Anwar IbrahimAfter delaying elections scheduled last year, Malaysia has ascertained it will hold its polls at the end of March or early April. This was the first time in 40 years that the government has delayed elections at the end of a five-year tenure. Normally, elections are held at the latest, after the government is four and a half years old.
The unpreparedness of the Barisan Nasional (National Front) a government coalition formed by the ruling UMNO party, and the sluggish Malaysian economic growth this year, were the main reasons Prime Minister Najib Badul Razak cited for delaying the elections. Conversely, Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the coalition Pakatan Rakyat party, has enthusiastically backed the elections.
Once a deputy prime minister during the time of Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar said the Pakatan Rakyat was much better prepared for elections today than in 2008, when it won 82 seats in parliament and for the first time in 50 years, caused the ruling National Front to fail in controlling two-thirds of parliament. "We worked hard in all the states," said Anwar, who still harbors ambitions to become prime minister.
Pakatan Rakyat, which comprises the People's Justice Party (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (PAD) and the All-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), has also been busy organizing demonstrations to spread its program and gain voters' support. Street protests seem to have become the Pakatan's method of publicity, given the government's control of most mainstream media, which is unwilling to give the opposition any space.
Last Thursday, Anwar landed in Jakarta to address a gathering hosted by the Chief Editors Forum. Prior to the event, he spoke to Tempo reporters Adek Media Roza, Purwani Diyah Prabandari, Sapto Yunus, Natalia Santi and photographer Jacky Rahmansyah. Excerpts of the interview.How prepared is Pakatan Rakyat to run in the upcoming general elections?
We are prepared. And the coalition we have formed is not just for the elections and to share power, it is to prepare a clear agenda and policies.What is the agenda?
We set up an agenda consisting of freedom of the press and justice, humanitarian economics, education free from ethnic discrimination and the elimination of excessive corruption. This agenda was written down and signed by all leaders of the parties in Pakatan Rakyat.Pakatan is a coalition of parties with different ideologies. How do you maintain a solid position?
Based on fundamental issues, which I have mentioned and in which we have no differences of opinion. Sometimes, we get statements from a coalition member saying it doesn't approve of Beyonce concerts. I think they should be allowed to air their views. Our generation were fans of Elvis Presley or the Beatles, we should give our youths the chance to watch Justin Bieber concerts. However, we should not be too permissive, allowing them (singers) to dress too openly. We must protect the people's sensitivities.Including issues that touch on religion?
That is the strongest basis with which UMNO uses to attack me. As repeatedly cited by (former Prime Minister ) Mahathir Mohamad, if Anwar wins, this country will be sold to China. This is the voice of a desperate man. I always refrain from responding. Mahathir still surfaces because Najib's leadership is non-existent.You have been accused of not supporting Islam. Your own daughter, Nurul Izzah, was even charged with apostasy. How do you respond to those charges?
I am used to being attacked on issues of sex, sodomy and being a lackey of America. Today, I am accused of supporting the ethnic Chinese and of being pro-Christians because I support pluralism. Yet, pluralism is an Islamic movement. I support good and just relations, including Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. I am tolerant and liberal, traits which do not undermine Islam as a religion. On changing religions, we try to preach about our religion, but what right do we have to prevent anyone (from converting to other religions)? But because of our position, we are seen to encourage people to commit apostasy. The problem is that I am attacked on a daily basis, but I am given no space to respond to such charges. So I come to Jakarta to do that...(laughing).You cannot use your right to speak in the Malaysian media. Have you ever spoken to the minister of information about this?
We have a website and we use YouTube to convey our rebuttals, but that is different. The media (television, radio and newspapers) is controlled by the government. Sometimes I joke with Information Minister Rais Yatim, that RTM and TV3 should be renamed Anwar Ibrahim Television, because every evening I appear in their channels at least for 10 minutes. Sometimes Azizah (Anwar's wife) is attacked, as well as Nurul Izzah.In your view, to what extent do Malaysians believe in the charges against you and your family?
First, we are convinced that what we say is the truth, and we believe in our policies. Otherwise, in the 15 years that I have been attacked, people would not have come to me. Yet, when we held demonstrations, many came. Datuk Najib also has his supporters, but they are paid and given food. We didn't need to do that. This is what has made them desperate. Moreover, young people are more open to alternative media (which provides more balanced information).
Back to elections, Pakatan Rakyat promotes the idea of equality with looking at ethnic differences. This is seen as 'threatening' the Malay supremacy, which comprise 60 percent of the voters. How can Pakatan win over the heart of these Malays?
My principles are based on being Malay and Islam. With regard to language, for example, I promote Malay but I allow Chinese and English. These are important languages, given the rapid developments in our region. Islam is a religion of alliance, but its shallow understanding often leads to problems. The state must do something about people's understanding of religion, to prevent any radical and dangerous elements from penetrating it. But at the same time, there must be no pressure to follow other religions. In fact, people must be that free, without pressure, without discrimination.
What about the economy. Ethnic Malays have been favored with pro-bumiputra (sons of the earth, natives Ed.) policies, which you yourself used to endorse.
The Malays are worried about economic security. Although they number 60 percent of the population, their control of the economy is still low. According to a World Bank report, the gap between the rich and the poor in Malaysia is worse than that in Indonesia. When I was a university student, I did support the new pro-pribumi economic policy. I supported it because of two factors, first the stress on education and also on economic opportunities at the lower level to ensure changes in social class. Second, it was one way of eliminating poverty. Yet, after 30 years of a Malay-based economy, what happened was that it just enriched the families of the ministers and prime minister.Who do you mean?
Who controls the billions of ringgit contracts at Petronas? Pak Mahathir is advisor to Petronas and his son, Mokhzani, controls the company. Malay cohorts, under the bumiputra flag, are given monopolies. Take Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar. He regulates rice, sugar, trains, the biggest port and the airport in Johor. It's insane. From the economic management viewpoint, I don't know of any country where everything is controlled by one man.Does that mean the pro-pribumi policy has failed?
The fact is that the gap has grown bigger among the Malays. Many are still below the poverty line. That's why in dialogues with the elites in Jakarta, at IMF forums and others, I have been saying that our problem, including the elites and the intellectuals, is being transfixed on soft concepts and attractive general facts in Malaysia. So, when there is a pro-pribumi policy that must be endorsed, which pribumis do they mean?
Are you convinced the people will accept the idea you propose?
I told people, how can Malays lose if education is provided for free? Of course, we will not give it to rich people like the families of Mahathir or Najib. Most poor people are still Malays, so this policy is more effective from the new basic economy perspective.So, you are optimistic that you can win more seats than in the 2008 elections?
In 2008, with less preparedness, we won in five states, including Kuala Lumpur. We were thrashed in Sabah, Serawak and Johor. Today, we are working hard in Sabah and Serawak and consolidating our forces in the other states. Although we continue to be attacked, people look at our record in government, in areas where we won. At Selangor, for example, we introduced free water supply for the people, state revenues increased. People in Serawak and Sabar are thinking, "How did that happen in Selangor when we are richer, when we have the oil and the palm oil plantations?" If we can get 50 percent support in the Malay archipelago, and we can control Johor, Sabah and Serawak, I am sure we can take over Putrajaya (Malaysia's center of government).If the opposition wins, will you automatically become prime minister?
Insya Allah (God Willing).
There has been some tension between Indonesia and Malaysia, on issues ranging from the torture and rape of Indonesian women migrant workers, to charges of falsely claiming the right to cultural icons. Where do you think this is going?
I have been accused of being a pro-Indonesian Malaysian. Pak Najib once described me as being anti-nationalistic. But for me, it is about justice and that as neighbors, we are mutually dependent on each other. If we can work together on some areas, it would be so beneficial. Admittedly, Malaysian leaders can be very arrogant, and many of them never studied history, while in Indonesia, there are hyper-sensitive elements. But the right response from the Malaysian government should be able to ease the problem.What do you think of Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin's writings attacking Habibie?
It was a stupid move. He attacked Habibie, then Gus Dur and Amien Rais. It's like attacking the entire Indonesian people. They were attacked because of their relations with Anwar Ibrahim. This is so shallow. Najib's mistake is to allow it to happen. He should have said that UMNO does not support that statement and apologize to Habibie.How close are you to Habibie?
When I was released from prison, Habibie and Ainun helped me a lot in Munich. At that time, I was an exile, like a pariah, no one wanted to come near me. Habibie, based on our friendship, helped me to seek medical treatment. When I was in prison, he met with Nurul Izzah at Batam, and the Malaysian government was not happy with this.
Place & Date of Birth: Penang, Malaysia, August 10, 1947 Education: Malay College, Kuala Kangsar, Malaysia (1960-1966) | Malay Studies, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur (1967-1971) Career: President, Malaysian Islamic Students Association (1968-1971)| President, Malaysian Youth Council (1971-1974) | Founder and President, Malaysian Islamic Youth Council (1982) | Chairman, UMNO Youth (1982-1987) | Culture, Youth and Sports Minister (1983-1984) | Agriculture Minister (1984-1986) | UMNO Deputy President (1986-1998) | Education Minister (1986-1991) | Finance Minister (1991-1998) | Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister (1993-1998) | Chairman, Pakatan Rakyat (2008-to date) | Member of Parliament (2008-to date)TempoNo. 21/13, January 15, 2013