Introduction: Two routes forward:
Two divergent routes present themselves to Malaysia’s politicians seeking to decide Malaysia’s new political direction, now that Muhyiddin Yassin and his extreme Bersatu government have handed in their cards.
The first is broadly more of the same, an UMNO leader who can bring his party together, on the stop Anwar Ibrahim ticket. The second is the bold leap into the unknown of an Anwar government, led by Anwar and not some proxy, ushering the first truly multi-racial regime in Malaysia.
Mr Anwar spoke to Malaysian World in May. Admittedly much has changed since then, and little for the better. So here are a few thoughts from Mr Anwar about the nature of a government he would lead.
NK: Do you have the appetite to be the Prime Minister? Someone to really make changes in Malaysia?
AI: I have a responsibility to bring about reform, real reform in this country. Malaysia has to make a choice as a democracy, we have to deal effectively with the Covid crisis initially and bring back our position and rule.
Right now, we are looking poor in Asia, probably better than Myanmar, but the prestige, the image is gone. I think it’s only the governance is short of democratic accountability.
NK: Because when you had a chance, with your own opposition rule last time, you still had to go on the coat tails of your former or present friend, Mr. Mahathir. I don’t know if he is going to be the figure head next time, but would you.. like to go it on your own, if you like?
AI: If he wants to, he can join us to support us. But in the coalition, nobody is thinking of having him as the temporary head. He asked publicly for 6 months, not even 6 hours.
After all, I’m now opposition leader which means old opposite members, I have discussed with them or interacted with them and the point is on the candidate, the prospective candidate for the Prime Minister and Mahatir is not the choice of the opposition.
NK: Are you concerned about the political ambitions of Mr Najib Razaq [the former Malaysian prime minister convicted of involvement in the 1MDB corruption case]? People say he is the most popular politician, he is doing great social media networking, using Facebook etc. He is fighting his appeal very strongly, he faces five criminal cases and he is still strutting the stage and people say he could be the next Prime Minister again. What should happen to him?
AI: I think … yes, social media, and people see the courage he has displayed. But I don’t think it will be easy for him to. You say that he is popular, yes, in some parts, he is still important in the [UMNO] party, he has good traction amongst rural Malaysians because of his history and his past contributions.
But beyond that, I think it would not be that easy for Najib to attempt to come back soon. Furthermore, the trial is still ongoing, it’s a complex process, it’s a protected process, there is already one conviction, and he is appealing his conviction and it’s a major, major problem for him too.
NK: People forget that he was convicted of very major corruption and theft and fraud offences, this is… stealing from your public wealth fund even if it’s with the complicity of a very sharp, entrepreneur or businessman, Jho Low. Some people haven’t taken that on board somehow, they are prepared to close their eyes.
AI: Well, there is a difference Nick, people tend to agree, sometimes he said the right things so he got support on that point. Whether one could garner support during the elections and to offer a viable alternative, totally different and I don’t believe that’s going to happen soon.
NK: That he can’t offer a viable alternative? Because of his record and conviction.
AI: No. Because of his conviction and his ongoing cases, although he is still appealing against the conviction there are many other cases. Deal with these cases first and it will take years to sort out the cases.
NK: When do you think there might be an election?
Well, it’s not due until the next 2 1/2 years or so. The problem is, if things are ok and we can resolve the issue of the vaccine, our systems are poor, inefficient … for procuring the vaccines and now even dispersing the vaccine.
Assuming that this is done, then we can have elections. [The earlier the vaccine is diserpsed, the soon the election can be called. Mr Anwar refers to the byelection which caused a super spreader event earlier in the pandemic].
NK: What or who do you blame for the 1MDB scandal?
AI: The problem is systemic. The political issue, judiciary, the enforcement agencies including procedures of powers and individuals, the media, the intellectuals, the academics. The system has got to be weak or fragile to allow for these excesses to happen openly without any strong reaction.
I remember thinking, I happened to be the first to raise the issue on 1MDB in parliament. I had some information from an international journalist after looking at the audit of PetroSaudi. A reference to PetroSaudi at that time. I brought it up and of course, hardly any support other than among the opposition MPs, and they were lacking information.
Many of the banks … and businessmen, of course I said publicly Goldman Sachs was an international, financial, agency, institution complicit to the crime. Is it then confined to a few individuals? No, the problem is systemic. Where was the anti-corruption commission, [MACC], where was the Attorney General chambers? And the judiciary and the academics and the central banks? The central banks were very instrumental.