The Voice interviews Anwar Ibrahim, Georgetown prof turned Malaysian oppositionist
To start off, why are you attempting to remove the current government from power?
In a democracy, imperfect though it is in Malaysia, you need two legitimacies to govern: a moral legitimacy and a political one.
The moral legitimacy stems from your entire deportment whilst governing – transparency of conduct, rule of law, separation of powers, integrity of office bearers, and the like.
The political legitimacy results from your effective command of the electorate and its legislators.
The National Front of Malaysia, in power for 51 years now, has been oozing its moral legitimacy to govern for at least a decade now. The judiciary was corrupted, the police force became dysfunctional, the civil service was reduced to a rubber stamp, money politics infected political parties, and matters to do with race and religion became a minefield. The economy is sluggish, now approaching quagmire status and the government has offered no solution to the problem of widespread joblessness, rampant inflation and the decline in foreign direct investment. In sum a tragic state of affairs after 51 years of governance.
The National Front’s political legitimacy was premised on its command of a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Once before it lost that majority — in 1969 when race riots flared in the aftermath of that loss.
On March 8th this year, it lost that majority in the general election, the 12th in the nation’s history. A psychological threshold was breached and in its wake, there was mounting discovery that the emperor has no clothes.
The divestment of the moral and political legitimacy to govern has brought the National Front to the current impasse. The opposition coalition wants to end this stalemate by inviting government legislators to join in our campaign of national regeneration.
What are your thoughts on the current Prime Minister Mr. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi?
I’ve known the Prime Minister for many years and have found him to be a decent person – I hope I don’t sound patronizing – but wholly ineffectual.
Why do you believe the Prime Minister is unwilling to meet with you?
He thinks it will spell the death knell of his premiership. I’m trying to convince him that it’s more about national salvation than about the longevity or the lack, of individual political careers.
It is in his interest and the nation’s that he meets me and we discuss matters. The future, following a meeting with me, need not be less than emollient to him. In politics, you have to read the mood and the currents right. He has read and continues to read them wrong. He ought to opt for conciliation. Finality is not the language of politics.
Do you believe that the government’s decision to send 50 MP’s to Taiwan last week was designed to thwart your plans?
It was transparently and unabashedly that. It has led the public to think that the government is a troupe of court jesters.
Do you maintain your innocence with regard to the sodomy and corruption charges that have been brought against you at various times?
I have always maintained that they were a conspiracy – and to this date not a shred of evidence has been proffered to support the wildly speculative claims. With the government’s pervasive control of the official media, those charges – diabolical, trumped-up and patently false – have been given illegitimate currency.
This time, in the courtroom of public opinion, the veracity of those charges has evanesced faster than the government’s popularity. No one believes those charges save the ones whose political longevity is dependent on my being clapped in the slammer.
I must convey my sincere appreciation to those in the international community who have been outspoken in their criticism of the conspiracy launched against me. In that respect Georgetown University remains quite supportive to our efforts here.
What are your policy priorities and goals if you succeed in becoming Prime Minister?
In the main, it is the implementation of the Malaysian Economic Agenda, which is a program that will unite Malaysians by giving them more equality of opportunity. Their talents will flourish and the goal of a united nation that has eluded us for decades will become attainable. You get that insight — that people revenge the stifling of their talent in conflict — from the plays of Ibsen.
We must reestablish the integrity of our judiciary and take an uncompromising stand against corruption and cronyism. The economy is sluggish and lagging vis-à-vis our neighbors in Asean. Foreign investors who once flocked to Malaysia are now uncomfortable with the prospects of a government that does not respect the rule of law and basic principles of the free market. Our education system has fallen into disrepair under the mediocre stewardship of political appointees.
We are committed to a humane economy – stimulate growth but ensure that the poor and marginalized do not slip trough the cracks. The excesses of capitalism have wrought havoc on global markets as we have seen once again in the latest turmoil on Wall Street. These crises have real impact on people – who can lose jobs, retirement saving and investment portfolios overnight. Our commitment to market oriented economic policies remains firm, but we will follow a course described by John Kenneth Galbraith as an appropriate dose of state intervention to rectify the social inequities attendant on the unbridled forces of the free market.
How was your time at Georgetown, and is there anything you’d like to share with the readers about your time at the University?
I spent a year and a half there. It was a decompression chamber for me after six years of unjust incarceration. I was able to crystallize much of the thought that swirled in me all that time in jail. The period I spent in Georgetown, teaching, reading and reflecting has fuelled my campaign to fight for a new dawn for my people in Malaysia.
I can’t help but recall my earlier visit to the campus in 1996 when I delivered a speech on the dialogue of civilizations and the need to achieve a Convivencia in the spirit and model of Andalusian Spain. To have been present on campus interacting with the diverse students and faculty in a stimulating intellectual and spiritual environment, I felt as though we were approaching that ideal.
I must convey my warm greetings to the students who honored me with their participation in my classes and to staff and administration who were unsurpassed in their kindness and hospitality to my family and I.
Finally, would you ever consider returning to Georgetown after the conclusion of your political career?
It would be a monumental task to decline another invitation by President DeGioia, a dear friend, to return to the hilltop for another bout of teaching.
But right now that’s a bridge too far. I’m certain to come back but in what capacity I can’t say. Georgetown will long remain in my memory as an idyllic place that gave me a renewal at a point in my life when it was most needed.
Special thanks to Mr. Anwar Ibrahim and Aasil Ahmad. Flickr photo from user Niccotynne used under a Creative Commons.