Four years ago Anwar was almost a spent force in Malaysian politics. When he was released after a court’s acquittal in September 2004, amid the jubilation that he would provide the leadership needed for an opposition in disarray, there was still no guarantee that another attack against him would not resurface, despite the failed campaign of prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to taint his character.
It has become a political tradition for the performance of a government to be evaluated once it has been in power for a period of some three months or a hundred days. This is usually taken as the time required for the new administration to bed itself in; problems encountered before this time has elapsed can often be conveniently attributed to the previous regime.
As the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) growls like a wounded tiger about its setbacks since the general elections in March, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim is almost like a vulture, waiting his chance to pound at the best opportunity he has had in more than a decade.
That there are now two ruling coalitions in Malaysia – UMNO’s and another led by Anwar Ibrahim (pic, left) – aptly describes Malaysia’s post-election reality. For the first time, the opposition’s credibility is being put to test at the governing level.
As Crescent goes to press, intense campaigning is under way in Malaysia for the general election on March 8. The election was called by prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi after almost a year of speculation that turned out to be correct: that it would be held before April this year.
As Crescent went to press, Malaysians were still awaiting announcement of the date of the country’s general elections, which had been widely expected to take place before the end of the year. They have been delayed because of a number of man-made and natural events that have shaken the confidence of the government of prime minister Abdullah Badawi.
Just when prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was basking in glory after the usual praises poured on him at the end of the ruling UMNO's general assembly, he was jolted by a mammoth opposition-backed rally in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, on November 10. That tens of thousands of protesters heeded the silent invitation to join the rally calling for major reforms in the way elections are conducted, after countless threats and warnings from the prime minister and police chiefs, sends a signal that the people's resentment of the UMNO is even more than it was thought to be.
There are more than 56 Muslim nation-States in the world today, yet few would register on an informed Muslim’s radar screen as being particularly significant. What determines a country’s importance relative to others? Before answering this question, let us first list those that would probably make the top grade without assigning any specific order to them: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia and Lebanon.
Nine years after he was dismissed, arrested, beaten and brought to the trial that displayed the utter corruption of Malaysia’s judiciary, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, now a leader of the opposition, seems to have got something on a silver plate on September 19.
Few countries pay as much attention to their deputy prime ministers as Malaysians do. The number two spot in the government is often fought for with a fervour stronger than for the PM’s post. When not being contested, the person occupying it had better get every part of his act clean, at least in public. The slightest involvement in any controversy will be the road to resignation, or, in the case of Anwar Ibrahim, unceremonious dismissal and arrest.
Barely a month after he announced his intention of returning to the political stage, Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister, is back in limelight. Since being released from jail in late 2004, he had been travelling around the world delivering speeches to academic institutions and thinktanks. Now he has promised to give the Malaysian opposition a shot in the arm.
On March 31 a five-year-old boy wandered out of his parents’ sight during a shopping trip to a mall in Kuala Lumpur. The story immediately made its way into the mainstream media, which began publicizing the parents’ desperate plea to anyone to return their missing child. Most had little hope of finding the boy, at least not alive.
In last month’s issue of Crescent International we published an article about an anti-war conference convened in Malaysia by former prime minister DR MAHATHIR MOHAMAD. We received this letter in response, which we are publishing in full.
One has to look to Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia, for a slap to the Americans once in a while. Many have dismissed him as suffering from “former president syndrome”: ex-rulers indulge in rhetoric and tell others what they themselves should do were they still in power. But in the case of Mahathir, one thing many of his enemies and friends agree on is that the man has a lot of stamina for putting up a good fight.
After months of optimism, Malaysia finally admitted last month that its negotiations over the free trade agreement (FTA) with the US are going nowhere. The Malaysian government has been shunning an infant movement which is slowly gaining momentum to oppose any FTA with Washington. With other ‘developing' countries, the Americans have listed Malaysia as their next target for an FTA, salivating at the prospect of laying hands on this economically booming southeast-Asian region.
Malaysia is the favourite Muslim country for many Western Muslims. The reasons were not difficult to see when this writer visited the country last month; Malaysia can perhaps be characterised as Muslim but not too Muslim. You can eat halal food wherever you go, there are suraus (prayer rooms) in malls, hotels and most other public buildings, and virtually all Muslimahs wear hijab. But in terms of their development, modernity, looks and general atmosphere, Kuala Lumpur and surrounding urban areas such as Petaling Jaya feel more like Islamised versions of cities in the West than Muslim cities like Cairo, Damascus, Tehran, Karachi or Jakarta.
Malaysia’s United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) held its general assembly last month. It was the first such gathering for the ruling party since Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over the helm in October 2003. But as usual there were no elections for the president’s and deputy president’s posts
Malaysia is a Muslim country with substantial non-Muslim minorities. Although it cannot be considered an Islamic state, Islam plays a large part in its public life. ABDAR RAHMAN KOYA discusses Christian and Hindu attempts to “de-Islamise” it.
In the last issue, we reported on the protests by expatriate workers in Dubai against their treatment there. Now ABD RAHMAN KOYA in Kuala Lumpur reports on the plight of Indonesia domestic workers in Malaysia, and the shortcomings of a new agreement between the countries.
Since his release last year after spending six-years in a Malaysian prison, Anwar Ibrahim has become a darling of the West for his promotion of an understanding of Islam that is regarded as ‘moderate’ and West-friendly. ABDAR RAHMAN KOYA in Kuala Lumpur reports.