Dato Zaid mentioned to me the other day, that he is coming out with an article rebutting what Dr Mahathir recently wrote on the topic of change. Zaid's main contention is we should not take Dr Mahathir seriously. Dr Mahathir is not capable of forming an objective opinion on Anwar anymore. Zaid Ibrahim has more credence on that aspect. he has not always enjoyed Anwar's confidence when he was in the PKR and should be the last to support Anwar. That he is able to do so, gives Zaid more believability. My own thinking is, despite what Mahathir thinks of Anwar and despite how UMNO denigrates Anwar Ibrahim the man, if more people believed in him, there is nothing all of us , including Mahathir can do about that. whether we like it, or we don't, learn to love it. As Zaid puts it in a more colorful way- what do we have against some people? some do it from the front, some like it from behind.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s lengthy article entitled “Change” has once again set political tongues wagging. Not that Dr M has written anything new – it’s just the same, old tirade against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the Pakatan Rakyat.
Whatever Dr M says however, must never be brushed off as inconsequential. Like Robert Mugabe and Hosni Mubarak, he has a large following and some rebuttal is required lest people believe him.
He first flogged US President Barack Obama as someone who did not deliver on his promises of change. He forgets that Obama was re-elected with an bigger margin than the first time he won the presidency. Dr M also ignores the fact that American citizens are in a better position to judge their President than a wealthy but old and retired Malaysian Prime Minister.
He then went on to say that Anwar and his friends in the Pakatan would bring havoc to the country, even if they rule for only five years. Anwar and the Pakatan, he said, would make all kinds of sweet promises but would not be able to deliver them. Why? The main thrusts of his argument were as follows:
Anwar did not accomplish much when he was in government, and even when he tried to do something, he was a disaster. During the 1998 financial crisis, for example, he wanted to follow the solutions prescribed by the International Monetary Fund, solutions Dr M said would have only bankrupted the country. He then said Anwar is not as pious or religious as he appears, and is a corrupt politician who practises cronyism to enrich his friends and family.
For now, my response to these allegations is to say that even if all of the above were true, we should still give Anwar and his friends a chance to rule. This is because Dr M is unable to give an objective assesment of Anwar. He is dumfounded that his nemesis is not only politically alive, but will probably be the next Prime Minister. Dr M is unable to accept this possibility as this would be a devastating defeat for him. Dr M is unable to accept that the person he targeted with the whole machinery of the state is still an active political leader who is more popular than he is. In other words, Dr M is too disturbed by Anwar’s thriving success to give a balanced view .
I have been an Anwar follower from afar for a long time. I was never his friend, but my interest in politics made me especially interested in him when my first preference, Tun Musa Hitam, pulled out of the political arena. When Anwar was sacked in 1998 and the black eye incident became worldwide news, I felt really sorry for him. I could not do much except to quietly support the Free Anwar campaign. I even named my horse “Deputy Coming Back” in 2000 as a symbolic gesture of support. Unlike Dr M, I can give a better and more detached assesment of both Anwar and his friends in the Pakatan, which voters in the upcoming General Election can rely on.
Yes, Anwar did not do much good when he was in UMNO. His tenure as Education Minister was poor and even as Deputy Prime Minister, he was not a trailblazer. He was imperious, feudalistic, strong willed and more interested in strenghtening his position in the party than pushing for real reform. But he was obviously good enough for the job; Dr M would not have picked him as his successor otherwise.
Anwar was never shy about showing off his Malay and Islamic agendas, even if these made non- Malays/non-Muslims uncomfortable. His “slaughter” of Tun Ghafar Baba manifested the rapacious character of a man who was willing to abandon friendship and good behaviour so long as he could become Prime Minister. He had friends and allies who were given concessions and allotted shares in public companies. There was no doubt that he was filling up his war chest. In short, he did what a typical UMNO leader would do if he wants to move up the ladder and be Prime Minister.
However, I believe that tragic and traumatic experiences can change a man. Anwar has suffered more than any political leader I know and because of these hardships, he is a different man today. He still wants to be Prime Minister (who doesn’t), but he knows Malaysians have also changed. Today the people want a cleaner and more responsible Government. They do not want a corrupt leader who would only enrich himself, his party and his family. Anwar and the members of his family are not rich, and live modestly.
Stories of him having billions stashed away are lies. He has wealthy friends, of course, and they have kept his struggle going. I don’t believe money is terribly important to Anwar and his family, so I don’t think we will have pilferage on a huge scale when he becomes Prime Minister. So one up for him.
Malaysians also want to coexist in harmony. They are tired of UMNO’s divide-and-rule system. Anwar has travelled far and wide in his political campaigns and has seen for himself how groups outside the gated communities live. He relates well with the rural as well as the urban poor and emphatises with the grievances of the marginalised. His concern for the less fortunate is genuine. His strong sense of justice is perhaps due to his own experiences, but they are real and something we can trust him with. He has changed, but Dr M has not. Two up.
An important point to remember is that Anwar has a close relationship with PAS. I was initially sceptical that PAS could ever be a strong political force in a moderate Malaysia because for many years, they were hystericaly extreme in their views. Today Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang is no longer the firebrand Islamic leader from Rusila of the 1980’s, but a moderate and practical politician. PAS has many young and moderate leaders, and they inject a strong ethical amd moral dimension to governance, at least more so than UMNO. I believe Anwar’s influence on PAS and political Islam as a whole is positive. Three up.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was an extreme and different political organisation in the early days when Hassan Al-Banna was at the helm, but its moderate policies are acceptable to Egyptians now. Under the influence of Hassan Al-Turabi, Sudan is no longer at war and is getting closer to the international community. Tunisia too has not become an extremist country, although it is ruled by an Islamist party. The dynamics of political Islam have changed and we can look forward to a more vibrant and peaceful version in Malaysia.
We must not get too worried about the occasional reference to hudud law and PAS’ aversion to short skirts and concerts. The constituency in political Islam is varied and covers a wide spectrum of believers. We must expect this diversion at times.
Dr M warned us that if Anwar comes to power, he will be a dictator who will be impossible to remove. I doubt it. If the people of this country can remove the mighty Barisan Nasional, then Anwar will be easy, if the situation warrants all of us to do so. Anwar has to share power with PAS and DAP, and he can only govern effectively by finding genuine consensus. Let’s also not forget the strong voice of the NGO’s which he cannot ignore, and which can temper his ambition. It would be neither conducive nor practical for him to govern in the style of his old UMNO ways, even if there are still remnants of it in his blood.
So I hope people will dismiss the fears that Dr M tried to raise, and instead will work together to achieve real change that Malaysia desperately needs.