With the expiry of a five-year ban, former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim today regains his freedom to contest a Malaysian general election and internal party election.
Anwar's political comeback is as stunning as his spectacular fall from power following his 1998 fallout with then boss, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir.
The general elections, in which the ruling National Front lost its two-thirds majority in federal parliament and in which the Opposition won control of five state assemblies, have been described as a 'political tsunami'.
For the first time ever, Anwar's multiracial party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or the People's Justice Party) won more parliamentary seats than any other opposition party. As a result, Dr Wan Azizah, Anwar's wife, who was also re-elected, has become the Opposition leader.
Commentators have interpreted the results as an endorsement of PKR's electoral pledge to replace decades-old race-based affirmative action with needs-based assistance programs. They argue that racial politics and the battle cry of Malay hegemony have finally been superseded.
'The people have voted decisively for a new era where the government must be truly inclusive and recognise that all Malaysians, regardless of race, culture or religion are a nation of one,' an elated Anwar declared the night the electoral results were known.
The darling of the foreign press, the charismatic and capable Anwar generally receives positive and enthusiastic coverage. Widely seen as the uncontested Prime-Minister-to-be should the opposition gain control of the Parliament, many Malaysians are ready to give Anwar another chance.
But many others harbour lingering doubts. One key concern arises from uncertainty over the extent of Anwar's commitment to multiculturalism.
Until the late 1980s, the conversion of a Muslim to another religion could be validated by making a statutory declaration to that effect. More recently, state registrars have refused to recognise such conversions unless validated by the Syariah courts. Recent cases have shown the Syariah Courts are reluctant or refuse to do their job. A Malay convert to Catholicism, Lina Joy, contested this requirement in the civil courts in order to have the religious status recorded on her identity card rectified without going through the Syariah courts.
Lina lost her case and, while this came as a disappointment to those who are already alarmed by the continuing erosion of the role of the civil courts as the guarantor of constitutional rights including religious freedom, Anwar declared his agreement with the verdict.
Secondly, even though several PKR campaign pamphlets attacked the government's marginalisation of Mandarin and Tamil-medium primary education, the PKR election manifesto contained no measure to rectify the situation. This silence raises doubts as to whether PKR will change the status quo should it win government.
Then there was the question of who would become Chief Minister in Perak after the opposition won that state. The Perak constitution stipulates that the state government should be headed by a Malay although this requirement can be waived by the Sultan. In this instance, none of the newly elected state assemblymen of the Democratic Action Party, the Chinese-based opposition party which gained the most seats, were Malay. Yet, rather than considering the merits of the candidates, Anwar simply objected to having a non-Malay as the Chief Minister, citing the need to protect the Malay position politically and economically.
During the election campaign, he also attacked the previous government for raising petrol prices, and declared that he would lower them, once in power. Such a measure would be immensely popular, but to implement it would cost billions of ringgit in petrol subsidies. Is this the policy of a 'far-sighted' leader when this money could be used to finance a long term solution to the prevailing over-dependence on private cars?
Anwar, who plans to return to the parliament in a by-election, has already announced that he is moving towards forming a new federal government with the help of defectors from the ruling coalition. A question arises as to whether such a 'back door' approach to gaining power is fair to voters, who tend to vote for a party rather than individual candidates. Besides, the opposition parties have previously backed an 'anti-hopping law', which would require elected representatives to resign and stand for by-election should they switch political allegiance.
It remains to be seen whether they will apply the same standard to themselves if and when they come to power.
Apostasy and Islam (Muslims upholding the Freedom of Fath)
Helen Ting completed a PhD in political science at the Institut d'études politiques de Paris. She is currently based in Kuala Lumpur ahead of taking up an appointment at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS) of the National University of Malaysia (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia).
Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.
15 April 2008
Truth be told, PR has yet to be tested. It is something new and unknown. But with BN, you can be sure of double standards.
15 April 2008
I am not a staunch anwar supporter but I do support for a course of better Malaysia. This article does not analyse the difference in ideology between BN and Pakatan Rakyat but more on Anwar's multiracial commitment. As a result the remarks are lobe sided and not that of many Malaysian understanding.
Listen to all of anwar (PKR), DAP and PAS political speeches before the election and compare them with those said and acted upon by BN component parties. What is the better option the general Malaysian public has comparing with the current scenario?
Lina joy case and the selection of Perak MB cannot be looked at as one-off incidences but should be looked at with respect to the constitution, Malaysian laws (syariah and conventional) and multiculture and tolerated society that we have in Malaysia. Go back and restudy the impact if constitution and Malaysian Laws are not follow.
16 April 2008
What you state about Perak is wrong. The decision in Perak was by the local parties involved. I followed the matter closely, and nowhere did I hear and see "Anwar simply objected to having a non-Malay as the Chief Minister, citing the need to protect the Malay position politically and economically."
Could you please cite a news report that has this statement/comment and have a link to it please? Thanks.
16 April 2008
As a concerned citizen, I am very pleased myself with the recent political changes in Malaysia.
I am particularly happy that Anwar proclaimed on Monday night that we should champion "ketuanan rakyat" (people's supremacy) rather than "ketuanan Melayu" (Malay supremacy).
Due to word limits, I was unable to make a number of positive points regarding Anwar that I would have otherwise preferred to mention.
Even so, the concerns I raised remain valid.
Politicians from the Barisan Nasional side often make inclusive or positive comments on multiracial issues as well. But it is when concrete issues crop up that these comments are tested for what they are really worth. That is why I questioned "the extent" of Anwar's commitment to multiculturalism.
From the point of view of Lina Joy's predicament, a change of government would not make much difference. It is not a matter of not respecting the constitution. On the contrary, if Article 11 of the Constitution were respected to the letter and in its spirit, then she should have already been able to be recognised as a Catholic as she has been since 1998, and been allowed to marry her Catholic boyfriend whom she has been waiting to marry under Malaysian law for ten years!
The same is true for Revathi Masoosai who wishes to be recognised as a Hindu (she has applied to the Syariah Court and was put in Islamic rehabilitation centre for six months. Yet after going through the ordeal, she is still not recognised as a Hindu), and for many others in a similar plight.
As for Anwar's position regarding Perak Menteri Besar (Chief Minister), please refer to (click here), published on 11 March.
17 April 2008
If there is a change in government will not be just PKR but PAS and DAP in tow.
DAP, for one, will not stand idly by if non-Malay rights are trampled on. Remember also that PKR have a good number of non-Malay MPs and ADUNs.
01 September 2008
If Malaysia is to mature as a democracy, Mr Ibrahim should contribute towards strengthening the Peoples Coalition. Forming a government to promote democracy maybe useful but doing it through defection may not be the best way to form a new government.
What would be best for Mr Ibrahim is to strengthen the institutional framework to allow opposition parties to work effectively together for the long term and to demonstrate good governance through the states that they govern.
04 November 2008
This is the full quote
Quizzed on the selection of the new Perak menteri besar, Anwar said it is “almost resolved” but said the position should remain with a Malay candidate.
“We are guided by the (state) constitution. We will of course protect the Malay position politically and economically, we’re bound by that. We are committed (to the position) that the rights of the Malays are protected.
“In doing so, we will ensure we are just and we’ll have adequate accommodation of non-Malays in our state government and there will be just and fair representation.”
30 January 2014
Truth never Failed