Duli Yang Maha Mulia Yang di-Pertuan Besar Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Muhriz Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Munawir
Duli Yang Maha Mulia Tunku Ampuan Besar Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Aishah Rohani binti Almarhum Tengku Besar Mahmud
Yang Amat Berhormat Dato’ Seri Anwar bin Ibrahim, Prime Minister of Malaysia
Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Besar Seri Menanti Tunku Ali Redhauddin ibni Tuanku Muhriz
Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz
Yang Amat Arif Tun Tengku Maimum binti Tuan Mat, Chief Justice, Federal Court of Malaysia
Yang Amat Arif Tan Sri Datuk Amar Abang Iskandar bin Abang Hashim, President of the Court of Appeal
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Your Excellencies High Commissioners and Ambassadors
Yang Arif-Yang Arif
Judges of the Federal Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, and Judicial Commissioners
President of the Malaysian Bar, Karen Cheah
Co-Chairpersons and Deputy Chairperson of the IMLC 2023 Organising Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen
- A very good morning to all of you, and welcome to the opening segment of the International Malaysia Law Conference 2023 with the theme “Navigating the Present, Exploring the Future”.
- It is my honour and pleasure to be the moderator of this session, and to introduce our eminent keynote speaker Yang Amat Berhormat Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Prime Minister of Malaysia.
- Most of us already know much about Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, in particular, his political journey which started in 1982, his trials (both metaphorically and in actuality) and tribulations, bringing him along the way onto this stage this morning to be with us.
- My task is therefore rendered easier, and would be obliged if you would kindly bear with me as I undertake the needful formalities — with a tinge of the Malaysian Bar’s perspective.
- Yang Amat Berhormat has variously over the years been described as an activist, firebrand, an intellectual, an Islamic scholar, a maverick, charismatic; CNN reported him being credited as an economic wizard, he was named “Top Four Finance Minister” by Euromoney and “Finance Minister of the Year” by Asiamoney magazines in 1996, and “Asian of the Year” in 1998 by Newsweek magazine. He is however best known by the epithet “reformist”.
- Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was born in Cherok To’Kun, Bukit Mertajam, Penang on 10 Aug 1947 — he turns 76 years old come next month — a smidge older than the immediate past prime minister; is the same age as the prime minister before that; and a spritely young man compared to whom some refer to as the ‘grand old man’ — and I am not referring to Joe Biden. [By the way, it was YAA Tun Tengku Maimun’s birthday on 2nd July, and YAM Tunku Zain Abidin’s birthday on 6th July. I take this opportunity to belatedly wish them both, on behalf of all present, a happy birthday.]
- He attended secondary school at Kolej Melayu Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) from 1960 to 1966, and graduated from University Malaya in 1971 with a Bachelor’s degree in Malay Studies. He then founded and led, for 10 to 11 years, the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM), a frequent critic of the government. In fact, he became such an accomplished thorn to the then-government, that he was recruited into UMNO and the government in 1982.
- Dato’ Seri Anwar’s rise and progression in politics was, as we know, meteoric. He was appointed the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture in 1983 — a position and portfolio presently held by YB Hannah Yeoh, who will be speaking at a session tomorrow at 3.15pm; he was the Education Minister from 1986 to 1991; the Minister of Finance from 1991 to 1998; and the Deputy Prime Minister from 1993 to 1998.
- That meteoric rise however came crashing down with seismic effect in 1998. Dato’ Seri Anwar was removed as the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister on 2 September 1998 in the midst of the Asian Financial Crisis, and in the midst of disagreements between him and the then-Prime Minister on measures to address the crisis. He was thereafter arrested on 20 September 1998 by police in balaclava, who stormed his residence fully armed, and was held in police custody under the now repealed infamous and draconian Internal Security Act, without being given access to his lawyers and family. He emerged in court to be charged on 29 September 1998 bruised and battered — brandishing the famous or infamous black eye. Many of those of my vintage will recall the shock, anger and outrage of many Malaysians.
- Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was charged for offences under s.377A and B of the Penal Code; and under s.2(1) of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance No. 22 of 1970.
- Dato’ Seri Anwar has always maintained that the criminal charges against him were politically motivated; a political conspiracy to remove him. However, it was reported at the time that his counsel were not permitted at his trial to cross-examine witnesses on issues pertaining to his removal as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister to establish his defence of conspiracy. He was convicted of the said charges, and sentenced to 9 years and 6 years terms of imprisonment respectively.
- The Malaysian Bar had, via its then-President and Vice-President — Dato’ Cyrus Das and RR Chelvarajah respectively, issued public statements deploring the use of the draconian Internal Security Act, the manner of his arrest, condemned the utter lawlessness of the battery and assault in police custody, and issues arising in the course of his trial.
- The Bar had convened an extraordinary general meeting on 10 October 1998 and passed a resolution calling for the establishment of an independent Commission of Inquiry into the assault of Dato’ Seri Anwar whilst in police custody, to identify the offenders and for them to be prosecuted. The Malaysian Bar pushed its campaign over the ensuing months.
- The Commission of Inquiry was eventually established and commenced its inquiry in February 1999. The then Inspector General of Police (“IGP”) admitted to having assaulted Anwar. The IGP was convicted and jailed. However, others involved were never brought to book. Reports of beatings and deaths in custody remain unabated. There are also instances of “enforced disappearances”, as found by SUHAKAM, of Malaysians who have been abducted by agents of the State, that is, the Special Branch, Bukit Aman, without a trace and not seen since.
- YAB Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim completed his sentence in relation to the corruption conviction in April 2003; and significantly, was released from prison in 2004 upon the Federal Court overturning his conviction for the sodomy charges.
- He was however not able to immediately return as a member of parliament due to a 5-year disqualification period as provided in the Federal Constitution (Article 48). That period ended on 14 April 2008, just after the 12th General Election (“12th GE”) which was held on 8 March 2008.
- The 12th GE is described by many as the watershed elections for Malaysia where the ruling coalition in office since Independence was denied its two thirds majority, and PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) won the most seats in the Dewan Rakyat amongst the opposition parties. Shortly thereafter in April 2008, the main opposition parties at that time, PKR, PAS (Parti Islam se Malaysia) and DAP (Democratic Action Party), formed Pakatan Rakyat. Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim returned to parliament via a by-election in Permatang Pauh in August 2008, and was appointed the Leader of the Opposition in the Dewan Rakyat.
- However, Dato’ Seri Anwar was again prosecuted with new charges for sodomy in that same month. He was acquitted after trial by the High Court in 2012; but the Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal in 2014, and sentenced him to 5 years imprisonment. The Federal Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal in 2015.
- The Malaysian Bar had issued statements querying whether it was a prosecution or a persecution, highlighting that Dato’ Seri Anwar was being charged under an outmoded law for a victimless crime. That is, he was charged under s.377A, read with s.377B of the Penal Code, and was not charged pursuant to s.377C which provides for the offence of carnal intercourse against the order of nature without the consent, or against the will of the other person.
- In the course of the trial and appeals of the 2nd sodomy prosecution, GE13 (5 May 2013) and GE14 (9 May 2018) were held. These successive general elections followed the trajectory of the 12th GE; that is, the 13th GE saw the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat led by Dato’ Seri Anwar winning the popular vote for the first time in Malaysian electoral history; and the 14th GE saw the ruling coalition defeated at the polls, ushering in a new Pakatan Harapan government with its electoral promises for reformation as per the “Buku Harapan — Rebuilding Our Nation, Fulfilling Our Hopes”, and the promise that Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim would be the Prime Minister after 2 years. Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was granted a full Royal Pardon on 16 May 2018 after the 14th General Election. Alas, much of these reform promises did not come to pass, Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was also effectively denied the prime ministership, and Malaysia went into a tailspin until GE15.
- Malaysians went to the GE15 polls on 9 Nov 2022 resulting in yet a new historical event — a hung parliament. No single political party or pre-election coalition won an outright simple majority to form the new Federal Government. The Pakatan Harapan coalition led by Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim obtained the most votes, and was invited by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to make history by forming a unity government, another first for Malaysia. The idea of a unity government was canvassed in 2020 by a previous Prime Minister, but that did not gain traction.
- Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim on the other hand had the ability to bring together disparate parties, has the trust and confidence reposed in him by the electorate and our institutions, and succeeded in forming the present MADANI unity government.
Prime Minister Sir,
- It has been a long trek and journey for you, but you have persevered, been determined and are here, our 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia. It would not be inaccurate to say that you have arrived at a difficult time for Malaysia and Malaysians. The present issues and challenges confronting you as Prime Minister are numerous — the Malaysian economy, inflation, looming recession, costs of living concerns of many Malaysians, the weak ringgit, the nonsensical playing up of racial and religious sentiments, corruption, attempts at undermining the unity government, the need for institutional reforms and the need to strengthen our democracy. All of these presently require your deft navigation, dedication and resolution.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- The events of 1998 and 1999 as recounted led to and saw the founding of the National Justice Party or KEADILAN, the start of the Malaysian Reformasi movement, and the birth of a new Malaysian consciousness and conscience premised on the pursuit…no not pursuit, the fight to create a just and virtuous nation that upholds the ideals of the separation of powers, the rule of law and good governance. 1999 could perhaps be said to be the inflection point of our relatively nascent country.
- There were mass protests by, as well as mass arrests and mass trials in 1998 and 1999 of Reformasi Malaysians. The Malaysian Bar stepped in and established its Rapid Legal Response Team to provide pro bono legal representation at the police stations and lockups, as well as in court, to the masses of ordinary Malaysians who were arrested and prosecuted; Malaysians who had publicly rallied to your Reformasi call Prime Minister sir, to your call for reforms.
- I have re-counted some of the trials and tribulations of Yang Amat Berhormat, not for the purpose of opening old wounds, but rather to take lessons from the scars. That we recall and keep in mind the many reformation promises and initiatives that continue to be needed today, so that, in the words of the “Harapan GE15 Action Plan” issued in October 2022, Malaysia can be rebuilt from the rubble of devastation.
- I believe that the aforesaid events have in the last quarter century been significant, if not instrumental, in shaping the evolution of Malaysian politics and more pertinently, the calls and struggle for legal and institutional reforms. The trials and tribulations of one man, of one Malaysian, became the trials and tribulations of several generations of Malaysians, and ignited the movement and fervour for positive change.
- Yang Amat Berhormat Prime Minister, it would not be an exaggeration to say that many Malaysians — I am not referring to politicians, I am referring to ordinary Malaysians — have joined you on your long journey till today, have been inspired by your cause to aspire for a better Malaysia, to believe that we as a people of a nation founded on the principles of justice, liberty and equity are deserving to have our place under the sun.
- Yang Amat Berhormat, I am reminded at this moment of the aspirational battle cry of generations of Malaysians past and present, a cry which is symbolised by you, and which cry will continue to resound until a better Malaysia is made — “Reformasi” Prime Minister sir.
- And thus the legion ask “What now Prime Minister?” “What does the future hold?” The Malaysian Bar stands ready to be of service in accordance with our statutory role in navigating the present and exploring the future.
- Ladies & Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Yang Amat Berhormat Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, a Malaysian leader a long time coming, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, and to invite him to deliver his Keynote Address at this International Malaysia Law Conference 2023, “Navigating the Present, Exploring the Future”.
30th President of the Malaysian Bar (March 2013–March 2015)
10 July 2023