Thursday, June 19, 2008

Anwar, Malaysia's hardest working politician

Anwar, Malaysia's hardest working politician

In the course of the week The Malaysian Insider presents a series of reports to give an overview of what has happened and help make sense of a new Malaysia that has evolved 100 days after the watershed Election 2008 on March 8. This is a focus on undoubtedly the country's most talked about person – the star of the show Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar Ibrahim ever ready to avail himself to the public.

JUNE 19 — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is, among other things, the Energizer Bunny. Like the battery mascot in the television commercial, he keeps going and going and and going...about transforming from prime minister-in-waiting to actually being prime minister.

Arguably and easily Malaysia's hardest working politician in the past 100 days, Anwar – who holds no political office but is the de facto leader of the federal opposition – has spent time since March 8 criss-crossing the nation and travelling to foreign cities to talk of efforts to helm Malayisa.

With Opposition parties winning 82 parliamentary seats and control of four more states, Anwar has expended time and energy to cobble together state governments and iron out issues within a nascent coalition that co-operates with mutual suspicion.

At the same time, he has been flirting, charming and coaxing lawmakers from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition to jump ship even as he flaunts his political renaissance and taunts Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's coalition with the threat to topple them.

He has also travelled outside Malaysia to meet with potential investors and friends he made during his time in power to impress upon them his potentially quick return to Putrajaya, while hinting of secretive meetings abroad with power brokers in the Malaysian political scene.

Not a day goes without his revealing the who, what, when, where, why and how of his political life, from meetings with foreign politicians to tea with the main players in the Philippines and his thoughts on slashing the pump price if Malaysia's oil money is not used for bailouts and national projects.

"I cannot accept an oil-producing nation like Malaysia increasing petroleum prices by 46 percent in one go," he said recently in Dubai, promising to cut pump price when he takes power – a populist move to keep the momentum going against an increasingly unpopular Abdullah, who cut fuel subsidies this month to prevent runaway deficits.

This promise to cut petrol prices brings him closer to ending his days as prime minister-in-waiting, a sobriquet that was once before bestowed on him when he was deputy prime minister and Mahathir's protégé by none other than Opposition veteran Lim Kit Siang. Ironically, Lim is now an ally in the putative Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

Acquitted of sodomy charges exactly seven years to the day of his sacking, a wheelchair-bound Anwar has worked hard to find his legs so he can walk and run metaphorically and literally back to Putrajaya, ignoring potshots from Abdullah, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and especially his one-time-mentor-turned nemesis Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

"It is not individual. It is not about Abdullah Badawi or Najib Razak. It is about the system," Anwar said in Dubai when commenting on a leadership change pact between the Umno top two after Barisan Nasional was mauled in the recent general elections.

Anwar, a guaranteed crowd magnet.

Anwar is confident that Pakatan Rakyat can take over by Sept 16 – Malaysia Day – with lawmakers crossing over from Barisan Nasional especially from Sabah and Sarawak despite sweeteners to stay from Abdullah.

"We have adequate numbers to secure a simple majority in the House. What we need, of course, is a comfortable majority... There is a general sentiment among the general population wanting this change," Anwar added. In recent days, his aides have identified two parties keen to cross over, one of which was said to be the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) that formed the original Alliance with Umno in 1955.

Yesterday he congratulated Sabah Progressive Party's (SAPP) move to initiate or support a no-confidence motion against Abdullah's leadership when Parliament meets next Monday.

"I am happy with these early actions and call upon other friends to act quickly in order to guarantee stable politics and efficient economic management that will lead to dynamic growth and equitable distribution," Anwar said, disclosing two previous talks with SAPP president Datuk Yong Teck Lee.

His hard work will continue in the coming days to convince others, especially Umno lawmakers, to take the leap of faith and allay suspicions from all – including coalition members – that he is a political chameleon interested in power for itself.

"Chameleon means you say different things to different people," he told Bloomberg recently. "My message is consistent; the examples must be different to cater to the audience. I go to the urban area, I quote Shakespeare; I go to the village, I quote the Quran; you quote Confucius to the Chinese; to the Hindus, I quote the Ramayana."

It will take another 100 days to see what Anwar will reap from what he has sown – a bumper crop or a bitter harvest. But notwithstanding the results, he will continue to work hard. Like the Energizer Bunny.

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