©The Sun (Used by permission)
Despite a bad back and fatigue from two weeks of criss–crossing the nation, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) de facto leader and former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is all smiles, following the alternative fronts unprecedented performance in the recent general election and his impending return to active politics. He tells R. Nadeswaran and Terence Fernandez of the challenges in going into the polls and the even bigger tests ahead.
Nades: One of your biggest challenges was (prior to the elections) getting a cohesive team. You had three different parties with three different ideologies. How did you manage to unite and convince them on having straight fights?
Anwar: What’s so different about Umno, MCA and MIC? Or PBB or PBS or PBDS. One talks about ketuanan Melayu, one talks about Chinese survival, one wants Indian affairs resolved. It does not seem to be contentious as in practice they were able to show a cohesive stance.
Similarly within Keadilan, PAS and DAP. Other than what’s perceived from outside … look at the manner they conducted the election campaign, they were together and worked well. We have Chinese voting for PAS, Malays voting for DAP. The people have spoken. They said: “Look, we want a cohesive Opposition, so today, so–called contentious issues of the past, like the Islamic State and Hudud have been resolved. It’s neither their (PAS’) manifesto nor their agenda anymore.”
Nades: How did you manage to get PAS to drop the Islamic State agenda which they had been so vociferous on in previous elections?
Anwar: I’ve convinced them and they also know my position ... if you want me to be involved, this is my position. Similarly with Keadilan and DAP. They must be seen to be multi–racial and not questioning the position of Bahasa or the Malay position. You can adjust but the paramount interest of justice, catering to those who are poor and marginalised, covering all races must be realised. I think what was achieved last night (a meeting between PKR, DAP and PAS) is a very important beginning. We sat down and discussed for hours and looked at the issues and it was agreed that we must unite and make politically expedient decisions.
Terence: It seems that when you go into elections it is easy to have a common front. But like what happened in Perak shows that once you gain power, it is a different story altogether.
Anwar: What happened in Perak is less problematic (than those) in Perlis and Terengganu (laughs). Because the media is controlled by them; that is why the focus is on Perak and Selangor.
But I don’t deny that there are problems. Even within Keadilan, we have contending candidates, the DAP and PAS also have issues. But in the case of Perak, I understand the problem. PAS had the least number of seats so naturally, for DAP to take a tougher stance is quite understandable.
(But) Why does the media play up this huge issue? We took a position that was quite tough too – we support the MB; we support the administration but we refused to participate in the administration unless the spirit of cooperation is there.
I have enough problems in Penang with having eight non–Malays and two Malays. To have a similar arrangement in Perak would not be wise. It does not mean the Opposition is cracking up and to be fair to DAP, they made adjustments. And I have to record my appreciation.
That’s in the past, now contrary to popular perception that the collaboration is merely prior to elections or prior to forming a government ... as of last night (March 18), we have now entered into this new arrangement. It will be a much more cohesive force as it will not be like the BN or PAS or DAP… here is the agenda, about constitutional guarantees, what about the Malaysian Economic Agenda, basic tolerance and the perceived dominance of one race against the others.
Terence: You needed this new resolution because you were ill–prepared for the aftermath of the elections where Barisan Rakyat took five states and Kuala Lumpur? You never expected the results.
Anwar: I was very confident that we will take over the whole government. We crossed the one–third mark a long time ago.
Nades: Reading your comments in a Singapore interview, we said maybe Anwar is over–confident? Anwar is sounding cocky that he can form the government.
Anwar: The interview in Singapore was given after they cancelled the indelible ink and the reason they cancelled the ink was because we were edging towards that (winning the election). We had passed 48% of the popular vote. Edging about 2% a day of the shift; and they knew that. That’s why they cancelled the indelible ink. Which means they had 3–4% votes to cheat. So imagine if they had used the ink? And the postal votes? We would have won easily.
Nades: Should the postal votes be abolished as we are not at war or in emergency. It was (mostly) meant for our servicemen in the jungles during the Emergency and the war against the communists.
Anwar: No. Postal voting can be conducted in a transparent and fair manner. These people … they virtually have robbed the people of their votes.
Like in Setiawangsa (which was won by Datuk Seri Zulhasnan Rafi que) … we won. Then came 14,000 postal votes.
Terence: We cannot prove this but is there any truth that in Lembah Pantai, where your daughter Nurul Izzah was contesting (and won against Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil), there were similar attempts?
Anwar: Yes. But there was not enough to go around. In Teluk Kemang 7,000 postal votes were brought in, still our guys managed to win.
Which means the number supporting us is big. That’s why I said, we will win if we get 55%. Even during the campaign I said you want to win with 50%, forget it!
Nades: How are you going to put your economic plan into action while dealing with the sensitive topic of the NEP?
Anwar: I drafted the MEA (Malaysian Economic Agenda) a year ago and gave a detailed explanation to civil servants about what we have planned for the poor and marginalised Malays, Chinese and Indians. We should start with regaining our competitiveness which we have lost, and attract more foreign direct investment. We have to build the economy upwards. With that in mind, then we can talk about distributive justice and equity.
Terence: It seems that only Umno is opposing the MEA while the other BN component parties are keeping mum.
You see, even in Umno there is disconnect between the thinking of the leaders and the grassroots.
I will be meeting division leaders to explain this. I was portrayed negatively by Utusan Malaysia. They were demonising us, saying that we are traitors to the Malays.
That’s interesting. “I am a traitor to the Malays”. I have not taken one share, no taxi permit, no contract in the name of bumiputra and all those so–called champions of Malays have taken hundreds of taxi permits, APs and contracts by the hundreds of millions of ringgit.
So I said don’t enter into this (argument) otherwise I will smash them hard. Don’t use the racial card. If you say you are concerned about the NEP, it’s okay we can argue, we can discuss this but don’t start condemning us. I’ve appealed to them to stop this.
Reviewing the NEP is not just (DAP secretary–general and Penang Chief Minister) Lim Guan Eng’s view; of course in my mind we should craft the words properly. Coming from a Chinese they would immediately play the racial card.
It is unfair to Guan Eng, although I would have advised him not to touch on the NEP, but it was unfair to him because his words were taken out of context. He did say it was for the poor of all races.
Nades: Closer to Selangor, what changes can we expect from the new government?
Anwar: Firstly, it’s governance. There was so much of wastage, corruption, leakages and alienation of land. According to the reports I have, hundreds of millions of ringgit are literally down the drain.
But we have to be careful. We cannot create the impression that we are going to dismantle everything, because we will lose investor confidence. People want stability and continuity. The only major issue we accept is the mentri besar’s recommendation to review the water agreement. The water agreement is virtually scandalous! And it is a burden to consumers.
Nades: What about land alienation to cronies? You cannot take the land back because the deal is done.
Anwar: There are many ways to deal with this. If the land is given, we can go through the plans; we want to know why this is done in such a way.
Terence: But you are not going on a witch hunt, are you?
Anwar: I think it will be a problem for us, because it is endless. Then we will spend the next two years just doing this instead of running the states that we won. Immediately our plans are to move on by ensuring a vibrant economy. Drawing foreign investment, but problems affecting the poor are top on our list.
Yesterday we went to Kampung Jawa (in Klang) to visit the Malay and Indian squatters. A contention was the demolished temple. So I told (Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul) Khalid (Ibrahim), you better deal with this immediately. In two weeks get it done; give them their land and pay compensation to rebuild their temple. Of course they will demand for this and that. That’s normal, but we draw the line.
Then it’s their housing status. Khalid was concerned with Ijok where some areas have no water supply. It cost just RM200,000 to supply the water, so Khalid has announced that water will be supplied. These things must happen whether it’s a Malay area, Chinese area or Indian area, it must happen. There are huge problems in Selangor and he (former Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo) has the audacity to talk about governance!
Nades: What are your plans after April 13 when you are eligible to contest for political office? Your wife is Opposition Leader – a position which is being warmed for you.
Anwar: Yes, but it is still early. Parliament only convenes in May. We still have time. I have to travel overseas for some engagements and I have to resign from my positions (in several foreign think tanks and academic boards) … meetings and lectures in Harvard and at Kennedy School … we’ll see. But now the focus is on having a cohesive Opposition and make sure the state governments are on track.
Terence: Are you ready to take over?
Anwar: This is for the MPs and the people to decide. We just want to make sure that the states are running well, and that we are prepared for Parliament. We have time to come to that.
Terence: If you asked me two weeks ago, one would dismiss Anwar Ibrahim being prime minister. But today, there is such likelihood, with the dawn of the two–party system.
Anwar: Yes, well, like I said, we actually won the election.
Terence: While Anwar can become PM, there seems to be a dearth of individuals who would be able to govern and this brings me to the formation of the shadow cabinet.
Anwar: Yes, when all these fellows took over … (former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) … they had no administrative experience. Myself too … so was the first generation of civil servants. As long as we have a clear programme and agenda, and more importantly here and now, clearer ground rules we will be all right. No way are we going to tolerate alienation of land to your son, daughter, son–in–law. No way! I think we have to work as a team.
As far as qualified people are concerned, you look at (DAP stalwart Lim) Kit Siang, he is still there. We were discussing some election laws last night and he brought up some laws which I don’t remember. (laughs) He says, “Anwar you were finance minister, how can you not know this?”
I said: “Yalah Kit, I don’t remember.” Then he reminds me.
I think he is certainly qualified to serve. You have (PAS
president) Hadi (Awang) who has four years experience of being mentri besar of
Terengganu … and many
Nades: Come to think of it, you have some experts on your side like Charles Santiago on water and R. Sivarasa on human rights.
Anwar: There you are! Some of them of course are not as well–known as I am but Siva is a Rhodes scholar … very articulate. Syed Husin Ali is one of the more renowned scholars.
Nades: How did you manage 13 days of campaigning with a bad back?
It was not easy. We were using my Dad’s car a Mercedes since it was bigger. I had to duduk bersila like in yoga. (laughs)
Also, we had (PKR deputy president) Dr. Syed Husin Ali. He didn’t want to stand in this election, but he was here manning the fort, while I was travelling all over the country. I was wondering who would be doing this as (former PKR Youth chief) Ezam (Mohd Noor) is gone, Nik Nazmi (Nik Ahmad who won the Seri Setia state seat in Selangor ) is gone; (Sim) Tze Tzin (who won the Pantai Jerejak state seat in Penang) is gone … then I realised I was handicapped. My staff was making all the arrangements.
Terence: Do you think the media has been fair with the new state governments under Barisan Rakyat?
Anwar: They have not been fair to them. What with these loaded questions and their own agenda. Give them a chance to do something like how I suggested to Guan Eng that he should go to the Malay villages, no one highlighted it when he went to Tanjung Tokong.
That’s why I was very rough with the Utusan guy. It’s not their fault though, I know that when they start pushing, they have their instructions but repercussions can be great.
Terence: Can we touch a little on some of the media organisations that used to blacklist you but now want to put you on Page One? Also associates who once had no time for you, but now are queuing up to see you?
Anwar: (Laughs) I have no malice. You know, sometimes I laugh at these people. This is the quality of people and they think they are great.
I have no personal agenda. They have. Some of them are scared. Dead scared! They came to see me saying we are sorry, but were forced to do this and do that. In a way it is good – not that it is fair for them to put me in prison and treat me that way … but it is a good experience. And if people make mistakes and are remorseful, we should give them a chance. I always believe that.
Nades: But what was your problem with (former PKR vice president) Chandra Muzaffar? He came out very scathing against you.
Anwar: I was in prison when he first decided to attack and smash me to pieces prior to the 2004 elections. He had problems within the party, initially with the Youth Wing … Ezam, later (former PKR vice–president) Marina Yusof. I was still backing him but he came out very strong against me. I still wonder why.
Terence: After Chandra was released from the ISA, he seemed to be more pro–establishment.
Anwar: Well, he went through a lot. I can’t deny that and I do appreciate his initial contributions to Keadilan. I did not want to pursue litigation (over his statements against Anwar during the election), but my lawyers advised me (to proceed) and the letter (of demand) was already sent.
Terence: Do you want to retort against Chandra’s allegations about the words you uttered when you visited the Hindu temple in Penang? (Background: In March 27, 1998, a group of Muslims marched from the Kampung Rawa mosque to the nearby Sri Raja Raja Madurai Veeran temple, angered by the loud ringing of the temple’s prayer bells. The resulting clash between 500 Muslims and Hindus resulted in several people being injured. The dispute was settled when the state government provided an alternative site for the temple.)
Anwar: These accusations are excessive. Did he ask me what happened at the mosque? I was DPM at that time and nobody wanted to go down there. I went to the mosque and then the temple.
(Then) IGP (Inspector General of Police Tan Sri) Rahim Noor called up the Penang CPO (chief police offi cer) and told him: “Tell Anwar not to go down to the mosque as the police cannot guarantee his safety.”
(Incidentally it was Rahim Noor who gave Anwar his black eye that inspired the PKR symbol).
I told the CPO: “You call back the IGP and tell him, I cannot be a Penang leader if I can’t settle this problem.”
Nobody wanted to go! Koh Tsu Koon, Shariff Omar, all the excos semua tak nak pergi! So I went.
You know the problem? I told the mosque people, azan five times a day is ok but there were some announcements, touching on Melayu and Islam, some hints ... so I told them:
“Lima kali. Lebih daripada itu, I have a problem. I kena rampas you punya mike.” (Five times. Anything more, I will have to seize your microphone.)
So they said: “Jangan Datuk.” So I said: “You know I’m with you, don’t overdo it.” I also told Koh Tsu Koon to give them the land for the (relocation of the) temple. So, I told the (Muslim) people, you pukul budak Hindu umur 12 tahun, (hit a 12–year–old Hindu boy) is not right. So they settled and shook hands. Done.
I only brought my plainclothes guards. Even the police were not allowed in the temple because people were already angry as they tear–gased the neighbourhood.
I said the same thing to the temple committee: “I know your prayer times.” I was studying in Malay College Kuala Kangsar where there was a temple next door. You don’t have to look at your watch. Teng! Teng! Teng! Teng! 6am. Teng! Teng! Teng! Teng! 6pm.
So I told them don’t provoke because during the Muslim prayer times they were ringing the bells even louder.
So I told them that I warned the mosque committee that I will seize the microphone. So, to the temple committee, I said if you do the same thing, I will also rampas your bells.
And what did Chandra say? That I threatened to silence all bells in Hindu temples across the nation?! It’s not true. Of course I had to sound very tough also. How do you solve the problem when they are fighting like that?
It is totally wrong what they are trying to portray me as. I am very indebted to the Indian community. They have helped me a lot. You see the Bukit Selambau fellow (Independent candidate V. Arumugan)? He said he will join PKR if I come there and hold his hand. So I did. And he won, and now he has joined Keadilan!
Terence: What is your take on the new cabinet? Some say that it is very Umno–centric.
Anwar: Ya! First I can see that there are attempts to respond to the electorate but overall it is a disappointing line–up. It is not catered for the expectations of people. There seem to be some shift in policies but then some characters tainted with corruption continue to be in office… well, these are exciting times!
“We have Chinese voting for PAS, Malays voting for DAP. The people have spoken. They said look, we want a cohesive Opposition, so today, so–called contentious issues of the past, like the Islamic State and Hudud have been resolved.”
“I don’t deny that there are problems. Even within Keadilan, we have contending candidates, the DAP and PAS also have issues. But in the case of Perak, I understand the problem. PAS had the least number of seats so naturally, for DAP to take a tougher stance is quite understandable.”
“I was very confident that we will take over the whole government. We crossed the one–third mark a long time ago.”
“We had passed 48% of the popular vote. Edging about 2% a day of the shift; and they knew that. That’s why they cancelled the indelible ink.”
“That’s interesting. ‘I am a traitor to the Malays’. I have not taken one share, no taxi permit, no contract in the name of bumiputra and all those so–called champions of Malays have taken hundreds of taxi permits, APs and contracts by the hundreds of millions of ringgit.”
“Coming from a Chinese they would immediately play the racial card. It is unfair to Guan Eng, although I would have advised him not to touch on the NEP, but it was unfair to him because his words were taken out of context.”
“As long as we have a clear programme and agenda, and more importantly here and now, clearer ground rules we will be alright. No way are we going to tolerate alienation of land to your son, daughter, son–in–law. No way!”
“I warned the mosque committee that I will seize the microphone. So, to the temple committee, I said if you do the same thing, I will also rampas your bells.”