I intend to open up this country to democracy, and anyone who is against that, I will jail – Joao Baptista de Oliveira, 20th Century Brazilian politician
Thankfully, Malaysia isn’t like that anymore.
In what can only be described as retributive karma of the dramatic kind, Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia 10th premier just as his long-time nemesis Dr Mahathir Mohamad began contemplating a future of political obscurity.
It’s about time. Dr Mahathir is old enough to know better, yet he conspired to delay Anwar’s ascension to the top for the longest time. His hubris knew no bounds either: right up to the night of November 19, he actually thought he was Malaysia’s best bet for the premiership.
Alas, how the mighty have fallen.
The island of Langkawi in Malaysia’s northeast was single-handedly promoted and developed by the physician throughout his 22-year leadership. For all that, its people so rejected him that he lost his deposit. In political terms, that’s about as humiliating as it gets.
Indeed, his entire party – including a son, Mukhriz – was annihilated.
Anwar’s triumph underscores his never-say-die, singe-minded perseverance in the face of unrelenting adversity. Sacked in 1988 for “moral misconduct” by Dr M, he was immediately clapped behind bars without bail for seven years until the federal court finally acquitted him of abuse of power and sodomy.
He was jailed once again in 2013 for sodomy and spent another five years behind bars until he was finally pardoned in 2018.
In contrast, ex-premier Najib Razak spent five years free on bail and was accorded every privilege of a former premier despite being accused of the greatest theft in global history.
The markets endorsed Anwar’s appointment jubilantly with the stock, forex and bond markets all rallying to highs not seen for almost two years. The broader index of the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange, for example, leapt almost 4%.
In contrast, when it appeared, on Wednesday, that a government dominated by the Islamic Party of Malaysia, appeared likely to gain power, all three markets retreated in fright.
Anwar will inherit a government beset with formidable challenges, On the one hand, the country faces serious economic challenges ranging from huge domestic debt and declining investor confidence to rising inflation amid a persistently weak currency.
On another level, the question of education, specifically the type of education being force fed to many children is assuming sinister proportions.
After Anwar’s victory, news surfaced of Malay children expressing fear that the Democratic Action Party, a partner in Anwar’s coalition, would stop the call to prayer and force girls to wear skirts.
It emerged only after parents and at least one set of grandparents complained to the newspapers. It’s led to a probe and public outrage.
More importantly, it’s sparked questions about the level of political indoctrination by religious teachers in primary schools. The “creeping Islamisation” of Malaysia has been long warned about by political analysts and journalists as far back as the late 80s. It seems to have finally come home to roost.
In many ways, the election revealed a fractured country cleaved along rural and urban lines among the Malays; secular and conservative lines among the races.
For all the against-all-odds return of the Comeback Kid, Anwar Ibrahim is inheriting serious problems.
He will need all the help, and luck, he can get.