Anwar’s commitment to the cause of the people was the driving force behind his success, writes Muhammad Mumtaz Ali.
On the morning of 16 May 2018, Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, was released from prison on the orders of the new government of Dr Mahathir Mohamad and received a pardon at 11.30am by the king of Malaysia.
Now he is a free man who can participate in political activities. Following a politically motivated suit, he was jailed twice – first on 8 August 2000 and the second time in 2015 – and banned from political participation until 2023.
In the 9 May general election, the newly formed opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) (PH) led by Mahatir won 122 out of 222 parliamentary seats. PH, led by Mahathir and Anwar’s wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, was voted into power in a surprise election victory.
Mahathir, Anwar and Wan Azizah, along with the couple’s daughter Nurul Izzah, celebrated their victory with the Malaysian people and declare their confidence that their new government would be committed to the rule of law, social justice and equality and work with integrity for the best outcomes for Malaysia.
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Buying into Anwar’s vision, Malaysian voters displayed an unexpected tsunami of people power, which went beyond racial politics and indifference to corruption. Instead, the opted for diversity, tolerance, gender balance and a vision for a new Malaysia for its entire people.
In the first public rally to welcome Anwar Ibrahim, held in Petaling Jaya on 16 May at 11pm, Anwar said Malaysia had entered into a new era of reforms and justice.
Mahathir was sworn in as the new Prime Minister at night on 10 May 2018 before Malaysian constitutional monarch Sultan Mohammad V at the palace. The credit for this great outcome goes to Mahathir and the Anwar camp, led by his wife Wan Azizah and daughter Nurul Izzah, who set their egos aside and reconciled to safeguard the interests of all Malaysians.
The people of Malaysia from all communities voted for a change of government for the good of the rakyat and the country; voter turnout was 82%. Half of them were youths but they voted for Mahathir, 92, and Anwar, 70 – old but clean leaders. This shows that people were not happy with the previous govt led by Barisan National, which had ruled the country since the independence until 9 May 2018.
On 10 May at 9.50pm, Mahathir, who had led the country for 22 years from 1981 to 2003, was sworn in again, this time as the seventh prime minister. After taking his oath as Prime Minister, Mahathir declared in a news conference at 11pm at the Sheraton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur that Anwar, would soon be freed so that he could fully take part in politics. He was pardoned six days later.
The recently held election was fought under Mahathir’s leadership. But Anwar’s political party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party) (PKR) played a big role in the PH victory. The opposition coalition won the general election with a simple majority using the PKR logo.
Anwar, in fact, created history in Malaysian politics. He will be remembered as a revolutionary, courageous and visionary leader. Fighting from prison in the past two elections and in the current election, he manifested his courage and confidence in the struggle for reforms and justice. Finally, he himself enjoys justice and, hopefully, he will guarantee justice to everyone.
In the recent election, the people through their votes proved that a smooth and peaceful transfer of power could be achieved through the ballot box. Those who believe in democracy and practise it realise that governments that do not fulfil the expectations of the people and instead create economic crises and corruption sooner or later can be changed.
Political parties should learn that parties that that promote discrimination, communalism or hatred cannot remain in power in the long run.
Mahathir, the new but experienced Prime Minister, promised during his press conferences that he would be able to improve economic conditions in the country and eliminate corruption. He would rule the country based on the rule of law and ignore the politics of revenge. But he made it clear that the irregularities committed by the previous government would be investigated and corrected.
The recently conducted election demonstrates the consciousness, vision and concern of the people of Malaysia. In this respect, Anwar’s role is historic: 20 years ago, he went against Malaysian political tradition and formed a new party Parti Keadilan Nasional, which included all communities. He raised the slogan of reforms – of political culture and institutions, especially in administration and the judiciary.
The Barisan National coalition was based on ethnicity: Malay, Chinese, Indian and other Malaysians. But this time under the banner of PKR and PH, many Malaysian voters crossed communal, ethnic, sectarian, regional and other barriers and voted for good governance and the people’s wellbeing.
Anwar, for the sake of country and people, forgot all his hardships and allied himself with Mahathir. He set aside all his differences and worked with the former prime minister. Anwar’s alliance with Mahathir marked a seismic shift in Malaysia`s political landscape.
Until then, the grudge between the two had seethed since Mahathir sacked him as Deputy Prime Minister in 1998 and had him jailed on sodomy charge, which many observers said were politically motivated. In a statement issued from jail, Anwar has said he would “support the position” of those in civil society, political parties and individuals including Mahathir in the push to guarantee reforms, justice and fair opportunities for all.
Creating history in tough times
At the time when Anwar was sacked as Deputy Prime Minister 20 years ago, he had realised that the country needed a few drastic changes especially in political culture. Although he was jailed, he did not lose his hope.
He motivated his wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, an Irish-trained medical doctor, eye specialist and mother of six, to enter politics and fight for the reform movement he had initiated and guarantee good government to the people.
He also motivated his daughter Nurul Izza, then only 19, to join her mother to fight for reforms, justice, equality, rule of law, and fair and free opportunities for all the people, irrespective of ethnicity and religious identity.
A veteran politician such as Mahathir, the current Prime Minister, finally accepted Anwar’s vision of a prosperous and happy Malaysian, collaborated with him, formed a new coalition with his party, and finally won the general election.
For a large part of the last 20 long years, Anwar was in jail but wife Wan Azizah and daughter Nurul Izzah continued the struggle under his leadership. They suffered a lot during this period but did not give up their mission of seeking reforms and justice.
Now, people are able to see the fruit of their unlimited sacrifice and endless struggle. The creation of a strong opposition party against a dominant political coalition was thought to be impossible – but Anwar’s family, with the people’s support, made it a reality and created remarkable history.
A by-election is now possible to pave the way for Anwar to become an MP and then the eighth prime minister of Malaysia. PKR secretary-general Saifudin Nasution Ismail said the party’s main priority was to ensure that Anwar could lead and return to the political field as soon as possible.
Tireless efforts create history. Impossible things can be made possible. Anwar’s commitment to the cause of the people was the driving force behind his success. He was twice charged with sodomy cases but not with corruption. The clean image of a leader ultimately makes impossible things possible.
Many governments in Europe, Africa and Asia have been removed because of corruption. Look at countries such as the Philippines, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand and some African countries, where the heads of governments were removed in the past due to corruption and misuse of power.
Anwar should be able to maintain his clean image. Hopefully, in future when he is prime minister, he will turn the country into a model of democracy, prosperity, equality, justice and development.
Dr Muhammad Mumtaz Ali, a professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia, is a two-time national book award winner.