It is almost impossible to get a second person more qualified than Anwar Ibrahim to tackle the phenomenal rise of the “green wave” we see today.
During the early days after the unity government was installed, the local social media, especially among Chinese-speaking netizens, have been adamantly pouring out their praises for Anwar Ibrahim. Even Ahmad Zahid whom before the election they vowed to crush now becomes the new blue-eyed boy they unashamedly worship.
I couldn’t help but think back of that pair of humble slippers Tun Mahathir was wearing when he became second-time PM, and wonder whether they are still selling like hot cakes today.
To be honest, journalists who regularly covered Anwar’s events three decades ago still try to keep an inexplicable distance from this newly minted prime minister today.
Looking back, this future leader of the nation who was enjoying unparalleled popularity saw himself ascending rapidly up the hierarchical ladder under then PM Mahathir — from youth and sports minister, agriculture minister, education minister all the way to deputy PM cum finance minister, and from the Umno Youth chair to the party’s vice president and eventually deputy president.
Not only himself, even his press secretary and bodyguard who seemed to take delight in seeing the reporters fumbling to get near their boss for the much valued press coverage were perceived to have placed themselves a notch above the rest of the crowd.
During those more glorious years, Anwar was generous in accepting media interviews, but only confined to international media. As for the local press, requests for interviews would hardly be put down in his appointment book.
Things started to change only after September 2, 1998, when Anwar hit a major snag in his political career and was thrown out of office into the wilderness. But as he was now more of a frequent visitor to the court, securing an appointment for interview with him was a tall order. Much more so after he was put behind bars later.
Mahathir handed the baton to Abdullah in 2003. In September the following year, Anwar stepped out of his prison cell to fly to Munich for a spinal surgery at a time I was on a two-week study tour at AFP headquarters in Paris. Finally, luck was on my side!
I flew from Paris to the hospital he was recuperating in Munich, and did what I had not had the chance to do all those years back in KL: to run an exclusive interview with this former second-in-command of the country.
Just in case you wonder who the coordinator of that meeting was, he was none other than the Azmin Ali who had been loyally by his side from the day he fell from grace. Unbelievable, right? But that’s more to it!
Among those on the list of his distinguished visitors from Malaysia was Hadi Awang, the commander of today’s “Green Wave”!
Allow me to deviate a little here. A former heavyweight who had faded from political limelight and had served his jail sentence for a couple of years was accorded visits by foreign dignitaries. A glimpse into his list of visitors confirmed that this Anwar Ibrahim was veritably a world class leader!
Well, they say there is no permanent friend or enemy in politics. From the previously unlikely pair of Mahathir and Lim Kit Siang joining hands to take down Najib Razak, to the humble apology tendered by DAP’s big shots, notably Lim Guan Eng, to win Abang Jo’s favour to support Pakatan Harapan, and the incredible DAP-MCA “cohabitation”, right through to Anthony Loke and Ahmad Zahid sitting side by side in the cabinet meeting.
Indeed, after the political baptism by a string of events in more recent years, nothing comes as an unassailable shock to us any more!
Allow me to also furnish a little more info for our younger readers. As a matter of fact, the controversy surrounding the posting of non-Chinese senior office-holders at SJKCs back in 1987, which later evolved into a major political storm that culminated in the infamous “Operasi Lalang”, all had very much to do with Anwar Ibrahim!
Among over a hundred politicians detained under the ISA were Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng and the late Karpal Singh. And these DAP leaders are today among Anwar’s most die-hard supporters, without whom his decades-old PM dream would have remained very much as such!
While covering a protest rally by local Chinese associations and political parties at KL’s Thean Hou Temple back then, I was instantly struck by a banner with these eye-catching words 安华不安华 (Anwar is not Chinese-friendly). Ironically, Anwar takes on a completely opposite image of a Comforter, or rather a Saviour, to the local Chinese community in 2022. So, I bet you, what else is impossible in Malaysian politics?
After so many claims that embarrassingly proved to be unsubstantiated, finally Anwar Ibrahim now “has the numbers”! If the voice vote was to be substituted with a bloc vote, he would have garnered 148 votes, far beyond the 112-seat simple majority and just hitting the two-thirds majority threshold.
As some have said, this unity government is a mixed bag of politicians each with his own calculations. Even with an MoU inked, the political climate remains highly unpredictable in a country where nothing is impossible, especially in view of the state elections to be held over the next half a year which will likely tilt the balance.
While the opposition is doing the talking all the time, when one is in government, one has to do something, although doing and talking are two very different things altogether.
The whole nation played witness to the 22-month PH administration after the 2018 elections. And it is now the former senior government office-holders of the previous backdoor administration now seated in the opposition benches that will assume the watchdog role!
Even if it is a unity government, we have seen once again that succumbing to the cruel political reality to firm up the support of new-found allies, many impressive pledges made by PH before the election are now slighted, and the uncompromising rejection of corruption before the election is now conveniently bent. The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) which was forcefully opposed to in parliament is now ardently defended…
Anwar with his exemplary gift of speech, has in his 24 years in opposition voiced out tonnes of reforms, and it is now time for all to see how he is putting those words into action.
Just another brief account of a historical event. As a counter-offensive against PAS, Mahathir brought Anwar, then a young ABIM activist, into Umno in the 1980s, and indeed Anwar did not disappoint, systematically incorporating Islamic elements into government machinery and school campuses.
Such a trend has developed over the following two to three generations into an increasingly cohesive and inseparable amalgamation between the Malay ethnicity and Islamic faith.
To be fair, the Islamic culture Anwar has been advocating all these years is one of moderate secularism. He even once orchestrated the internationally acclaimed civilisational dialogue between Islam and Confucianism, and this alone has set him far apart from the hudud and Islamic state advocacies of PAS.
Looking around us, it is almost impossible to get a second person more qualified than Anwar Ibrahim to tackle the phenomenal rise of the “green wave” we see today.
He must make the best of the limited time he has in hand to win over the Muslims with his performance and yet not sacrificing the plurality he has been chanting for years as opposition.
The old comrades who were fighting alongside him throughout the Reformasi years must constantly remind him that moderation is his nature and plurality his raison d’être in politics.