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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

AIMING to upset the political status quo: I think we will make it this time - Anwar

AIMING to upset the political status quo: I think we will make it this time - Anwar

ANWAR Ibrahim is an un-noticed, softly-spoken
presence in the smart London hotel where he staying.
 But, in a year which has seen plenty of unexpected
 political revolutions across the world, here is the man
who may lead the next one.
AIMING to upset the political status quo: I think we will make it this time - AnwarDr Ibrahim is preparing to
return to Malaysia where t
he coalition he leads is
preparing to try and usurp
the ruling Barisan Nasional
 alliance which has run t
he wealthy south-east Asian
 country for the last fifty years.
 The BN is faltering, failing to meet the expectations
of an increasinly sophisticated urban class and beset
by allegations of vote-fixing, corruption and cronyism.
Change is in the air. But, in a country which is divided
by religion and between its dominant Malay, Chinese
 and Indian ethnic groups, the challenge is both to
demonstrate and alternative and to put it into practice.

Dr Ibrahim, who is in town with Azeem Ibrahim
(no relation), the Scottish businessman who acts
as one of his international aides, has one of the
great political back stories. “It is crazy, crazy,”
 he declares. The foremost Muslim activist of
his day, he was groomed in the 80s and 90s
by Malaysia’s authoritarian ex-Prime Minister
Mahatir Mohamad to be his successor as leader
of the main Malay party UMNO, which dominates
the BN alliance. But, as the pair moved apart,
Mahatir brutally cast him aside and, within weeks,
Ibrahim facing trumped up sodomy and
corruption charges. He was sentenced in
1999 to six years in jail, getting out in 2004.
Now, at the age of 65, and suffering from a
chronically bad back, he has now turned his
fire back on his old party colleagues, forming
a cross-racial alliance of his own, called Pakatan,
which makes the Conservative-LibDem team look
like childhoold sweethearts. In the middle,
Anwar’s new PKR party represents mainstream
 Malays who want an alternative to the status quo.
 On his right is the Islamist group PAS, whose
members would like to introduce Hudud laws
to the country. To his left he has the
Chinese-Indian DAP, which wants to
guarantee a secular future of the nation,
and better rights for the country’s non-Malay
He laughs at the idea he should maybe offer
Cameron and Clegg some advice on how to
keep the show on the road. But it already
looks tough for him - only last week, people
in the DAP were complaining about plans by
PAS to introduce Hudud. He acknowledges
the problems. “When I was Deputy Prime Minister,
it was easy. They (his staff) would just say
‘yes sir, yes sir’. But now now.” He is walking
 a tightrope. Each party, he says, will
“have a right to articulate your views.
I am a Democrat. You can argue your
point out. But you can’t dictate”.
Having run five states for the last four years,
he believes the alliance has proven
“it is not a marriage of convenience”
 that can put aside its differences and
focus on what it can do. In Malaysia,
a huge pro-democracy rally earlier this
year called “Bersih” (or “Clean”) demonstrated
 the enormous desire for fair elections.
Anwar’s coalition stands on that ticket
of a more open country with a free press.
He notes: “You cannot suggest that society
is not prepared to experience a more mature
 democracy. For ten years you can blame
the British for the poor education and
 people not familiar with the system.
But not after fifty years.”
A modern traditionalist, who backed a man
on Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”,
but adores his other novels, he avoids easy
categorization as a Muslim leader, and is
easy to mis-represent. This is a man who
shared Muslim anger at Abu Ghraib, but has also suffered unjust imprisoned in his own country. He says he is not a liberal and remains rooted in the Islamic movement. But he says he believes in taking a “hard line” on harsh views on both sides of the debate. On the violent reaction to the blasphemous video insulting Islam, he agrees there is a “problem with the Muslim psyche....people are easly enraged and emotional.” As to the outrage displayed by Malaysia’s governing class, he declares: “The hypocrisy of these fellows talkng about defending Islam when they are so blatantly corrupt and unjust. That is the ruling clique all over.” But he also accuses the West of bias against against Islam. “If you attack the Jews in Paris, there is a very serious penalty.” He has a deep love of Amerca and its founding values, but adds: “Even the so-called more sophisticated Americans are so filled with Islamophobia. I have a better understanding of Christianity than they do of Islam.” What he wants is an intelligent response. He scorns the “crazy” move by Malaysia’s Ministry of Education last week to publish a much-mocked guide on how to spot if someone is a homosexual (which remains illegal in conservative Malaysia). He also wants to end Malaysia’s discredited discrimination in favour of its Malay Muslim majority, over the Indians and Chinese. “The reason being, so called Malay based polices do not actually benefit the majority of Malays, it’s for the benefit of the cronies.” He reflects now that Mahatar’s brutal treatment of him has led him to a better place. “It’s not that his decision was right. But now I have a clean slate. Not when I talk about reform I really mean it.”
So can he win? He doesn’t think the election will be clean, accusing UMNO of bringing in “phantom voters” from the neighbouring Phillipines and Indonesia to bump up their support. “There are very high expectations,” he concedes. He says he needs to convince Malay voters that, in a racially divided society, he is going to keep their interests at heart. “They don’t worry too much about the ethnic Indians, but they do about the Chinese. But I think we will make it this time. I am really confident.” And the smear campaigns won’t work. He jokes: “They (his opponents) have been doing this for the last 14 years. If I were to rob somebody now, people will say I don’t think he did that, because so many other things have been claimed.” The election has to take place within the next eight months. If he wins, the unassuming Dr Ibrahim will not go un-noticed in London the next time he returns.

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