It’s interesting how Malaysians and the world reacted to the guilty verdict of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
The Malaysian press basically took two angles:
(a) This is the end of the political career of Anwar; and
(b) Who now can lead Pakatan Rakyat
(PR) with Anwar taking a long-break in Sungei Buloh? The world reaction basically had three, separate, angles:
(a) This is terrible, political persecution of a democrat. Barisan Nasional and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak is responsible for this
(b) Using sodomy as the charge is so old-fashioned, sodomy between consenting adults should not be a crime
(c) Democracy in Malaysia has taken several step backwards. Let me just deal with the Malaysian reaction (for space reasons).
I, for one, do not think the career of Anwar Ibrahim is over. This was exactly what they said when he went to jail back in 1988. In fact many people then said ‘Anwar and Parti Keadilan is finished’.
Anwar is the victim of political corruptions
Some of them are still around and saying the same thing today after the recent verdict. Let’s look at the facts. Not only did Anwar emerge from prison stronger, he managed to put together a coalition of parties with nothing in common – I am referring to DAP and PAS.
In fact, it is the honest truth that no one but Anwar could have brought them together under a single alliance at that time. When people say Anwar is the ‘glue’ they mean it literally. On top of this, he managed to lead PR to two significant elections – in 2008 and 2013. In 2013, PR won the popular vote, something that has never happened in the nation’s history.
Based on this track record, to say that his political career is ‘kaput’ because he going to jail is silly at best. Anwar is a politician par-excellence and a naturalborn political animal. His only contemporary is Tun Dr Mahathir Mohmad, also his nemesis. Just look at Dr Mahathir. How many realised that this man has been out of the PM’s office since 2003. That is 12 years ago.
Yet, every time there is a political event in Malaysia, his shadow is there. It is widely accepted that Mahathir played a key role in forcing the downfall of Tun Abdullah Badawi, his hand-picked successor.
Every time there are rumours of a palace coup in UMNO, Mahathir’s name appears. Those silly buggers who say Mahathir ‘retired’ politically back in 2003 need to eat humble pie. As long as Anwar is alive, he will have a political career. What we can say from the verdict is that his chances of ascending into the top political job in Malaysia is now remote.
His political career is not finished, this is just a setback. Anwar will make a comeback, maybe not in the front row, but he will remain a significant political player in Malaysian politics, inside or outside, prison. The fact is, if you are truly Machiavellian, you can argue the courts did him a great favour by giving a mandatory ‘holiday’.
He can sit and strategise 24/7 on how to bring the opposition into power. Sitting there also guarantees him the political martyr status. One can make a powerful argument that he is even more politically dangerous inside than outside.
The second question of who can lead PKR and PR is a more interesting proposition. The favourite of course is the wife – she held the position before when Anwar was inside the first time.
However, things have changed significantly. In those days, PR lacked talent. Today there is no shortage of talent across all the three PR parties (PKR, DAP and PAS). Many talented professionals joined DAP and PKR since 2004, with the most prominent ones such Rafizi Ramli, Ong Kian Ming, Sim Tze Tzin, Tony Pua, Hannah Yeoh, Charles Santiago and N Surendran. There are many others.
The problem is really not talent but opportunity to lead. All the PR parties are led by people who should have given up power immediately after 2013 general elections, and allow a new generation of leaders to take over.
If the top two leaders of PKR, DAP and PAS were to make way for new leaders now, in the shadow of Anwar’s incarceration, it will immediately inject new energy into PR. PR as it stands now, is not only losing political energy but look aimless other than the attention paid to Anwar’s trial and the ongoing spat between DAP and PAS. Of course what I am suggesting (the resignation of the top two in PR parties) will never happen.
Leaders in Malaysia still practice the laws of the jungle – they have to be deposed, in public or in private. The only exception I can think of is, ironically, Dr Mahathir.