Thursday, July 20, 2006


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Anwar: Dangerous to back Dr Mahathir ; Arfa'eza A Aziz Jul 20, 06 12:16pm

Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad's attack on the current administration is not a licence for the opposition to pledge their support for him, said former deputy prime minister and Parti Keadilan Rakyat adviser Anwar Ibrahim.

In an exclusive interview with Malaysiakini last week, he said it was dangerous to "endorse a person subscribing to an authoritarian rule" despite the spat between Mahathir and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi benefitting the opposition.

"I think Mahathir is doing a service (in criticising the government) by opening up a little democratic space...I think it has helped us immensely not only PAS but also myself and the opposition. But we have to draw the line."

Anwar said he made this point clear during a recent meeting with PAS leaders, some of whom have been openly supporting Mahathir. This has caused some discomfort to the Barisan Aletrnatif (BA) alliance between PKR and PAS. "I had a long discussion with (PAS president Abdul) Hadi (Awang) and central working committee member) Mustafa Ali, I (told them) the perception of backing Mahathir is not right."

"What they said was the party was willing to accept Mahathir if he admitted his wrongdoings and made amends. But do you think he is going to do that?" quipped Anwar, who was sacked by Mahathir in 1998.

"But if he does say: 'I was wrong on this, on that, and please forgive me', I would certainly forgive him. In fact, I may even be prepared to withdraw my civil suit against him."

On June 24, PAS' deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa, vice-president Husam Musa and Youth chief Salahuddin Ayub were seen attending an open talk by Mahathir.

Will he return to his old seat?

In the two-hour interview held at Malaysiakini's office in Bangsar Utama, Anwar said while he was not optimistic about bringing the disparate opposition under one roof, there should at least be a common agenda.

"I had several discussions with PAS and DAP separately and the general consensus is that they will continue to work separately with me and PKR. To me, this is something very positive."

He said although DAP was not keen to engage PAS, it did not object to PKR continuing its discussions with the Islamic-based party.

Anwar was also unsure whether he would return to his Permatang Pauh seat - now held by his wife PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail- in the event he was allowed to participate in active politics.

He said the grassroots in the constituency have expressed their views that they preferred Wan Azizah but the matter had yet to be finalised, adding that there were proposals for him to run for a multi-racial constituency

Commenting on the religious debates which arose following the death of Everest climber M Moorthy, Anwar said he had been approached by both Muslim and non-Muslim organisations who asked for his views to find a solution.

After talking to the two groups, he was surprised by the extent of prejudice, misinformation and disinformation that they had against each other.

According to him, the government's lack of commitment to provide a solution worsened the situation.He said the authorities were not taking the effort to get the conflicting groups to understand their differences.

"When you get them to talk you'd be surprise the extent of prejudice, misinformation or disinformation among each other. It is shocking that this is happening in this country..."

Q&A: Bridging the Muslim-non-Muslim divide Arfa'eza A Aziz Jul 20, 06 2:01pm

In the final of a three-part interview, former deputy prime minister and Parti Keadilan Rakyat adviser Anwar Ibrahim argues that effective leadership is needed to bridge the growing gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims in this country.

Malaysiakini: Now that you're back in
Malaysia for good, where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Anwar: I have never been good at that. In 1997, I did not project or anticipate what would happen in 1998. The projection when I was in prison in 1998 - in terms of when I was going to be released - was never correct. But after all that, I'm here...

So far, I am quite pleased with the response (from the people) although I think it's a lot to get a minimum understanding (among the opposition parties) and to get Keadilan (PKR) to focus despite the normal brewing tensions over the leadership issue. But generally, I think the spirit is very high. The major problem is, of course, media penetration because they (the grassroots) don't know (of the developments in the party). Every time I meet (the people), they will ask: 'Oh you're back. Are you back (for good)?'
And I say: 'Yes, I am back' (laughs). This is really difficult.

* You said recently that you're being considered for the United Nations secretary-general post. So are you really committed to the opposition or are you going to leave
Malaysia again?

I have said some comments to that effect...The problem is that the discussions (on the UN sec-gen post) involves presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers. The discussion has been going on for the past six months, more serious now with non-governmental organisations and the UN apparatuses. So, I don't think it's polite to be so dismissive (in rejecting the option). Most of them asked me to give it serious thought, or at least to consider the option.

To my colleagues here in the Keadilan (PKR), DAP and PAS leadership, I have stated that my commitment is here. They asked why don't I state a categoric rejection or denial. I told them I don't think that would be polite. I am not saying that it would be easy for me (to get the UN post) in the event I
choose to run, but I think it is a serious proposition. But in the discussion with party leaders, I have made it clear that I am ready to work here. But they can't expect me to be so dismissive ... but I have not come
to the stage that I would give it (the UN sec-gen post) serious consideration.

* PKR is facing some problems with a few party leaders quitting - the latest being Abdul Rahman Othman, who resigned as treasurer. There is also the concern that (party president and Anwar's wife) Dr Wan Azizah (Wan Ismail) is not capable to run the party.

All political parties have problems but ours is a democratic party, and ours is an opposition party so our problems are highlighted. But I think in the last year, more so in the last six months, I have been quite hands on with the party. I am not saying that the entire leadership agrees with me but I have set the agenda. For example, some disagree with my position on the NEP (New Economic Policy) or my moderate view on Islam and to persuade our friends in PAS to downplay their rhetoric on the Islamic state. To make it clear that our struggle has its principles, not to think you just use (ex-prime minister Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad) to attack (Prime Minister) Abdullah (Ahmad Badawi)...I mean, the political game can continue but the principle stand must be clear. Some disagree and they leave.

(PKR) deputy president Dr Syed Husin (Ali) is not a very popular figure in the country and does not have the necessary support, but I have high regards for him as he has made a consistent stand, cannot be bought, incorruptible, intellectually profound...I think he should have a place (in the party). Some chose to disagree and challenged (Syed Husin) to which I disagreed. And I was prepared to campaign for Syed Husin, which I don't normally do, and in fact I did not do for the other posts. I don't think these are big problems. I think we are more cohesive now.

Azizah did her part but I think she never wanted that position. She was able to hold it (the party) together. To me, she's a great listener, she's a great redeeming figure, she has more patience, she doesn't raise her voice to scold leaders...I do. Although they can disagree, I have strong views and
I make sure people hear them.

I am confident, we have problems but running a party ... if you are a businessman and you get involved in the party, you lose your contracts, so you leave, then maybe you get additional contracts...But I'm not discussing Abdul Rahman Othman, who has been a close family friend and has strong views
on many issues including the issue of leadership, which includes the issue of Syed Husin. But I thought the challenge was really unnecessary and unfortunate.

Everybody knows that before the (Keadilan-PRM) merger, there was an undertaking (for no contest). Syed Husin was the president. He withdrew to become deputy so that Azizah can take over as president. This is standard decency. Yes, this is a democratic party but there are certain ethical rules. It's not wrong for you to challenge but it is not right ethically because you gave your word.

There was consensus in the party; there was endorsement for the merger. Today we merge, tomorrow the president of that party that we merged with in view of our numerical strength, we kick him out to become just another executive member. Is that ethically correct? No. These issues happen but
since this is a democratic party, I wish them well. After all, we have seen this many, many times. People who want to run the party their way and they can't have it.

I may sound very strong here. We have a president, Azizah, who takes a more conciliatory approach than me, and we have Syed Hussin who has remarkable experience and holds a strong position on a number of issues. Then, we have other leaders representing several roles, religious issue, NGOs, etc, which means I amended a lot from the way I was running Umno which was actually (the) wrong (way). In Umno, I just have to say 'I feel strongly' (and) 'this is the way' and everybody sokong (support) Daulat Tuanku! (Long live the King!) Period! That was easier. But (PKR) is a democratic party.

I have been to
Penang recently when Tony Beh crossed over from MCA and I told him, 'Tony, when you go out you must explain why you joined Keadilan (PKR)'. He said never throughout his political career as a MCA leader for the past 20 years has he seen such an open discourse on issues involving
race and religion. We must understand what the non-Muslims think and vice-versa. I thought what he said was remarkable. So I told him you must repeat that view when you meet the people.

* Some people say that your decisions are heavily influenced by two or three people close to you.

Of course, I know the fact, I can be very specific – they are talking about my former staff. I work like a family and my staff is like family. You listen to them, you have access but now in the party, other people have access too. And because my former staff are no longer my staff, they have to go through my present staff to get appointments and now they are complaining and they realise how difficult it was for the others to get an appointment! But I consider that (the accusation) as an insult because they underestimate my wisdom and experience.

Of course, I listen (to the people close to me) but my interest is for the party and the bigger agenda. And I know there are people alleging that Anwar listens to only one or two. But it is a manifestly unjust (allegation). Those within the party know I have disagreed and overruled many proposals. I have expressed my strong views. The people who are close to me know this.

But finally, I judge people in terms of their work commitment. People make allegations many times before - 'you gave instructions from prison'. How many times can I give instructions from prison in a week? I do (write) letters or proposals. But it was really difficult to smuggle the communication outside. But the perception is that I continue to give instructions and therefore bypass the party leadership. I have strong views but otherwise the whole conduct of the party is starkly different from what I am doing, which means to some I have a lot of influence but not total, which is good because I won't behave like a dictator even if I wanted to.

* You have tried to bring PAS and DAP together but there has not been much success there.

Ideally, we should be seen as one formidable, cohesive force as an opposition.

* Are you confident you can bring them together?

I am not too optimistic but I am confident that the common agenda will be accepted in terms of reforms, independence of the judiciary, freedom of conscience and expression. But the devil is in the details of the common agenda...But we do have a common agenda. I had several discussions with PAS and DAP separately and the general consensus is that they will continue to work separately with me and Keadilan (PKR). To me, this is something very positive.

But I did convey to PAS, for example ... the role that (Opposition Leader Lim) Kit Siang and other DAP leaders played in terms of holding the opposition's effective voice on issues of good governance, corruption, accountability...I told them (PAS) that they (DAP leaders) need to be recognised. You may not have to agree with them on the issue of religion but they have played a role.

Similarly when I spoke to DAP, I told them, 'Look at the experience of most Muslim countries, we have no option but to continue to engage because we don't hold the American view in engaging lateral actions while no engagement is done with people they don't like'. So I told DAP that you don't want to
engage (with PAS) but I need your understanding to allow me to continue engaging with PAS. And to some extent we have been quite successful. To be fair to PAS - whose statements on certain issues I frankly do not share - but generally the policy framework by (party president Abdul) Hadi
(Awang) and its top leadership, they are willing to engage and be conciliatory and bend backwards on the Islamic state issue. I believe if the party is willing to be accommodating on such a fundamental issue ... that they can somehow maneuver and adjust, (then) I think it is worth to be in the opposition.

* If you are to run in the next election, which seat would you go for? Will you return to Permatang Pauh, which is now held by your wife?

Certainly not the city of
Kuala Lumpur! (laughs) I should try Kubang Pasu (Mahathir's former seat). If given a chance - well, I have this crazy idea - I would like to test a truly multiracial constituency. Permatang Pauh in a sense is multiracial but it has 60 percent Malays. Azizah has been representing them well and when I go back and start lobbying, they tell me they want Azizah to stay, particularly the ladies.

* So you're leaving the seat to her?

I don't know. But then, I think she goes back there regularly and there are on-going talks. But I have discussions with young professionals - Malays, Chinese and Indians - who believe that I should seriously consider a multiracial seat where there are 60 percent Malays, 30 percent Chinese...I said, I don't know whether there are such seats...

* Some say you are losing influence in PAS based on recent developments where the Islamic party has been supporting Mahathir because they want to speed up (Deputy Prime Minister) Najib's (Abdul Razak) appointment as prime minister. The party believes this would shut all doors for you to return to Umno.

It is good that you say that I am losing influence in PAS because it makes me feel humble. I have no presumptions about my influence. You are right because it is difficult when you deal with the parties. I had a long discussion with Ustaz Hadi and (central working committee member) Mustafa Ali, I (told them) the perception of backing Mahathir is not right.

What they said was that the party was willing to accept Dr Mahathir if he admits his wrongdoings and makes amends. But do you think he is going to do that? (laughs) But if he does say: 'I was wrong on this, on that, and please forgive me', I would certainly forgive him. In fact, I may even be prepared to withdraw my civil suit against him.

* Do you feel that Mahathir is riding high with his attacks against Abdullah, which have even attracted opposition supporters, because you are not entering the ring?

It's not that I'm not entering the ring. I (spoke on current issues to) 40,000 people in Dungun (Terengganu) and 80,000 people (elsewhere) but these were not reported in the media except for malaysiakini. All these issues like what I said about the bridge in detail - the notes on the point of
agreement, the issue of Agusta and Proton - I think I gave a more balanced account of the problems.

I think Mahathir is doing a service (in criticising the government) by opening up a little democratic space. People are (discovering) that not everything is right (because) here is a party leader to whom people rushed to kiss his hands and (believed) what he said was true all the way, correct and perfect, and suddenly everything is wrong with him. I think it has helped us immensely not only PAS but also myself and the opposition. But we have to draw the line.

But then, it is not about helping us but trying to get the public to understand the issues. I think it is very dangerous if we decide to endorse a person who subscribes to authoritarian rule. It is an issue of principle. People then ask, 'does that mean you are supporting Abdullah?' I say I talk about policies, corruption and mismanagement.

* We are facing many inter-religious issues including the jurisdiction between the syariah and civil courts, the issues of conversion.

Among many Muslims there is a genuine, real fear and insecurity about liberal Muslims who are trying to derail the Muslims.

* The Perak mufti claimed that 40,000 Muslims here have left the religion and this caused some alarm in the Muslim community. Do you feel such statements could increase the fear among Muslims?

It is believed that there are initiatives taken by people who are perceived to be not friendly of the religion. But to my mind, I agree that it shows the lack of effective leadership. There was the (Everest climber) M Moorthy case which could have been solved in a week, by calling the Muslim groups and non-Muslims to ask them about their concerns, which are basically to protect the jurisdiction of the syariah court and at the same time allow non-Muslims to refer their case to the civil court.

To me, it is quite straight forward. It is not easy, of course. It was an important test case for me as well since I had to meet Muslim groups and non-Muslim groups and then back again before finally getting some that you don't extend the debate beyond the normal contentious issues. I do not deny that there will be, from time to time, contentious issues but never so serious.

About the issue of conversion - I don't know the many cases and instances (from which) the mufti got the figures he had given. But I was told that a large number of those (who converted) were people who had embraced Islam recently and decided to leave. But of course, to Muslims once you embrace
you understand your commitment although the process of embracing Islam is not necessarily satisfactory for a number of reasons. I don't deny that some conversions were for monetary gains, promotions, but I would say that if this is the concern of the mufti then we should try and engage the relevant people in the government and find out the details.

We should find out if the cause is due to a general moral decline and degradation in the country which affects all religions. We have to deal with it. I believe strongly in the role of religion in one's personal life and I am a believer. I will always be a devout (Muslim). But I don't believe that we should be extremely anti against those who do not subscribe fully to the religion. There must be some sort of midway that we (can reach to) respect the differences.

* You said that you met with both Muslim and non-Muslim groups. Are you an informal mediator between the two?

I am not presumptuous of my role and neither do I want to be brought into the issue. But I do recognise that if nothing is done, it will not augur well for the country.

* What should be done then?

We should have an effective leadership. Not a dictator, but a leadership that listens and meets the people to discuss the contentious issues. Like the Moorthy case, it was a clear example. If you left this aside you will create such enmity and ruckus. If you ask specifically what each group wants, you will find that it is something consistent to what we have been believing. But once you leave, the dialogue will be too extreme, everybody will get angry. But we have to deal with this.

* On one hand, you have the Muslims' insecurity and on the other, the non-Muslims' fear over the increasing Islamisation.

That is precisely my point. You allow people to speak for cross purposes. And there is not enough effort, serious genuine effort to get them to appreciate the differences. I conveyed this to the Muslims after I talked to the non-Muslim leaders. 'They are saying that they are feeling insecure that you are taking the Indians and paying them money to convert to Islam.' Of course, they denied.

And the Muslim groups in turn claimed that there is an on-going (effort) where many young Muslims are given scholarships and put into hostels where they are forced to convert and be baptised. I told them that firstly we have to accept that there is no compulsion in conversions. And then you give specific instances of these alleged forced conversions. When you get them to talk you'd be surprise the extent of prejudice, misinformation or disinformation they have (for and about) each other. It is shocking that this is happening in this country

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