Sunday, November 27, 2022

Anwar can be our Nelson Mandela if… — Roger Tan

The Malay Mail
by Roger Tan

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim began his official duties as Prime Minister by clocking in at his office at the Perdana Putra in Putrajaya November 25, 2022. — Bernama pic

NOVEMBER 27 — When the late Nelson Mandela was released after being imprisoned for 27 years for standing up against South Africa’s apartheid laws, many had expected him to seek revenge on his white captors. He did not. Instead, he forgave them. But many African National Congress (ANC) activists had also suffered under the apartheid regime. So, Mandela led the way because if he could forgive, there was no reason for his ANC acolytes and activists to ask for vengeance. By his act of forgiveness, this had brought healing and reconciliation to his nation.

In the words of Mandela, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I would still be in prison.” He added, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. They must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

When he became the first black president of South Africa, he even allowed some of his erstwhile opponents to join his government. At his inauguration, he even invited one of his white prison guards. Hence, Mandela was not just a leader but a true statesman. In his wise words: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

For this reason, Malaysians are grateful to Their Majesties the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and the Malay Rulers for ending the five-day political stalemate by getting Pakatan Harapan to form a unity government with the other warring parties.

In the case Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, he is perhaps the most persecuted politician in Malaysia.

Born on August 10, 1947, both his parents were active politicians. His late father, Datuk Ibrahim bin Abdul Rahman was a member of parliament for Seberang Tengah, Penang from 1958 to 1964. As a firebrand youth activist and orator, he was quickly recruited by Umno to counter the rise of its rival, PAS. On September 20, 1998 he was arrested after being sacked as a deputy prime minister and expelled from Umno. While under detention, Malaysians were horrified to see how he had sustained a black eye, and it was later discovered the head of our police force was responsible for this despicable assault. In 1999, he was jailed for corruption and sodomy.

This was particularly hard on his wife and young family who endured hardship and humiliation. In Malaysia especially, once a politician loses his seat of power and position, sycophants, so-called ‘friends’ and business associates would desert you in no time and in droves. They will run to the victors or stay with the incumbents.

In 2004, his sodomy conviction was overturned, and he was freed. He returned to lead the opposition coalition in the 2013 general election. Despite his coalition winning 50.87 per cent of the popular vote, he failed to obtain a majority to form the government. In 2015, he was thrown into jail again for five years for sodomy. It was not until 2018 when his PH alliance swept into power that he was pardoned.

Writing from prison an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post on October 12, 2016 entitled “My plea from prison: Malaysia must choose freedom over repression”, he said: “I have struggled my entire life for the betterment of my country and the improvement of the lives of Malaysia’s citizens. I am coming up on having spent 10 years of my adult life over the course multiple imprisonments in jail. I am grateful for the strong support of the United Nations and organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have concluded I am illegally detained and have urged my immediate release. Although this has been particularly hard on my family, I am most worried about the unprecedented existential threat to Malaysia’s democracy and stability. We are at a crossroads where we can either emerge as a pluralistic democracy in Asia and in the Muslim world or where our nation will implode from grand corruption and different religious and ethnic groups being pitted against each other fighting for limited resources.”

It is therefore interesting to note that he was appointed prime minister on 24.11 (November 24, 2022) after spending 11 years in jail and having waited for 24 years to reach Putrajaya!

Anwar should now waste no time to come to grips with what he had described in his Op-Ed piece — “unprecedented existential threat to Malaysia’s democracy and stability” and possible implosion from “grand corruption and different religious and ethnic groups being pitted against each other fighting for limited resources.”

In a way, his ascension to the highest office in Malaysia only at the age of 75 years is the will of God.

He started off as a conservative firebrand politician who was perceived to have little tolerance for other ethnic communities. His ethnocentric approach to problems faced by the minorities alarmed them. But when he was thrown into jail, it was mainly non-Malay lawyers such as the late Karpal Singh who came to his aid and acted for him mainly pro bono.

Having gone through so much personally and emotionally; mixed with ordinary citizenry and understood their problems; upheld the special rights of Malays and fought for the oppressed and marginalised in our society, at 75, he is now best suited for this high position. Just like a clay, he has now been moulded into a fine pottery.

By securing 82 seats without an outright parliamentary majority, he now must work with his erstwhile rivals who were his truculent enemies. But as Mandela said, they can one way be his partners and together bring peace, unity and prosperity to this land of ours.

When PH won the unprecedented 14th General Election, Malaysians thought it was a dawn of a new Malaysia and era. But people who had given hope changed when they tasted power.

I did say these in my column in a newspaper on May 20, 2018 entitled “The beginning of a new Malaysia”: “GE14 victors should not use it to exact revenge on the vanquished in that they have received their comeuppance or take delight in their political schadenfreude. Instead, the new government’s priorities should be to restore the rule of law, redress miscarriages of justice and bring about reforms to our institutions of government.”

Alas, with all due respect, my plea was completely ignored. A new political culture must be cultivated. We must desist from using the apparatus of the State against our political enemies. Institutional reforms must be reintroduced and expedited. To do all these, we must first quickly strive for national reconciliation because even within our own families, there were political differences if not feuds caused by our nation’s most divisive general election.

I must admit that I only had minimal contact with Anwar in the early 1990s, when we assisted TPPT Sdn Bhd, his brainchild tasked with rehabilitating abandoned housing projects and providing affordable housing to low-income groups under the Projek Perumahan Terbengkalai funds. I also observed that he had followed me on Twitter.

But speaking now in my capacity as the Co-Chair of the Committee on Reform to the Legal Sector of Bar Council, my wish is that the new minister in charge of law will immediately assist the Malaysian Bar to table the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill which has been kept in abeyance since the fall of the PH government in 2020. We urgently need to bring the Malaysian legal profession to be on par with those in other jurisdictions by introducing, inter alia, the concept of limited liability law partnership in legal practice.

The other issue which our national leaders may want to have a rethink is whether it was a mistake to have lowered the voting age to 18. Unlike in developed countries, our youths have not benefited from a first-class education system capable of empowering them with political maturity and understanding, not easily manipulated by suave and crafty politicians. If our young who are products of a poor education system are unable to comprehend and deal with political issues in a rational and mature manner devoid of any emotion after accessing social media, then this is indeed a cause for concern.

All in all, Mr Prime Minister, you can become Malaysia’s Mandela if you show compassion and magnanimity to those who have not elected PH by working towards national cohesion but without any compromise whatsoever in corruption or any step which will undermine good governance, transparency and accountability in your administration.

This is, of course, no easy feat, especially in order to ensure that Parliament will not be dissolved before it completes its five-year term. Also, two by-elections will be held soon, and we will see six State elections being held next year. In five years’ time, he will also be an octogenarian.

With royal intervention and I do not know if this is also a divine intervention, PH and BN, once enemies, can become strong partners with the rise of new combination of young leaders such as Rafizi Ramli, Khairy Jamaluddin and Nurul Izzah.

Hence, despite all the hurdles, pitfalls and political chicanery ahead for a unity and inclusive government, it is hoped that they will live up to PH’s election slogan, “Kita Boleh (We Can)”.

Once again, congratulations Mr Prime Minister and best wishes to you and your unity government.

*The writer, a senior lawyer, is a member of Bar Council. His views expressed here are entirely his.

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