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Anwar’s ‘birthright’ to be PM?

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Is an elected public office for one to secure, reserve and swap, as and when two individuals mutually consent? Mary Chin looks at the prime ministerial succession plan.

The sacking of Anwar Ibrahim 20 years ago was a tragic scandal, no less scandalous than 1MDB.

The Ubah crowd fought hard against 1MDB (there are lots of funds to recover). The Ubah crowd isn’t questioning Anwar’s sacking today (no funds to recover).

Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking in 1998 was no less scandalous than 1MDB. 1MDB was a case of financial corruption (albeit an enormous one), which happens throughout history across continents; there are many precedents and Malaysia can never claim to be unique in this regard.

But the ruthless way Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in his earlier stint as Prime Minister, axed his then deputy Anwar is one that is uniquely Malaysia’s.

So promising, Anwar was poised to take over as prime minister and lead Malaysia with better diplomacy and balance than Mahathir. All those prospects were reduced to ashes overnight, just like that.

What ensued was a political party whose goal has been to restore Anwar to the prime minister’s post. The party survived, despite characteristic airing of dirty laundry in public, despite recurring spectacles of top leaders failing to put themselves in the best possible light for reporters’ cameras.

Even today, certain political personalities want to make Anwar the prime minister. The idea suggests that these are the good guys; anyone standing in the way is the bad guy.

That a political party has such a goal to make a specific individual prime minister – that certain personalities openly want to make this individual the prime minister – seems to suggest that becoming prime minister is Anwar’s birthright.

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Do people not find it odd that this is a major goal of the party? The party’s ideology by definition should be sustainable through generations – and should not be tied to making a particular mortal the prime minister.

Leadership vacuum

That Anwar was the best candidate 20 years ago doesn’t necessarily mean that he remains relevant today. It is for Anwar to demonstrate his relevance.

Mahathir is still looking East and he is still looking at cars. Not only has he not aged; he seems to have hardly grown in his vision.

By still looking East, he fails to bring out the best traits of various nations and peoples both East and West. We can’t have our gaze stuck on Japan, Japan only and Japan forever. In fact, nothing suggests that Mahathir understands Japan’s greatest gems.

By looking at cars still, Mahathir misses the non-physical asset of skills. See how India populated Silicon Valley in the United States with computer experts.

Yes, Anwar can be more diplomatic and more balanced than Mahathir, but being better than Mahathir in certain ways would be a bar set too low. He has to prove himself better than other contemporary, dynamic, competent figures.

We need a unifying figure. Eight months after the 2018 general election, we have not heard a single unifying speech – the sort of famous victory speeches leaders make to charge the nation into a new beginning.

What we experience instead is a vacuum of leadership. We need somebody to stand up and tell everyone the same message – not turning this side to tell one story and turning the other side to tell another story.

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We need somebody to stand up and say we have won; now, put down your swords; stop that campaign against ‘rural Malays’. Stop telling this side to be tolerant of the other side. We need someone to tell everybody that we have a joint heritage that makes all of us richer.

Anwar, will you do that?

Mahathir isn’t doing it.

Prominent civil society leaders are not doing it; they may slam Mahathir and Anwar, but not disciplining the Ubah crowd has been their shared record. It is the Ubah crowd which is still hogging the news headlines while seemingly looking down on ‘rural Malays’.

A national debt?

So how should we explain the phenomenon of the prime minister’s post being widely seen as Anwar’s birthright?

If Anwar must become prime minister because Mahathir axed the prime minister-to-be 20 years ago, we would then be turning Mahathir’s ‘debt’ to Anwar into a ‘national debt’. That would be a national debt which cannot be measured in ringgit. It would be a national debt which can only be expressed in years – and that debt could put the nation 20 years behind.

Before we ask how many years Malaysia is behind South Korea, Singapore or India, we must first check how many years Malaysia is behind itself. Is Salleh Abas, who was sacked as head of the judiciary in 1988, going to be restored as lord president? Is Danyal Balagopal, who had to make way for Anwar, going to be restored as Port Dickson MP?

We have an unending list of restoration work to think of. If that is the way to move forward, we become full-time restorers, and the country will forever be chasing its own tail. Adding up the number of years we lag behind ourselves would take us through the roof of standard arithmetic.

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The Ubah crowd appeared to devise constitutional roundabouts to make Anwar’s comeback possible. On the ballot papers my friends all told me I must cross that one box. But what I saw on my ballot ballot papers would not be what I would get: a full orchestration was already in place, a suka-sama-suka agreement – well outside the electoral processes – that one man would become prime minister first and then pass the position to another man.

Do you – and do I – take pride in the ingenuity of that suka-sama-suka agreement between Mahathir and Anwar? And that suka-sama-suka agreement between Anwar and Danyal? Is an elected public office for one to secure, reserve and swap, as and when two individuals mutually consent?

Malaysians can become touchy over the faintest question by outsiders whether we live on trees. (“Don’t you dare think that we live on trees!”) Well, if we don’t live on trees, we have to stop behaving like we do.

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