The Rise and Fall of the Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim
Former deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri
Anwar Ibrahim, as he is known in Malaysia, was pardoned last week by Yang di-
Pertuan Agong, the head of the state, on the request of the newly constituted
government of Pakatan Harapan coalition under the new premier Mahathir Bin
Mohammad. He was given a full pardon recently so that he could restart his
political journey without a hitch, because, otherwise, a jailed political
leader, as per Malaysian law, cannot return to politics for five years
post-their release. This is the best gift Anwar Ibrahim could have been offered
on the eve of Ramadan.
Seeking a royal pardon for Anwar Ibrahim was pre-decided when the new
opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope)- a constituent of four
parties such as People's Justice Party or Parti Keadilan Rakayat (PKR),
Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM),
informally known as BERSATU and National Trust Party or Parti Amanah
Negara(AMANAH)- was formed to take on the scandal ridden Najib in the recently
held 14th general election.
In view of its historic shock victory, as agreed upon, the nonagenarian Prime
Minister Dr. Mahathir after his swearing in immediately proposed a royal pardon
to the present elected constitutional monarch Muhammad-V for the release of
Anwar Ibrahim who was once his arch political rival turned ally now for trumped
up charges as claimed by Anwar Ibrahim, human rights groups and his supporters.
His tumultuous political journey ended after the royal pardon, paving way for
reinventing his political strategies and striving towards transformative
politics in Malaysia. Now, he is the Prime Minister in waiting after the two
years of reign by foe turned ally Mahathir.
Chequered Political Journey
Seventy-year-old Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was born in the year 1947 in the
state of Penang. He has been complimented highly as a talented orator in both
Malay and English since his days of involvement in student politics. As a
student he served as the president of the National Union of Malaysian Muslim
students from 1968 to 1971 and also as a co-founding member and the second
president of a youth Islamic organization titled Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia
(ABIM). It is clear that his radical politics dates back very far, as he was
arrested under Internal Security Act without trial and spent 20 months in a
detention centre for his student activism. He shocked his liberal supporters in
1981 by joining with conservative UMNO during Dr. Mahathir who was the
president of UMNO and the Prime Minister.
Since then, his meteoric rise of political career started until his fallout
with Mahathir in the year 1998. He was offered various coveted positions in his
cabinet beginning with minister for culture, youth and sports, agriculture and
education and eventually became the deputy prime minister and finance minister.
Due to differences with him over handling the major Asian financial crisis
plagued the Malaysian economy; he was suddenly sacked by him in the year 1998.
In the following year, he was arrested by Mahathir for the charges of
corruption and sodomy being sentenced to six years in prison.
Meanwhile after his ouster from the UMNO, Ibrahim founded the Reformasi
Movement by mobilizing disgruntled sections of UMNO in favor of political
reforms. This eventually led to the formation of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PR),
also known as the People's Justice Party in 2003 which merged the National
Justice Party and the older Malaysian People's Party. After he was released
from jail in 2004 as the sodomy conviction was overturned, he became the de
facto leader of the then opposition party People's Alliance also known as
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) comprising parties like PKR, DAP and PAS. He was the
driving force for the formation of strong opposition force by stitching
together the various political opposition groups of Malaysia. The re-entry of
Anwar into politics diminished the electoral base of the long ruling BN
coalition in the 2008 and 2013 general elections. While he was gaining his
popularity and strength, he was again sentenced for nine years in the year 2015
on sodomy charge appeal case, leading to arrest of him by then Prime Minister
In 2018, his party now being led by his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail joined hands
with former his arch rival Mahathir under the newly constituted Pakatan Harapan
swept the election, resulted in the formation of the first opposition
government in Malaysia after the six decades rule of the BN coalition.
Initially, though he was a Malay nationalist when he was in the fold of UMNO,
later, he has become an icon or champion of multi-racial politics in Malaysia,
after becoming a political dissent.
He has been a voice for moderate global Islam, against the violations of human
rights in the case of Sri Lanka and ardently supporting the cause of Palestine
and so on.
Tasks at hand
Steering his coalition to a landslide victory being in the back stage, his
coalition looks like a formidable political force as of now to bringing in
desired social change in Malaysian political landscape. In this respect, he has
to embrace upon various, drastic political strategies to cleanse the existing
faulty system, but with devoid of vendetta politics.
Political immunity is a common feature in Malaysian politics, so, to get rid of
this, an independent judiciary is need of the hour. As he himself was the
political victim of all these years, he should make sure that the political
influences on the governing institutions should be curtailed with an iron hand
by giving more autonomy to the various organs of the government like judiciary,
Executive and so on. Malaysian economy has been staggering for quite some time;
he has to pull back its downslide by plugging in various loopholes to put the
economy on right track. His fight against rampant systemic corruption of
Malaysia should see the light during his reign by bringing in various effective
mechanisms. Under the six decades of UMNO led BN rule, Institutional racism has
crept into the governing institutions. So, the main task is institutional
reforms for democratization, political stability and taking country forward to
realize the vision 2020. Without any cosmetic changes, he should push for long
term administrative reforms. He should ensure that the rule of law prevails
under his regime.
As he is leading a concoction of various ideological groups as part of his
coalition, it should not face any further splits in course of time, so, major
policy and strategic decisions should be taken in consultation with his
partners through consensus building process to avoid any political fallout.
Further, being a major player in the coalition, no big brotherly attitude at
all towards its other minor partners of the coalition as like UMNO led Barisan
Nasional (BN) coalition in the past is an imperative for the political
He has to rebuild his party to become a credible force of multi-racial politics
by extending its sphere of influence with the Chinese and the Indian ethnic
minority communities of Malaysia and the Malay majority further.
The Islamic fundamentalist party like PAS that stands for political Islam has
regained his political strength in the recently held 14th general election. So,
he should take steps to address the anxieties and concerns of the conservative
Malays who are strongholds of PAS. As observed, he wields a strong charismatic
appeal with the urban voters of all races of Malaysia in comparison with the
rural counterparts, so should try to capture the political imagination of the
rural voters of Malaysia especially rural Malays.
He stands up for the ideals like social justice, anti-corruption, moderate
Islam and Malaysia for all Malaysians. He should follow these ideals in letter
and in spirit without any compromises and political maneuvers. The most
marginal and the oppressed Indian ethnic minority look upon him as 'saviour' to
resolve their overdue economic plight. He should take drastic steps for the
empowerment of the community. As Malaysia needs an overhaul on various fronts
due to the prevalence of entrenched race politics for six decades, at least, he
needs to carry out the much needed reforms during this reign without any delay.
He is considered as a 'beacon of hope' by all Malaysians; he has got a chance
now to prove that through his new avatar as the head of the government. Let us
repose our faith and confidence on him given his progressive, liberal political
ideals that he stands for now.