Anwar Ibrahim, the “Nelson Mandela of Malaysia” is a prominent Malaysian politician who served as Deputy Prime Minister from 1993-98 and Finance Minister from 1991-98.
Since 1998 Anwar Ibrahim has led Malaysia’s Justice Party in its mission to strengthen democracy and the rule of law in the country. Although he spent over eight of the last twenty years in detention as a political prisoner, his party achieved a historic electoral victory in the May 2018 Malaysian elections, shattering the ruling party’s 61-year hold on power. He was released from jail days after the election and granted a full pardon from politically motivated charges. Ibrahim is the Prime Minister in-waiting and is expected to take over leadership of the country within the next two years…
What is it that kept you committed to politics throughout your incarceration?
It has been a difficult road. Being locked up in solitary confinement for so many years and denied the opportunity to see your children and grandchildren grow up is painful. But my family has always stood behind me and I am grateful for their support.
My commitment is but a reflection of the commitment that so many Malaysians have demonstrated over the last two decades. Perhaps there was an easier path. But had I chosen it, be it exile or some other compromise, I would not be able to ask Malaysians to sacrifice in the pursuit of building a better future for themselves and their families in this country.
The question reminds me of the poem The Road Not Taken in which Robert Frost writes: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
I have no regrets about the past. Throughout the 10 and a half years of incarceration I spent ample time reading the stories of leaders who sacrificed in pursuit of justice and against tyranny and oppression. On reflection, I gathered that in life we are lucky if given the chance to muster the courage of conviction to fight for some greater good. I am even more fortunate to be around to see that labour bear some fruits.
How do you believe Malaysia’s economic strength can be expanded?
One of the reasons Malaysia has been a prosperous nation is by virtue of our friendly business climate and how attractive we are to foreign direct investment. We are in a vibrant and competitive region where we cannot rely on past greatness in order to secure a prosperous future. In fact we have already seen our neighbours outperform us in certain sectors.
There has been a decay in our institutions of governance over the last 20 years and corruption has become endemic. Under the new government led by Pakatan Harapan, the Alliance of Hope, we have to re-invigorate the economy and reassure investors that things have changed for the better. This includes regulatory reform and creating new incentives for risk-taking and innovation throughout the economy. It also means reforming our education system so that in the long run we have a productive and highly skilled workforce.
We must make no compromises in rooting out corruption and reforming the culture which has allowed so many crimes to take place such as the 1MDB fiasco.
We need to look at the transformations taking place in the economy and identify the ways that Malaysia can take advantage of these developments, be they disruptions in global trade or developments in artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology.
These initiatives would go far in reassuring businessmen and women around the world that Malaysia is once again an attractive place to do business and where the rule of law is sacrosanct.
Your daughter is also a member of parliament in Malaysia, did you have reservations about her following this career path?
Nurul Izzah has followed her own path. When I was jailed in 1998 – she was thrust into the international spotlight as a teenager fighting for her father’s freedom. I had very little say in the matter, being in solitary confinement. In that very difficult time she steeled her resolve as someone committed to fighting for justice and for a better Malaysia. Since then she has endured the bumps and bruises of politics and performed admirably across three elections, inspiring a new generation of young leaders. She has made a tremendous contribution to the nation and I could not be prouder of where she is today.
What are your hopes for the future of Malaysia and the Malaysian people?
The vision of our Constitution has been lost and people had become disillusioned with the country’s leadership. However, after the May 9th election, the country was overcome with a sense of euphoria since the thought of beating the previous government was considered mere fantasy by most. Now we have to deliver real results on the campaign promises and go beyond.
We have to rebuild the country. We will only succeed if we create democratic accountability in the system – which means a free and independent judiciary, law enforcement agencies and a free media. The Parliament should be empowered with oversight capabilities so that the Executive Branch does not have free reign over the State’s coffers.
We need to rid the country of corruption. We need to do away with an economic system that delivers rewards to the wellconnected elites. We need to dismantle race-based policies and instead provide aid and support to all Malaysians based on need, both from the majority Malay and Bumiputera community as well as poor Chinese and Indian labourers. We must work towards a peaceful and prosperous future that embraces Malaysia’s diversity.
I am very optimistic that we can achieve all this and more. This is a historic moment and I sense that Malaysians are united in these goals. I hope and pray that we will be able to answer their call.
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