Alliance needs to prove its ability to govern with prudence and transparency, says Anwar Ibrahim
By Leslie Lopez, South-East Asia Correspondent
“We need to get the state governments in place and quickly show the people that this is not business as usual.” —DATO SERI ANWAR IBRAHIM
ENTERING last week’s election as the wild card in Malaysian politics, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim has emerged from the polls as the politician holding the strongest hand, making him a serious contender for the national leadership.
As government politicians and analysts struggle to make sense of the stunning election results, which denied the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) its two-thirds majority and gave the opposition control of five state assemblies, Dato Seri Anwar is plotting his next moves.
‘We need to get the state governments in place and quickly show the people that this is not business as usual,’ said the 60-year-old politician, who was sacked from government in 1998 and then jailed on corruption charges.
‘We have to show that we can manage with prudence and make procurement policies transparent through tenders,’ he noted, adding that the opposition will demand the same in Parliament of the BN.
The stakes are high for him and the ideologically diverse opposition coalition built around his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
For the first time in Malaysia’s history, the opposition - which has little experience in governing - will be in charge of five states, several with established industrial bases and robust economies.
Now for the hard part.
PACING the long corridors of his double-storey home on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim fields telephone calls from his opposition colleagues, trying to hammer out compromises for new state government positions.
“You think winning the elections is difficult. It is also difficult after winning,”‘ he tells The Straits Times in a wide-ranging interview.
Should it succeed it crafting investment policies that will create jobs and bring an end to the patronage form of government that has characterised past BN administrations, analysts say the opposition alliance could make a credible bid for national power in future polls.
But it won’t be easy, they say.
Apart from PKR, a Malay-dominated multiracial party, the alliance includes the predominantly Chinese and left-leaning Democratic Action Party (DAP). At the other end of the spectrum is Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which only recently dropped its demand to turn Malaysia into a theocratic state should it come to power.
Dato Seri Anwar played a crucial role in getting the two traditional political foes to set aside their differences to create an unlikely three-way alliance for the election. He acknowledges that forging a middle ground comfortable enough for PAS and the DAP to co-exist will continue to be a challenge.
“Three months ago, I knew that we could easily secure at least one-third of the parliamentary seats. My partners weren’t convinced, but I told them as long as we remain a cohesive force we can deny the BN the two-thirds and get more,” he said.
There is no denying that the Anwar-led opposition can claim credit for shifting the axis of power that has long shaped Malaysia.
The huge electoral setbacks suffered by Umno means that it cannot establish a government on its own.
UMNO, which has long been used to dictating how the government is run, is now weakened, a prospect many analysts fear could stymie decision-making in government.
Dato Seri Anwar’s return to mainstream politics is the latest twist in a political odyssey of one of Malaysia’s most popular and powerful politicians.
In the 1970s, he set up a foundation to tutor poor Malay dropouts and led a 40,000 strong Muslim youth movement called ABIM, which championed Islamic, social and human-rights causes.
The often caustic attacks against the government led him to jail in 1974 for a period of 22 months after he organised demonstrations against national agricultural policies which hurt farmers.
With his growing national stature, Dato Seri Anwar was being actively courted by PAS. But it was former premier Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad who in 1981 persuaded the young Anwar to join the ruling party.
Dato Seri Anwar rose quickly through the ranks and in 1991 was appointed to the powerful post of finance minister, and two years later became UMNO’s deputy president, a position which made him a clear successor to Tun Dr. Mahathir.
But the partnership came unstuck with the onset of the Asian financial crisis (1997-1998), which resulted in Dato Seri Anwar’s sacking from government and his subsequent imprisonment.
Looking a little rested from a punishing two-week campaign, Dato Seri Anwar said the internal bickering in UMNO, which helped the opposition’s election campaign, will also give his coalition time to put its own house in order in the states where it will govern.
He is reluctant to talk about his immediate political plans or his chances of becoming premier.
His aide Khalid Jaffar said his boss is likely to contest a by-election once the prohibition barring him from holding office expires next month. “The big task is to push ahead with this multiracial deal that we are offering Malaysians,” Mr Khalid said.
Mukhriz's letter [translated from Bahasa Malaysia] that could mend Umno or break his political career.(courtesy of Rocky Bru's blog)
12th March 2008
Let me take this opportunity to thank you and the party's leadership for the faith in me and the chance to contest in Jerlun as a Barisan Nasional candidate. With the blessing and hard work of the party's leadership and machinery as well as the people of Jerlun, I have won the elections and am now a new Member of Parliament.
However, sadly enough, my victory is rendered meaningless in view of the defeat that Umno and the Kedah BN suffered in the hands of the opposition. Apart form Kedah, four other states as well as the Federal Territories also received similar humiliation in defeat.
In fact your own state of Penang was wrested by the DAP from the BN. Kelantan is again under Pas rules. In other states, the BN also suffered a similar humiliation when the level of BN support by the people has tremendously reduced. This, Datuk Seri, has never happened in the history of BN rule.
The sole intention of my letter to you is meant to save UMNO and BN from being rejected further by the people and from being no longer relevant to our religion, race and nation.
Dato' Seri, the people are unhappy and the message from them is very clear, and that is they have rejected you as the nation's chief executive.
Contrary to your claim that you still have the support of Umno and other component parties, the reality is that even our own party members had reneged in their voting pattern by supporting the Opposition and inflicting the BN its defeat.
Dato' Seri, when the people held street demonstrations you openly dared them to resort to the ballot boxes to demonstrate.
They took your challenge by coming out, especially tho people in the Peninsular, and they demonstrated their feelings by voting us out at the BN at State and Parliament levels.
It is therefore clear that your leadership and your handling of the issues faced by the people and the nation are no longer accepted. Let's not deny the truth just for the sake of keeping your seat as Prime Minister.
For the love of this country and the people, I beg that you take responsibility for the defeat. We can save UMNO, the BN and the nation only if you relinquish your positions as Prime Minister and the President of UMNO.
Dato' Seri, I hope you will understand that I make this plea with the intention of salvaging a very dire situation. A move has been made to woo the BN representatives to join the Opposition. The enemy needs just 35 seats more to topple the government of your leadership.
If you do not resign in the near future, I fear that the situation will become untenable and that the Malay support for Umno and BN will be a thing of the past.
This plea I make without malice, and I am aware that your reaction and that of other UMNO members could very well be hostile.
But come what may, I am prepared, for the sake of the Malays and UMNO, to face the consequences of my action. With all humility, I leave my fate to Allah SWT.
Dato' Seri, I am sure that you will do the right thing for the sake of the people and the nation. May Allah SWT bless you for the sacrifice you make by stepping down.
Jerlun Member Parliament
It seems that Tengku Razaleigh,read here,and here, Rafidah Aziz and a couple of UMNO leaders & veterans had joined the bandwagon in blaming Pat Lah for the thrashing BN received in the 12th GE.