong performance in the last election?

AI: It is a strength of a more multiracial, interreligious formula. We are forged together on the basis of our belief in democratic reforms. After all, this is not something alien. This is what was promised to us when we achieved independence in 1957. Coupled with this multiracial, interreligious agenda, we talk about a new Malaysian economic agenda. We have lost competitiveness. There is no independent judiciary. People tend to ignore the fact that a true democratic administration would give people more confidence.

The elections here were never free and fair. We don’t have free media. I don’t have 10 minutes of airtime on local television. Even the electoral process was clearly fraudulent. But with all that, we still made an extremely impressive showing. They term it now a political tsunami.

FP: So what is the most difficult part of leading an opposition party like this?

AI: You have to spend a lot of time engaging them. Getting them to agree is not just a matter of political expediency. It is a matter of creating a specific policy and reform agenda while protecting the interests of these party elements. The engagement is a series of conversations. It is tiring.

FP: Do you have concern about people defecting? How are you going to hold them together?

AI: For now we are very firm and committed to the program. In fact, it is the ruling party that is now worried about people defecting.

We have the numbers. We have 30 [members of the ruling party who say they will defect]. The question then is, why don’t we move now? We are not moving now for a number of reasons. Number one, Parliament has not yet convened. Secondly, we want the majority to be comfortable. Number three, those that have committed must be tested that they are committed to the reform agenda. Otherwise the coalition can be volatile.

FP: Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister of Malaysia for 22 years before he retired in 2003. What do you think his legacy will be?

AI: I think [he will be remembered] as a young nationalist who came into the picture to try to make a stand in terms of change and becoming more independent, but grew to be too overconfident, too assertive, and turned into almost a megalomaniac. The country was his. This is often a problem with many of the leaders of emerging countries. You have the sense even now that he believes he cannot leave because of what [he thinks] will be destroyed. What is being destroyed? The media and the judiciary was destroyed under him.

FP: You got into trouble in the late 1990s once you began to criticize Mahathir, your former political mentor. Did you underestimate him as a political opponent?
AI: No, I didn’t. But at that time I had strong views. He resented the idea of my rapport and contact with the West, particularly the United States. And I said, I know I am not on the CIA payroll. I have strong views on Iraq. I have very independent views. What is the harm of my treating America as a friend? He expects everyone else to be so anti-American to the point of being irrational.

FP: Do you think that Mahathir inadvertently made you a tougher opponent?

AI: Mahathir probably underestimated me. He always believed that people crack under torture or detention. He used to tell me in those days, when we were on friendlier terms, that what he dreaded most was to be detained without knowing when he would be released. So that is what he did to me. He underestimated me. He thought that I would break.

Anwar Ibrahim is former deputy prime minister and finance minister of Malaysia. He was sentenced to six years in prison on corruption charges in 1999, sentenced to another nine years for sodomy in 2000, and released in 2004. He now leads the country’s alliance of opposition parties. (Foreign

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Anonymous sandyow said...

hello malaysian, i'm wih you. we are ALL malaysians regardless of race. :)

Back to anwar issue, right now as tremendous support as people (online at least) are giving to anwar, I have it at the back of my mind that politicians will always be politicians. They can say and plan and promise so many things but when they have the thing called POWER" that's what destroys them. Now that anwar is trying to achieve that (being a leader), nobody truly knows what sort of leader he will be in the future for sure.

12:20 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous SM said...

Yup, no one knows what sort of a leader Anwar will be in the future if he is given the Premiership. However, he has been baptised in fire (Prison) & with Leaders like Lim Guan Eng (also Prison), Lim Kit Siang (ISA) & Karpal (ISA), the PR are in a good position.
Now let us look at the future of BN. After Badawi, we have Najib. The scandals connected to him have still not be "sorted" out & not likely to be soon! We will have a PM who will be forever connected to those Defense Scandals & the Mongolian Murder!

3:11 PM GMT+8  
Blogger Sanjeev said...

I am a bit disturbed when the article named Anwar Ibrahim as the Opposition Leader. He is not. His party has the most opposition seats in the Parliament because of the consensus reached by the 3 Pakatan Rakyat parties giving Keadilan the most seats to contest in, and they won because the rakyat is fed-up with the government, and not because of rakyat's support for Anwar Ibrahim or for Keadilan.

To me, Anwar Ibrahim is a chameleon, saying the most popular things to different crowds and playing to different sentiments. Look at the things he had done while in the government, and did we hear any apologies from him? It seems to his supporters and Western media that Anwar Ibrahim can do no wrong.

I hope after 10 years in political wilderness, Anwar Ibrahim is really fighting for the rakyat, and not paying lip service. I still have my doubts and I would love to be proven wrong


1:40 AM GMT+8  
Blogger phillix-starscreamer said...

hi guys. here's my two cents. we all know that politicians are famous for their cakap tak serupa bikin attitude. i'm not saying that all of them are, but what makes you guys think that anwar ibrahim will deliver as promise? his hunger and lust for power will make him promise anything at all. just some food for thought. tks

10:04 AM GMT+8  
Blogger Antares said...

There are at least 10 million armchair pundits and fence-sitters for every genuine hero. What is the primary difference between these cock-talkers and individuals of destiny? I'll tell you: the cock-talkers and fence-sitters don't love and trust themselves, which is why they find it so hard to love and trust others. They're forever "waiting and seeing" what happens next - forgetting that the future is just a lump of silly putty waiting for YOU to mold it with your mind and with your hands and with all your heart and soul.

Anwar Ibrahim is heroic and has proven himself to be so simply by hurling himself fully into the unknown and emerging triumphant. Cowards can only whinge and groan and snipe from the sidelines... they erode away their own dreams with self-doubt and useless cynicism, and are quick to point fingers at others instead of themselves becoming heroic. The quality of the comments here disappoint greatly because they reveal the mediocrity of thought common to all who only know how to parrot cliches.

Anwar is already the leader of a new political consciousness in Malaysia, whether he carries an official title or not. I'm interested in what Anwar will do - not what he may have done. And if he ever succumbs to the lure of political power and starts turning into another Mahathir, I will personally tell him to sort himself out - or begone! :-)

4:34 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever u said of Anwar, I believe we should give him a chance to prove himself.
The first thing he should do when get into power is to get Mahatir the Fake. He twists and turns and siezes every opportunty to make you believe him and then once he get into power... Watch OUt. We have seen his record from changing name, becoming more Malay than a Malay... and then pound on the nation's $$$ and make it lost billions.
Now he speaks like an angle and nothing he has done wrong.
Anwar. Charge and MOVE On. I hope you will put history in true perspective and charge this Mahatir.
Whether you are going to put him in jail or not after that is another question.
If you don't clear yourself, you will owe your family and the nation. I don't know how to love you and hate you after that!!!
It remain to be seen. But I hold my breath for that moment!

6:45 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bear in mind, power corrupts & Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely, my dear friend, Saudara Anwar. Show us u r worth our trust & respect & we the rakyat will reward u 4 generations 2 come We will make sure u will serve more terms than Mahathir.

6:15 PM GMT+8  

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