Thursday, 16 October 2008


On Merdeka Day this year I blogged about Anwar Bin Ibrahim and the following post by Syed Akbar Ali in his blog OutSyed The Box has the same title. I think it is worth a read. Why do so many people say the same things about Saudara Anwar Bin Ibrahim?

Saudara Anwar Bin Ibrahim
By Syed Akbar Ali

Note to the supporters of Anwar Ibrahim : You may not fully agree with my comments here. Feel free to throw any brickbats at me. We are all fighting for the freedom of thought and speech, which seems to be a controlled item in this First World nation of ours. I will respect your right to free speech, so please do respect mine too. It is not wrong to have differences of opinion, it is wrong to impose our opinions on others. Thank you.

A few months ago I suffered the ignominy of having my name and faced splashed on the front pages of the newspapers. I had my '15 minutes of fame'. But after that event, I received phone calls and e mails from some old school friends whom I have not seen in over 30 years. So we met up and had a reunion and compared hairlines and waistlines. I also discovered that my friends were all strong supporters of Anwar Ibrahim - to a man.

One of them kept reminding me of September 16th - the promised date when Anwar would form the Government. Then Sept 16th came and went. Nothing happened. My friend Lim was disappointed. In fact thousands of people who were hoping for Anwar Ibrahim to change the Government were quite disappointed. Now Anwar says that the promised 'change of Government' was just a concept. To keep the embers burning he has promised to change the Government by the end of the year.

The reality of the situation indicates otherwise. With the announcement by Abdullah Badawi that he will not be running for the position of party president at the next UMNO Assembly, it seems that Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak is well on his way to becoming party president and also Prime Minister of the land. Many people (and not just UMNO members) would like to see the country getting organised and moving along. But the March 8th elections have thrown up uncertainty which will remain. Everyone is adrift in uncharted waters.

In practical terms, Najib's ascension implies that most of the BN members of Parliament will be staying put and not consider any offers to change horses midstream. Now the papers report talk about a Pakatan MP switching over to the BN. If the Najib-Muhyuddin team consolidates its position in UMNO quickly it will be that much more difficult for Anwar to get the coveted 31 MPs to switch sides. There is also the matter of Anwar's Court case which has to be resolved.

I first saw Saudara Anwar Ibrahim in December 1982 in Columbus, Ohio. I was about to start my freshman year at Purdue University in Indiana. The Malaysian Islamic Students Study Group or MISSG had organised their annual meeting in the United States. The MISSG was a pro ABIM outfit. ABIM was of course the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia which had been founded by Sanusi Junid (of UMNO fame), Fadhil Noor the late president of PAS and Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar had been invited to address the assembly.

When Anwar addressed the crowd, two things struck me. Firstly, clearly he was an orator - he was able to mouth many words. To be an orator, volume is necessary. You must speak a lot.

Sarah Palin does not make much sense, but that should not preclude her from being labelled an orator. However she fails the 'volume' requirement too - she does not say much. If she becomes Vice President she will be just one heart beat away from becoming President of the United States.

Secondly when Anwar spoke I saw graduate students with wives and children in tow standing up on tables and shouting 'Allahu Akbar'. Now 26 years later when I watch my favorite History Channel and see black and white World War 2 reruns of mesmerized masses, it connects with what I observed in Ohio 26 years ago : that the human voice indeed has the power to move the masses.

The second time I saw Anwar was much closer - at his house in Damansara in the early 90s. He was beginning his rapid rise in UMNO. It was a buka puasa function and I had driven my old friend Dr Kassim Ahmad there. By this time I had been a banker for sometime and had also become quite aware of Anwar Ibrahim's religious credentials (I always use the word Islam very carefully).

By this time Anwar had been over ten years in UMNO. He had served in the Ministry of Sports, Ministry of Agriculture, as Minister of Education, Minister of Finance and finally Deputy Prime Minister. I recall that during his tenure in the Sports Ministry there was a strike by some football players when they were told that they would have to wear long track bottoms. Since it was not recommended for Malay men to wear shorts which exposed the knees, there was a move to get Malay sportsmen to wear ankle length track bottoms. This was not a practical idea and hence was not well received.

Then when Anwar was Minister of Agriculture I recall there was a small crisis involving fishermen and the payment of their subsidies. When he was Minister of Education the school holidays were changed, school children were burdened with carrying heavy school bags and something called KBSR was introduced in our schools. I cannot explain these things because I never understood them. But I am qualified to comment on this because my sons entered Primary School in 1995 and 1997.

During Anwar's time a new language was also introduced in Malaysia. It was called Bahasa Baku. Fortunately Bahasa Baku was only spoken in some parts of the country mainly in the studios of TV3. Bahasa Baku became extinct about a year after the dinosaur movie 'The Lost World : Jurassic Park' was screened in 1997.

I remember Anwar's Cheshire grin on TV when British Premier Margaret Thatcher proclaimed him 'the best Finance Minister in the world' during her visit here in the mid 90s. To this day I am trying to decipher why a fully briefed British Premier would say that.

And over 1997-98, I personally witnessed Anwar's famed acumen as Finance Minister. The Asian Financial Crisis was sinking countries around the region, including us. Anwar's remedy was to listen to the IMF formula which none of the Europeans and Americans are following now to get out of their present crisis.

I was a banker at that time and winced with horror when overnite interest rates climbed into the double digits and our Ringgit kept sinking. My borrowing clients were being choked out of their businesses. A friend of mine, who is a highly successful businessman now, collapsed physically under the weight of high interest rates and the plunging Ringgit at that time. Many people just cannot understand how close our country came to disaster and possible chaos and street riots.

I was the only columnist who wrote a strong criticism against the high interest rate policy in The Sun newspaper, which was rewarded by a curt phone call from Bank Negara to Dato Ahmad Rejal Arbee, my editor at The Sun at that time. Then Dr Mahathir's currency and capital controls came into being which managed the economic transition (menangani perubahan) without chaos or bloodshed.

To my reckoning, even from before (Ohio 1982) until now, Anwar has never espoused a vision, a dream, an economic policy or a way forward for the nation. I just cannot identify any policy or grand idea with him. I believe the simplest reason for this is because he never had one.

A person who aspires to become a leader must have ideas. And in our so very complicated country with its jurang perbezaan Malays, fast forward Chinese, fractured Indians and so many others, we need really good ideas and brave leadership to move everyone forward. Rolling the Rs (kerrrrrrrupshen), mouthing arabic sounds (madani, insani, etc) will just not cut the cake.

Anwar, or any other aspiring leader, must have useful and practical ideas that work. (Decision making over allocation of Government projects cannot be counted as a leadership skill). And for a person to have useful and practical ideas he must be knowledgeable. He must read, absorb and take notes. Reading Shakespeare may not achieve that.

Last year Anwar Ibrahim was invited to give a talk at a hotel in Petaling Jaya. The topic was the Malaysian economy. I went quite eagerly with a friend to listen to what he had to say. We came away quite disapppointed. Other than rolling his Rs (again kerrrrrrrupshen) he did not have any grand ideas at all for the Malaysian economy.

Of course putting a stop to the corruption and being more transparent are good things to do from the day before yesterday. This is a major cancer that is choking our country and it must be excised out completely. But is Anwar really the man who can tackle this job? But that alone is just not enough. We need a new blueprint to replace our obviously failed system. The systemic failure is becoming manifest now but Anwar Ibrahim has suffered a lack of ideas for the past 25 years.

Devoid of grand ideas, Anwar has had no choice but to jump on whatever bandwagon was or is current. In his student days it was starvation even though there were no recorded cases of anyone having died of starvation in Malaysia in a long time.

Then in the years after the Iranian Revolution it was ABIM and religion. While he was in Government, this continued for a time into 'masyarakat madani', 'insan kamil' and so on. There was the period of fraternity with the hicks and rednecks from the Yew-nited States, Dame Ironbottom and others. Finally there was the charge of the Light Brigade against kronyism and kerrrrrrrupshen. And of course Reformasi.

I listened to Anwar campaigning during the March 8th Elections. A lawyer friend of mine said that Anwar was now a changed man. But the one glaring absence in Anwar's platform was and still is a coherent, well thought and well articulated scheme of things for the future of the country. The way forward for all of us Malaysians - without leaving anyone out of the equation.

A road map. A blue print. Good and practical ideas that will reassure the Malays and bumiputras and elevate them, which will also give the Chinese the space they so need to do what they are capable of achieving and which will elevate the poorer Indians to an equal footing with everyone else in the country, which will get that young girl with the terribly yellow teeth in that restaurant in Semporna a life - and maybe an education too. There is none forthcoming from Anwar Ibrahim.

But the terrible truth is, so far no one else from the Government or the Opposition has any good ideas either about how to move the country forward quickly. If the Government were doing a great job, they would not have lost five States and the two thirds majority. It is really time to hear the alarm clock ringing.When there are no real ideas people will ultimately see through the oratory. It may be a long time coming but it will eventually happen. Sometimes it can happen like a 'Kodak moment'.

A Kodak moment refers to a sudden event or situation which is also perfect to be photographed. For example, imagine tourists riding in a boat with their cameras ready to shoot. Suddenly a huge sea eagle swoops out of the sky and catches a fish, almost slow motion style, right in front of their cameras. Everyone gets the perfect picture. That would be a Kodak moment. Unexpected and momentous - a revelation.

Quite sadly my old schoolfriend Lim and many other supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, had a 'Kodak moment' on September 16th. Then again another one on September 26th. Nothing happened on those two days. Things just went on at their normal boring pace. The Saviour was not come. They would have to wait another day for the Mahdi.

The DAP and PAS were not too carried away by Anwar's oratory over this one. However they too faced credibility issues with their own supporters over the 'no change' in Government. Just like Sarah Palin's comment about Russia's proximity to Alaska making her an expert on foreign affairs, this is another event they would sooner put on the backburner. The DAP and PAS tread lightly now when it comes to talk of changing the Government.

Postponing issues have become trademark Anwar. And perhaps there will also be other 'Kodak moments'. It would appear that Anwar is also running out of identifiable enemies. Abdullah Badawi has never been targeted by Anwar as his enemy. In any case Badawi is exiting the scene.

There is much public support for Anwar as a future leader. But this support is more derived from exasperation with the endemic corruption and bigotry which infests the country. The push factors are significant.

If Anwar, or any other aspiring leader, hopes to make real changes in the country then they must have a clear and simple idea about how to make this country a first rate, First World nation in double quick time. And everyone must have a stake in this dream. The reality is that it can be done and well within a space of ten years.

But suggestions like opening up the membership rolls of political parties, unity Governments and such expose the simplicity of the thought processes in the country. There is a feeling that if we can do just this, then everything will be hunky dory fine.

But how can multi racial membership rolls in political parties or unity Governments put an extra RM200 every month in the pockets of the ordinary man without increasing inflation in the country? But the simple fact is, this can be achieved almost overnite if we abolish APs for the import of cars (or sell APs for a nominal RM1.00 from the Sports Toto outlets).

The resulting lower car prices will save at least RM200.00 from monthly car instalments. Considering that even a university graduate (bumiputra) earns a starting salary of about RM1000 - RM1200 a month, that is adding 16%-20% to his disposable income. Where is the political will or the common sense to do this? If not done soon, it will eventually be prompted by the ballot.

Other suggestions like making the nation a full fledged meritocracy overnite may end up burning down the barn and the farm. In the present circumstances such ideas are simplistic too. But prolonging unworkable ideas like the New Economic Policy will not put out the embers that are smouldering. A practical workable balance must be achieved. So far Anwar Ibrahim does not show this promise.

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