Welcome back, Anwar Ibrahim - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Malaysiakini : “You do not know me,’ said Tortoise. ‘I am a changed man. I have
learned that a man who makes trouble for others makes trouble for
himself.”– Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
COMMENT | I know many disagree
with me, but I still believe that de facto Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar
Ibrahim deserves his shot at the hot seat. While I may not have liked
the "PD gambit", it was a necessary political move for him to make.
The real electoral battle Anwar waged in Port Dickson was not with
his six contenders, but with the vox populi of Harapan. While Harapan
political operatives eventually jumped on board the Anwar Express, his
main problem will always be with a certain segment of the coalition’s
With a significant mandate
from Port Dickson, we will now discover if Anwar is the reformer he
claims to be, or a Trojan horse of religious extremism. There is a lot
riding on his return to official political life. The Harapan base is divided on the issue of Anwar. Indeed, the
various factions within PKR, either aligned with him or with other Malay
power-brokers, are flashpoints that he has to deal with.
If this infighting prolongs, there will definitely be a split in
Harapan. It is pointless telling people that all is well when the
political operatives bicker in public, and the base contributes to the
narrative that either Anwar is the saviour or destroyer of Harapan.
Honestly, he could be both, and only time will tell.
What happens now?
What Anwar needs to do now is rally the PKR base around him. This
will, of course, be extremely difficult, because the factions within the
party will remain long after the dust of its internal elections has
settled. But having said that, Anwar is in a much better position now
that he has managed to secure a mandate from the people of Port Dickson.
Beyond that, he needs to convince the Harapan base that he is indeed
the reformer his supporters claim he is. The main problem his detractors
– friends, fellow columnists, and political operatives of Harapan –
have with him is his religious and racial politics. But as I argued in another piece,
that the criticisms levelled against Anwar are unfair, because those
very criticisms are an indictment against Harapan's religious agenda in
“This, of course, is my main concern when it comes to Anwar. Truth be
told, it is a concern of mine for most Malay political operatives. The
old maverick Dr Mahathir Mohamad has a reputation for coddling but also
confronting Islamic extremism in this country. Can we say the same of
“This is what concerns me about Anwar assuming the highest office in
the land but since, as I said, the other Malay powerbrokers – with a few
exceptions of course – are not exactly the egalitarian types, what
difference would it make?”
As I said, I just do not understand these criticisms. I have problems
with the racial and religious politics of Harapan, but this is an issue
with the coalition, not with the man. Be that as it may, it is
incumbent on Anwar to reach out to the Harapan base and allay their
fears. Now, as an elected representative, his words and deeds will come
under even greater scrutiny.
When racial and religious issues crop up – and they will – other
Harapan political operatives may get a free pass; but if Anwar says or
does anything that isn’t kosher, his detractors will bay for his blood.
This is a mistake, of course, because the religious impulses of Harapan
do not begin or end with Anwar. We are talking about a coalition which
may have a progressive base, but does not have a greater progressive
As I explored here–
“Some of my Malay friends who are religious claim that this strengthens
the position of Islam in this country. It is a useful political tool
and reminds the non-Malays who voted for Harapan that the Malay
political actors in the coalition will defend Islam. These are folks who
voted for Harapan and not the dreaded Umno and PAS people.”
No doubt with Anwar in play, Umno and PAS will attempt to use any and
every opportunity to sow discontent in the Harapan base. They
understand that when it comes to Anwar, that base is already sceptical
of the man who, ironically, made regime change possible. This is why
they, more than anything else, fear him.
Does this mean when it comes to racial and religious issues, someone
like me is going to give Anwar a free pass? Not likely. But Anwar and
his people should be savvy enough to not fall for the traps set by the
Islamists in this country, and he should not stoop to play the racial
and religious game, because unlike the old maverick, he has neither the
support nor the goodwill of the majority of the base.
And it is going to be much more difficult for Anwar now. Whereas the
Umno regime defined the Islamic narrative in this country, Anwar will
now find himself the focus of the discourse.
As it is, many of my friends – who will always disagree with me when
it comes to the issue of Anwar – are gearing up for a fight because they
know sooner or later religious and racial issues which impact the
majority will come into play. Do not forget that part of Anwar's base
wants him to champion the Malay and Islamic cause. As I said, the
Harapan base is not all progressive.
No matter what the political elites say, Anwar is waging battles on
multiple fronts. He has to convince the progressive factions of Harapan
while bearing in mind that he also represents Malay-Muslim rights. He
has to get his house in order and worry about the other power structures
that define mainstream Malay politics, who have had no problem using
the security apparatus of the state against him in the past.
We will constantly be told that all is copacetic on the good ship
Harapan, but how far Anwar goes to pander to the Malay right is
predicated on how far the Malay power structures in Harapan do the same,
and of course how far the non-Malay power structures go to not spook
So welcome back Anwar Ibrahim. I know some from my community
appreciate your antics lip syncing and prancing about to old MG
Ramachandran tunes, but as an official representative of the Harapan
government now, could you please endorse the move to recognise the
United Examination Certificate to prove that the election manifesto
isn’t worthless. That would be a good first move.